Eczema is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes dry, itchy skin and other skin symptoms.

The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis. It affects an estimated 30% of people in the United States. Most people with this condition first develop symptoms in infancy or childhood.

If your child has eczema, taking steps to manage the condition is important for improving their quality of life and reducing their risk of complications, such as skin infections.

Read on to find answers to common questions about eczema in children.

Experts don’t know the exact cause of eczema, but it appears to develop when the protective layer of the skin changes. This layer is known as the skin barrier. Changes in the skin barrier may cause your child’s skin to become dry, damaged, and inflamed.

A combination of factors may contribute to changes in the skin barrier, including:

  • genetic mutations
  • environment factors
  • changes in the immune system

Children are more likely to develop eczema if other family members have the condition.

Kids with eczema also have an increased risk of certain conditions, such as:

  • asthma
  • hay fever
  • food allergies

Researchers are continuing to study the potential causes of eczema and its relationship to allergic diseases.

In many cases, children with eczema don’t need to avoid specific foods.

But roughly 30% of children with eczema also have food allergies. Allergic reactions to foods may cause itchy skin or other symptoms that can trigger an eczema flare.

If your child develops symptoms after eating certain foods, let their doctor know. They can refer your child to an allergist for testing and treatment. If they receive a diagnosis of food allergy, their allergist can help them learn how to prevent allergic reactions by avoiding food allergens in snacks and meals.

Non-allergic food sensitivities might also cause symptoms in some children.

Certain triggers may worsen your child’s eczema symptoms. These triggers vary from one child to another.

Common eczema triggers include:

  • dry skin
  • sweaty skin
  • cold, dry air
  • certain foods, if your child has a food allergy
  • pollen, mold, dust mites, pet dander, or other environmental allergens
  • itchy or rough clothing, including clothes that have rough seams or tags
  • skin care or cleaning products that contain fragrances, dyes, or other irritating ingredients
  • extremely hot or cold temperatures, or sudden changes in temperature
  • physical stress, such as from injuries or infections
  • emotional stress

Scratching the skin can also cause eczema symptoms to get worse.

To help manage your child’s eczema:

  • follow their doctor’s recommended treatment plan
  • develop a gentle skin care routine for them
  • limit exposure to their triggers

You can learn more about each strategy below.

It’s also important to help your child develop the knowledge and skills to manage their own condition. Starting from a young age, help them understand the basics of eczema. As they get older, teach them how to take prescribed treatments, care for their skin, and avoid their triggers.

Follow their treatment plan

Depending on your child’s specific symptoms, their doctor may recommend one or more of the following eczema treatments:

  • changes to their skin care routine or other lifestyle habits
  • medicated creams, ointments, or other topical therapy
  • oral or injected medication
  • light therapy

If you notice changes in your child’s symptoms or overall health, let their doctor know. They might recommend changes to your child’s treatment plan.

Develop a gentle skin care routine

For people with eczema, a gentle skin care routine typically includes the following:

  • taking short baths or showers with lukewarm rather than hot water
  • using gentle, fragrance-free soap or cleanser
  • using a soft towel to gently pat the skin dry
  • applying moisturizer while the skin is damp

In some cases, your child’s doctor might encourage you to incorporate wet wrap therapy or bleach baths into their routine. They can help you learn more about these forms of skin care.

To find cleansers or other skin care products that are free of common irritants, search the National Eczema Association (NEA)’s product directory. You can also look for products labeled with the NEA’s Seal of Acceptance.

Minimize triggers

To minimize exposure to common eczema triggers:

  • Try to keep your home at a stable, comfortable temperature and consistent humidity level. If the air is dry, consider installing a humidifier in your child’s room.
  • Dress your child in loose-fitting clothes made from soft, breathable fabric, such as cotton. Remove any clothing tags that irritate their skin.
  • Launder your child’s clothes with gentle, fragrance-free products. Consider drying their clothes in a dryer rather than on a clothesline to help keep them soft.
  • Discourage scratching by trimming your child’s fingernails short. Encourage them to wear gloves at night if they scratch while sleeping.
  • Identify sources of stress in your child’s life and take steps to limit them. Consider asking for a referral to a mental health professional if they’re finding it hard to manage stress.

Your child’s doctor may also recommend other strategies for managing their specific triggers. For example, your child may need to avoid specific foods if they have a food allergy.

For many children with eczema, the condition improves or resolves by the time they’re teenagers or adults. But in some cases, people who develop eczema in childhood continue to have symptoms as teens and adults.

It’s impossible to know for certain whether your child’s condition will improve or resolve with time.

Developing strategies to manage the condition can help improve their quality of life at any age.

Taking steps to manage your child’s eczema can help limit their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Managing eczema may also reduce the risk of complications.

Your child’s doctor may prescribe one or more treatments for eczema. They may also recommend changes to your child’s skin care routine or other daily activities.

Limiting exposure to eczema triggers is important for reducing symptoms. For example, it’s important to avoid skin care and laundry products that contain irritating ingredients. Some children might also benefit from changes to their diet, clothing, or other lifestyle habits.

Talk with your child’s doctor to learn more about their condition and strategies to manage it.