Back to school: Practical tips for children with eczema

September is Eczema Awareness month which coincides with back to school for thousands of children around the country. Although it can be a very exciting time for most, it can also be a very daunting time for children with eczema.

Atopic eczema is a very common, non-contagious, chronic (long-term) inflammatory skin condition. If you have eczema, your skin barrier function (which prevents water loss and protects against allergens and irritants) is impaired or weakened. This makes the skin dry out and become more vulnerable to infections by bacteria and viruses. Eczema affects 1 in 5 children which means that in primary school, there will more than likely be a few children in the classroom with the skin condition.

Related: eczema information page
Related: What you need to know about eczema booklet
Related: Emolliant therapy

Symptoms of Atopic Eczema include:
The main symptom is an intense itch which can be very uncomfortable, interfere with sleep and impact negatively on the quality of life of the child and their family.

Some children with moderate or severe eczema can experience social embarrassment due to the visibility of their condition.
Typically, eczema goes through phases of being active and under control. During a ‘flare up’, when eczema is very active, symptoms such as redness, dryness and itch worsen, while at other times, symptoms settle.

Practical tips
With all the excitement and preparation for back to school, we are mindful of the children out there with eczema and what this might mean for them. To help with any worries, we have created some practical tips which may be of benefit.

  1. Try to have established a daily bath and emollient regime and continue this routine to aid sleep and prevent flares at this exciting and possibly stress inducing time. If your child is prescribed topical steroids, ensure they are used correctly and step-up treatment if flares occur as advised by your doctor.
  2. Aim to buy 100% cotton clothes, especially for garments that are directly in contact with the skin. Some online eczema clothing sites sell cotton shirts and trousers which can sometimes be hard to buy in local shops. When buying socks and tights, be mindful of choosing a high cotton content as opposed to synthetic fabrics.
  3. Advise the teacher that your child has eczema. Forewarned is forearmed! This way the teacher can know in advance for instance that it might suit your child to sit in a cooler part of the classroom as opposed to in direct sunlight or beside a radiator. If they are feeling hot or itchy, a gentle reminder to take off a jumper may help. If there is a sand table as there often is in the junior classes, ask the teacher to suggest rinsing hands after the activity.
  4. Hand washing with soap and using hand sanitiser at school will probably form part of your child’s daily routine. Washing hands will help remove harmful bacteria and viruses and is important in particular to slow the spread of the coronavirus. To counteract the irritating effect of these products, applying a hand moisturiser immediately after washing will help heal dry skin and prevent cracking and reduce the risk of itching and scratching. This, in turn, will prevent the skin becoming infected. Allow hand sanitiser to dry before moisturising. Choose a hand cream in a tube that is fragrance free and ideally one that is oil based (an ointment or gel).
  5. Try to make the time spent applying emollients fun for children, not a chore. Get them involved to help with application or if distraction or a reward chart appeals, go with what works best for your child.
  6. For older children, be aware that activity and sweating can exacerbate itch. If there is an opportunity to shower after exercise, encourage your child to do this.

Over time, most children with eczema will begin to take responsibility for their own skincare. If they know there is support both at home and at school, it will make the transition easier for both child and parents.

For more information about atopic dermatitis and eczema, visit our main eczema page here.  If you need help or guidance about managing your eczema, contact the ISF Helpline here.