When children and babies suffer from eczema, it can be tough because they perpetually scratch themselves. Once they start scratching, they cannot stop. The eczema itch-scratch cycle describes how once an itch is felt, scratching will follow. This causes more itchiness, which needs to be relieved by scratching. This causes the skin to get irritated and thus keeps the vicious cycle going. I will discuss in this article how to stop eczema itching in babies including what types of clothing to wear, how to distract your child, and more.
What is the itch scratch cycle?
Once the itch is felt, babies with scratch to try to relieve the itch. While a quick and temporary relief is felt, in babies with eczema, the skin feels more itchy. This leads to more scratching and then more itchiness. The skin will become inflamed and irritated. This cycle viciously continues so it’s important to knip the cycle in the bud before it gets out of hand.
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How do I stop the itch?
There are several strategies that can be done to help relieve the itch.
- Moisturize the skin frequently
- Use wet wraps to quickly soothe and moisturize the skin
- Trim your child’s nails
- Use a cold compress to bring down inflammation
- Distract your child
- Use anti-histamines
- Stay cool
- Avoid Triggers
- Avoid dyes and fragrances in detergent
These strategies will be discussed in detail below so you can figure out how to stop scratching eczema skin.
A good place to start on figuring out how to stop itching and scratching in babies with eczema is to use a moisturizer. Using a cream based moisturizer several times a day, especially after bathing helps lock in the hydration from water. Water helps keep the skin soft and moist, but quickly dries out after coming out of the bath if a moisturizer isn’t used soon. A moisturizer will help prevent the skin from drying out. You should also moisturize throughout the day as moisturizers can wear off during the day.
Use Wet Wraps To Alleviate the Itch
A wet wrap is done with a moist cloth that you wrap around the patch of eczema. It helps keep the area hydrated and moist without drying out the skin. From my own experiences, I will use it at night before bed so that my child has a good night of rest. After bathing, I will apply a moisturizer and then use a wet wrap.
There are different ways to wet wrap. I have found athletic sweat bands to help because they are elastic enough to put light pressure and stay in place. The material also holds the moisture to hydrate the patch of skin that is irritated.
Avoid harsh fabrics. Do not use sheets or pajamas made from fabrics that can irritate the skin, such as wool or polyester. Clothing and linens made from 100 percent cotton are more gentle on the skin.
Trim your child’s
Sharp nails are a source of compromising and breaking skin, which can lead to infections. You cannot stop your child from scratching, but we can control and minimize what happens when your baby scratches themselves. Keep the nails clean and short minimize the chance of severely scratching the skin and causing an infection.
Use a cold compresses to stop the itch
Looking back at the itch-scratch cycle, scratching leads to inflammation. Cold helps to slow the inflammation process and thus improve the itchy sensation. Just be careful not to apply ice directly on your child’s skin as this can cause frostbites. I usually place the ice pack in a towel before applying a cold compress to the area of concern so the cold pack is not directly on the skin.
How do I distract my child from scratching?
Distracting your child is another strategy on how to stop itching and scratching in babies with eczema. Distractions help them focus on something else rather than scratching themselves. Some suggestions, which I use myself, include:
- Screen time– some TV shows such as educational programs may be helpful to further educate your child and also distract them from realizing that they are itchy
- Exercise – exercise including light walking can help improve take their attention away from the scratching while promoting good health
- Games– Play games whether is peek-a-boo to digital/board games
- Snacks – Give your child a snack. Be careful not to do this often. Children may learn to cope with stress by eating and this can lead to weight gain and child obesity.
- Books– this is a good tool as my child will visually lock into the pages and use his hands to flip through the pages.
- Paper/Kleenex tissues– They don’t hold shapes or forms so my child finds it intriguing to play with it. He definitely loves to rip up paper. This is actually good because he is developing fine motor skills and most of all distracting him from scratching.
What medications can I use to help with itching?
Topical steroids when used appropriately can make a big difference. They can be very helpful when eczema just flared up. I personally will not use them every day, but I do use them for my child’s eczema when it is flared up for whatever reason (maybe it was something in his diet while introducing new food groups, weather changing to warmer climate, he’s sick and not feeling well, etc). Talk to your dermatologist/pediatrician about the best topical steroid to use.
Anti-histamines (ie Benadryl, Zyrtec) can help relieve the itch. It has helped my child in the past when the itching and scratching was relentless. I highly recommend that you talk to your doctor before using antihistamines for eczema.
Stay cool to help stop itching in babies with eczema
Keeping the room cool and humidified, especially in the summer helps. Heat can cause eczema to flare up and thus make your child itchy. Consider purchasing a humidifier for eczema to use in a room.
What can trigger eczema?
- Certain fabric and clothing can irritate the skin. 100% cotton clothing works well to not irritate the skin
- Various sources of allergies can cause eczema including food, pets, dust mites, pollens.
- Allergy testing can be considered, which is usually ordered by an allergy doctor specialist. The results can help you figure out your child’s triggers.
Does laundry make a difference?
Some ingredients in detergent can cause eczema to flare up. I look for products that are free of fragrance and dye. Also, consider running an empty cycle to wash away residual detergent before washing your laundry. Double washing clothes to rinse away detergent might be something to consider as well
Products that are dye and fragrance free
Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent
Purex Laundry Detergent
- DIY: Some people have recommended using borax and washing soda
Does cleaning my home help stop itching and scratching?
Dust mites are tiny bugs that reside in carpets, sofas, bed because this is where many people reside and shed dead skin. They feed on your dead skin that is exfoliated naturally in addition to pollen, dead insects, fungi, etc. Dust mites are pesky creatures and they do not go away easily. Several ways to combat them include:
- Use dust covers on pillows and beds
- Vacuums with HEPA filters
- Air purifiers with HEPA filters
- Regularly wash bed sheets
- Keep humidity under 50% as dust mites (per Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) like humidity at high levels. Consider a dehumidifier
- Control temperature- dust mites thrive in temperatures between 68 to 77 degrees F (20 to 25 degrees Celsius).
There’s still ongoing research about the connection between dust mites and eczema, but there does appear to be a connection.
Keep a positive attitude
It’s very difficult to see your child in misery from scratching. Most children do grow out of eczema by age 2 which has been my case with my children. It’s very easy to discouraged when you have days with flareups but it’s ok. This is a journey and there is no quick fix. Have a good support group including a doctor you trust, family members, friends, social media groups such as Facebook to vent to other parents. You are not alone! I hope this guide helps you in your journey as you figure out how to stop itching in babies with eczema.