Just as good paint protects your house from rain, heat, or snow, similarly, healthy skin protects you by acting as a barrier. But this barrier doesn’t function properly if you or your child has eczema. The result is dryness and irritation of the skin by humidity, cold, heat, and wind.

What is Eczema?

A chronic skin disorder in which skin becomes scaly, itchy, and irritated in children, is called atopic dermatitis or eczema. Genetics, seasonal patterns, and environmental factors are responsible for eczema.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 20% of young children and infants are affected by eczema [1].

Symptoms of eczema appear when the skin’s natural moisture is robbed by hot, cold, or dry weather. Eczema flare-ups can occur anywhere, however common places that dry irritated spots popup are on the face, elbows, and knees.

Following are the symptoms of eczema:

-Sensitive skin
-Brown or red patches that occur on the skin in the form of patches
-Cracked, scaly, and thick skin
-Severe itching on the skin at night
-Raised bumps on the skin

However, the symptoms of eczema vary in people with different age groups. Some other conditions, for example, hay fever and asthma, are also associated with eczema in children [2].

Winter is here! And So is Eczema

The winter season is can be a real crowd pleaser…warm cozy clothes, holiday music, and hot sweet beverages—eggnog anyone? But winter can be harsh for eczema sufferers as the temperature plunges and the furnace fires up. Your child’s skin can get worse in the winter due to this use of indoor heating and decrease in humidity.  Prolonged hot baths and, and clothes made of harsh fabrics like wool can also worsen eczema.

In clinical practice, I find that when the temperature drops outside, children and their parents lips become cracked, and before the pandemic, when hand shaking was common, hands were much drier at this time of year.

A group of European authors combed through the scientific literature and came to a similar conclusion. They found that skin barrier function was decreased when humidity and temperatures drops and that skin was more easily damaged. With a decreased ability for the skin to protect from the outside world, molecules in our bodies that cause inflammation were more abundant and this led skin to get more easily irritated by skin irritants and allergens [3].

Some tips for treating your baby with eczema in winter:

Here are some tips to get your child more comfortable during the winter season.

Skip Hot Baths:

Doctors’ Orders—Don’t bathe your child in hot water. Although it may be tough, daily baths with lukewarm water helps manage the symptoms of eczema. Use an eczema body wash, which is specially formulated for babies. A good eczema body wash will avoid common skin irritants, which we know is important since skin barrier function can be less than optimal when it is cold outside. Limit the bathing time of your child to 10 minutes. Avoid rubbing the baby’s skin with a towel as the rubbing can scratch eczema, causing the skin to be itchier [4]. It is best to pat dry.

Moisturize Often:

Keeping your baby’s skin moisturized is a crucial step during the winters. Heavier and thicker moisturizers should be used, which can soothe and hydrate sensitive skin. A better option for restoring the skin barrier is baby eczema cream. It is important to note that “creams” are thicker than “lotions,” and the best way to protect and hydrate the skin barrier is by applying your irritant free eczema cream right after the bath or shower.

Dress your child in layers:

Overheating and sweating are also triggers of eczema. Wearing layers is a great strategy to prevent overheating.

Watch out for indoor allergens:

Dust mites or pet dander are some of the indoor allergens, in the face of a more permeable skin barrier, that can also trigger eczema flares. Frequent washing of bedding, keeping floors cleaned, changing the home air filters, and even removing books (sad 🙁 ) or stuffed animals (sorry Teddy Bear), which are both dust accumulators may be worth looking into. Keep pets out of rooms where you or your child sleeps.

References:

  1. Sasaki M, Yoshida K, Adachi Y, Furukawa M, Itazawa T, Odajima H, et al. Environmental factors associated with childhood eczema: Findings from a national web-based survey. Allergol Int [Internet]. 2016;65(4):420–4. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.alit.2016.03.007
  2. Langan SM, Silcocks P, Williams HC. What causes flares of eczema in children? Br J Dermatol. 2009;161(3):640–6.
  3. Engebretsen, Kristiane & Johansen, J.D. & Kezic, S & Linneberg, Allan & Thyssen, Jacob. (2015). The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV. 30. 10.1111/jdv.13301.
  4. Diepgen TL, Andersen KE, Chosidow O, Coenraads PJ, Elsner P, English J, et al. Guidelines for diagnosis, prevention and treatment of hand eczema – Short version. JDDG – J Ger Soc Dermatology. 2015;13(1):77–85.