Skin

19 November 2007

Eczema and the environment

Health24's EnviroHealth expert looks at how the environment can affect your child's eczema.

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Olivia Rose-Innes, Health24's EnviroHealth expert, looks at how the environment can affect your child's eczema.

There are several different types of eczema and a variety of causes and triggers, says Rose-Innes. In terms of environmental causes, some cases get worse in the hot summer months, especially when the air is dry, and some in winter where the air is dry – cold dry air outside, or, particularly, dry air inside from indoor heating.

Sometimes, eczema results from being in prolonged or repeated contact with irritant substances, such as soap, detergent, sweat, saliva, urine, or even water (e.g. very hot water or excessive washing).

It can be the result of an allergy to certain foods (including cow’s milk, and foods eaten by a breastfeeding mother), chemicals e.g. in skin care or household products, or coming into contact with certain animals or plants. Tobacco smoke, pet hair, dust mites and moulds are also common indoor triggers, which are often worse when doors and windows are kept closed.

Home treatment
In addition to treatment prescribed by a doctor, you can try the following measures to help prevent and relieve eczema:

  • Use a good moisturiser. Check the brand with your doctor or pharmacist to be quite sure this isn’t contributing to the problem.
  • Baths shouldn’t be too long or frequent, and the water shouldn’t be very hot – this can dry out the skin. After washing, pat dry (don’t rub), and apply moisturiser.
  • Avoid temperature extremes and dry air.
  • Use mild soaps, shampoos and detergents, and use less of these. Avoid bubble baths.
  • Avoid contact with potentially irritating chemicals. Wash the skin immediately after contact with an irritant.
  • Choose cotton clothes and bedding over wool and synthetics. Clothes should be loose and comfortable, not stiff or chafing. Don’t overdress your baby.
  • Try using a humidifier to prevent dry indoor air.
 

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Ask the Expert

Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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