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How to Manage Childhood Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) During the Winter Months 

January 15, 2024

Atopic Dermatitis, or Eczema, is a chronic skin condition characterized by extremely itchy, dry, and inflamed patches of skin. This condition tends to be significantly more prevalent in children than in adults, and current estimates suggest that approximately 10.7 percent of children in the U.S. suffer from this condition. Any caregiver who has a child with eczema will understand that this condition worsens during the winter and may need more attention during these periods. Several measures may help make the cold months more tolerable for children with atopic dermatitis. Here are some suggestions that help make it easier to keep symptoms under control of childhood eczema in the winter months.

Understanding Childhood Atopic Dermatitis

The hallmark of atopic dermatitis is intense itching of the skin. Eczematous skin is dry, flaky, and chronically irritated. It tends to be worse on the flexor surfaces of the extremities, including elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles. Still, it can occur in other areas, especially in infants. Because of the intense itching and scratching cycle, eczema can be very uncomfortable, distressing, and sometimes painful, especially if the skin barrier is disrupted. The damaged skin barrier may contribute to increased itching, and the reflex scratching may then cause excoriations, sores, and, at times, infection of the skin.

The manifestations of eczema may be more severe in children due to their skin’s natural characteristics and typical childhood behavior patterns. Children’s skin tends to be more sensitive and lower in natural moisture content as compared to adult skin, and this may contribute to eczema flare-ups as well. Additionally, children are more likely to scratch itchy areas uncontrollably without understanding the implications, potentially worsening inflammation and discomfort. Understanding and managing these factors, particularly itching and scratching, is essential for effectively managing childhood eczema, particularly during winter.

Connection between Eczema and Winter

Winter weather can trigger a worsening of eczema symptoms due to the season’s harsh environmental conditions. Maintaining adequate skin hydration is of paramount importance and is essential to keep skin symptoms under control. The cold weather causes a decrease in humidity levels, which may contribute to removing some of the skin’s natural, protective properties. This worsens already dry skin, further exacerbating the chronic inflammation and itching associated with eczema.

Furthermore, the cold temperature and decreased humidity can cause the skin to contract, leading to cracks that expose the sensitive layers underneath, further increasing the risk of inflammation, allergen penetration, and infection. Children who suffer from eczema might, therefore, experience heightened discomfort during winter as their already sensitive skin becomes even more susceptible to these environmental conditions. Using indoor heating systems can contribute to decreased humidity levels and further rob moisture out of the skin, also contributing to the worsening of eczema symptoms.

Understanding this link between winter and the flare-up of eczema symptoms can help formulate effective strategies to manage and alleviate the discomfort associated with this condition during the colder months.

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Tips to Manage Childhood Eczema in Winter

  • Implementing preventative measures and incorporating appropriate treatment techniques can significantly help manage eczema during the winter. Cold and dry conditions can decrease skin hydration, which may then, in turn, lead to increased dryness and increase the potential for flare-ups. Using a humidifier to maintain a suitable humidity level indoors can help preserve skin moisture but should be used cautiously in children who are allergic to dust mites or mold spores, as both of these allergens thrive in humid conditions. 
  • Avoid taking extremely hot baths or showers, as the high temperature can strip away the skin’s natural protective oils, leaving it dry and more susceptible to eczema. Instead, opt for warm baths or showers and apply a moisturizer immediately afterward to lock in the moisture. Remember to use a mild, non-scented soap for bathing only very sparingly.
  • Choose fragrance-free and hypoallergenic moisturizers to reduce the risk of further irritating your child’s skin. Scented laundry detergent can trigger eczema flare-ups in some children, so consider having the whole household use only fragrance-free products. Avoid using dryer sheets and fabric softeners. Use topical moisturizers frequently and apply them liberally to the skin. Use ointments preferably (lipid-based) or creams (water-based) as topical moisturizers. Lotions and gels are alcohol based and should be avoided. Find whichever product the child tolerates best and use it often.
  • Wearing suitable clothing is also critical for children with atopic dermatitis. Opt for smooth-textured clothing such as cotton, which allows your skin to breathe and minimizes irritation. If wool or synthetic-based clothing is needed, use a bottom layer of cotton for less irritation. Remember, while these tips can help manage eczema, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional, such as an allergist or dermatologist, for tailored advice and treatment options.

In conclusion, winter can intensify childhood eczema symptoms due to the seasonal changes in weather and indoor heating practices. However, understanding this connection and implementing proactive strategies such as maintaining indoor humidity, modifying bathing habits, using suitable moisturizers, and wearing appropriate clothing can mitigate some of these harmful effects. Remember, each child’s case is unique, and what works for one child might not work for another. Therefore, seeking professional advice tailored to your child’s specific needs is always recommended. By acknowledging and addressing these challenges, caregivers can help alleviate the discomfort and distress that winter brings to children suffering from eczema.

Allergist Juan Mas
Medically Reviewed By: Juan Mas, MD
Reviewed on: January 12, 2023

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