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Bleach Baths May Help Kids With Eczema

Study shows baths with diluted bleach help treat the itchy, painful skin condition
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Rob Hicks, MD

April 27, 2009 -- Participating in a clinical trial in 2006 changed 7-year-old Ben Kieffer's life, says his mom, Jennifer.

Ben had suffered from severe eczema since he was 5 weeks old, with relentless itchy, painful flares of the skin condition and many rounds of antibiotics to treat related infections.

"His calves were covered in scales and his hands would crack and swell with infection," Jennifer Kieffer tells WebMD. "It was really tough for him, but we saw a big change almost immediately after he joined the study."

While Ben's improvement was remarkable, even more remarkable is the fact that the treatment he received was not a high-tech, expensive new drug or topical cream.

In fact, it's about as low tech, and inexpensive, as you can get.

When his eczema flared, Ben soaked daily in bath water containing about a quarter cup of household bleach.

He still takes frequent bleach baths, even though his eczema is much improved. His mom says the baths have made all the difference.

"For pennies' worth of bleach to work so well is just amazing," she says.

But before you try this at home, talk to your doctor or your child's doctor about it.

Bleach Baths for Eczema

As many as one in five school-aged children have eczema, known medically as atopic dermatitis. The skin condition is characterized by itchy, inflamed skin that often becomes scabby and raw from scratching.

Frequent scratching, which breaks the skin, often leads to skin infections, including difficult to treat ones like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Pediatric dermatologist Amy Paller, MD, tells WebMD that about 90% of people with eczema have staph on their skin, compared to about 25% of the population at large.

Staph infections have traditionally been treated with antibiotics, but bleach baths can also kill the microbes that cause infection.

Paller now recommends bleach baths to all her patients with moderate to severe eczema.

Along with Jennifer Huang, MD, and colleagues from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, Paller conducted one of the first formal studies to examine the treatment.

Thirty-one children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years, including Ben Kieffer, were included in the study.

All had moderate to severe eczema and were also infected with staph, and all were being treated with a 14-day course of antibiotics.

In addition to the drug treatment, half of the patients took bleach baths and the other half took "placebo" baths without bleach.

The study design called for the patients to soak in the bleach or placebo baths twice a week, but Paller says more frequent baths may be useful during eczema flare-ups.

Children in the study who took the bleach baths had a reduction in eczema severity that was five times greater than the children who took the placebo baths after three months.

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