Montana Public Radio

Teaching Kids About Eczema: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Feb 15, 2018

Hi!  I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician.  I’m here today with health tips for kids about: eczema.

Eczema is a pretty funny word, isn’t it?  It’s spelled E-C-Z-E-M-A.  It comes from a Greek word that means ‘something thrown out by heat’.  If you have eczema, you’ll know why.  Eczema is a red, dry, itchy, scaly skin rash and when it’s really bad, it feels like your skin is being boiled from the inside out.

Maybe you’ve never noticed it before but lots of kids have eczema.  In fact, 1 out of every 10 kids has it.  Eczema comes and goes.  Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t.  Eczema is often on kids’ hands, the fingers, the palms or the wrists.  But eczema can be anywhere, on your knees or elbows or even your face!

Eczema shows up as a patch of bright red skin.  Usually there are clear tiny blisters just underneath the red skin.  When the blisters break open, the skin gets scaly.  Eczema itches with a fiery, fiery pain, kind of like it does after you’ve been stung by a wasp.  It stings and itches and hurts all at once.  But if you scratch it and pick at it, the skin cracks and bleeds, and then it’s really painful.

Eczema is not contagious.  You aren’t going to get it from another kid.  You aren’t going to get it from walking around outside or playing in a park or from forgetting to wash your hands.  In fact, sometimes kids can get eczema from washing their hands too much or with the wrong kind of soap!  That’s because eczema is caused by an allergy or an irritation.  Soaps with lots of fragrance or chemicals can cause eczema.  Some kids get eczema from getting paint on their hands or from playing with clay or dirt.  Some get eczema when it’s winter and the air is cold and dry or from wearing scratchy fabric like wool.  If you’re allergic to dogs or cats or plants, you can get eczema from touching them.  And foods can cause eczema.

Yes, foods.  I have a 9 year old patient who is allergic to wheat.  Whenever he eats wheat, he gets eczema.  If he eats a lot of wheat, the eczema is really, really bad.  His fingers swell, his palms crack and bleed, and both his hands are bright red and scaly and hurt a lot.  Wheat is in cookies and cakes and bread and pasta.  He loves all those foods, so it’s hard to avoid them.  But if he doesn’t eat any wheat, his skin is fine.  So for him, not wheat is worth eating.

If you have a skin rash that just won’t go away, your parents should take you to a doctor to see if you have eczema.  The doctor will give you lotions to put on the rash to help it feel better.  But you still want to avoid the things that you’re allergic to or that irritate your skin so the eczema won’t come back.  You also might want to ask your parents to get you tested for food allergies.

Natural medicine can help a lot. I prescribe a lotion made from the calendula plant.  It moistens your skin and helps it grow new skin.  Supplementing with fish oil and vitamins C and D is good for the skin.  Drinking lots of water every day keeps the skin moist and healthy.

I’ve known of kids making fun of other kids who have eczema.  That just makes everything worse.  If you see a kid with eczema, be kind to them.  If you have eczema, stick up for yourself.  Stress can make eczema worse, so thoughtfulness is good medicine and helps all of us get better!

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.