Ask the expert: What causes eczema and how can it be managed?
The National Eczema Society discusses the dry skin problem, explaining how to keep kids comfortable by using emollients and avoiding eczema triggers.
Q: My 12-month-old son's just been diagnosed with eczema - why does it happen, and what's the easiest way to keep him comfortable, without disrupting family life too much?
A: Andrew Proctor, chief executive of the National Eczema Society (eczema.org), says: "Eczema affects up to one in five children in the UK and often starts soon after birth. There are various forms of eczema, but the inherited kind is called atopic eczema.
"Atopy is where the body's immune system overreacts to things that wouldn't normally harm us. Other atopic conditions that may run in the family are asthma and hay fever.
"Eczema can be mild, with occasional inflamed patches, through to severe symptoms where most of the skin is affected and is inflamed, cracked and intensely itchy. Children with eczema have very dry skin that allows irritants and allergens to penetrate, triggering eczema flare-ups.
"The most important thing is to use an emollient for your son's routine skin care. Emollients are medical moisturisers and should be provided on prescription by your GP.
"There are lots of emollients to choose from if you buy these independently. You'll probably need to try a few before finding one that works best.
"Emollients are crucial to soothe and protect dry, damaged, itchy and inflamed skin, helping to repair the skin barrier. You should apply them morning and night if the eczema's mild, and more frequently if the eczema is moderate or severe and during a flare-up.
"Identifying and avoiding the triggers that can lead to a sudden bout of itching and eczema flare-ups will also help. Common eczema triggers for infants include changes in room/body temperature, exposure to dust, pollen and moulds, shampoos and bubble baths, and wool and synthetic fabrics.
"Eczema itch can be relentless and unbearable. It's important to find ways of helping your son reduce the urge to scratch, which can damage skin and make the eczema worse. Using sleep mitts at night can be useful, and distraction through games and stories can help him take his mind off his itchy skin.
"Eczema can put a huge strain on family life and leave parents feeling they're failing their child, as they can't make it go away. Throw in exhaustion from disturbed sleep, caring for siblings and juggling a career and it can become overwhelming.
"That's why we always tell parents it's vital to take time for themselves and to practice self-care, so they're in a better place to handle the challenges eczema presents."