It's easy to say, "Don't scratch." Getting your child with eczema to listen to you is another story. But a little creativity can help keep your kid's fingers away from the itchy rash.
Why It's Important to Cut Back on the Scratching
"The trouble with scratching is that it can actually make the condition worse," says Lawrence Eichenfield, MD, chief of pediatric dermatology at Children's Hospital, San Diego. "And it can cause cuts in the skin that can become infected. So it's important for parents to learn ways to help their child stop scratching."
Follow these tips to help your child reduce the urge to scratch.
1. Use Moisturizers Liberally
Keep your child's skin properly moisturized to help keep eczema flare-ups and itching at bay.
Thick ointments, such as petroleum jelly, contain more oil than lotions and are the most effective at locking in moisture.
Some children may not like the feel of thick ointments. "I suggest parents let their older child try several moisturizers and choose which kind to use," Eichenfield says. "Because the best moisturizer is the one that your child will use."
For the best itch relief, use moisturizers several times a day, especially after bathing or washing.
2. Use Wet Wraps to Soothe Itchy Skin
Some parents find that using wet wraps can help stop the itching.
The best time to apply wet wraps is right before bedtime. Follow these steps:
- Have your child soak in a lukewarm bath for about 5 to 10 minutes.
- After the bath, gently pat the skin dry with a towel and apply moisturizer or medication as directed.
- Moisten clean gauze bandages with water, and wrap the affected skin.
- Cover the wet bandages with a dry bandage or towel to lock in the moisture, and leave overnight.
You can apply wet wraps on any part of your child's body that is especially itchy.
3. Keep Fingernails Clipped
Short fingernails cause less damage to the skin if your child does scratch.
If scratching at night is a problem, have your child wear cotton gloves to bed.
4. Use Cold Compresses to Relieve the Itch
Try using a damp, cold washcloth, or cover an ice pack in a soft towel. Hold the compress to your child's skin for a few minutes or as needed to help relieve itching.
You can repeat as necessary throughout the day.
5. Keep Itchy Skin Covered
Young children may be less likely to scratch their skin when it's covered up.
"For some reason, young children often start to scratch as soon as their clothes are removed," Eichenfield says.
To keep your child most comfortable, choose loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. Cotton and cotton blends are preferred. Wool and some synthetic fabrics can irritate skin and lead to more scratching.
6. Try a Distraction to Forget About Itchy Skin
Many children with eczema find their itch seems worst at bedtime. Finding a distraction from the itchiness can help them relax and go to sleep.
Some parents have found massaging their child's face at bedtime to be a useful distraction technique. Try using a bit of moisturizer on your index fingers to massage your child's face.
Gently rubbing your child's back or legs can help, too.
7. Use Eczema Medications
Medications for eczema can help relieve itch and control the condition. Treatments such as topical steroids are especially useful if your child has eczema that doesn't clear up with other measures.
"Some parents are afraid to use these medications," Eichenfield says. "But when used properly, they are very safe and highly effective."
8. Be Willing to Try Different Anti-Itch Strategies
Experiment with various ways of stopping scratching, and learn a few methods that work for your child. Keep in mind that what is helpful one day may not work on another day. It can be useful to have backup strategies ready.