Atopic Dermatitis in Children: Care Instructions

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Atopic dermatitis (also called eczema) is a skin problem that causes intense itching and a red, raised rash. The rash may have tiny blisters, which break and crust over. The rash isn't contagious. Your child can't catch it from others. Children with this condition seem to have very sensitive immune systems that are likely to react to things that cause allergies. The immune system is the body's way of fighting infection. Children who have atopic dermatitis often have asthma or hay fever and other allergies, including food allergies.

There is no cure for atopic dermatitis. But you may be able to control it. Some children may grow out of the condition.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Use moisturizer at least twice a day.
  • If your doctor prescribes a cream, use it as directed. If your doctor prescribes other medicine, give it exactly as directed.
  • Have your child bathe in warm (not hot) water. Do not use bath oils. Limit baths to 5 minutes.
  • Do not use soap at every bath. When you do need soap, use a gentle, nondrying cleanser such as Aveeno, Basis, Dove, or Neutrogena.
  • Apply a moisturizer after bathing. Use a cream such as Cetaphil, Lubriderm, or Moisturel that does not irritate the skin or cause a rash. Apply the cream while your child's skin is still damp after lightly drying with a towel.
  • Place cold, wet cloths on the rash to help with itching.
  • Keep your child's fingernails trimmed and filed smooth to help prevent scratching. Wearing mittens or cotton socks on the hands may help keep your child from scratching the rash.
  • Wash clothes and bedding in mild detergent. Use an unscented fabric softener. Choose soft clothing and bedding.
  • Help your child avoid things that trigger the rash. These may include things like allergens, such as pollen or animal dander. Harsh soaps, stress, and some foods are other examples.
  • If itching affects your child's sleep, ask the doctor about giving your child an antihistamine that might reduce itching and make your child sleepy, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a rash and a fever.
  • Your child has new blisters or bruises, or a rash spreads and looks like a sunburn.
  • Your child has crusting or oozing sores.
  • Your child has joint aches or body aches with a rash.
  • Your child has signs of infection. These include:
    • Increased pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around the rash.
    • Red streaks leading from the rash.
    • Pus draining from the rash.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • A rash does not clear up after 2 to 3 weeks of home treatment.
  • You cannot control your child's itching.
  • Your child has problems with the medicine.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.