The challenges of raising a child with eczema

A loving mother wants above all good health for her child. Imagine then the emotional impact of discovering that your baby has eczema, of wanting more than anything to make the itching and irritation go away. And imagine the worry when a woman with eczema becomes pregnant. The assumptions are huge.

Fortunately, there is great information – and inspiration – to help a woman in either situation. Here, two mums reveal the tremendous effort they’ve gone to in their determination to give their children relief and good health.

Never take no for an answer

Meghan Elliott, who lives in Kankakee, Illinois, is a busy mother of two: Nora, 4, and Charlie, 1. After the shock of discovering that Charlie had suffered from eczema since birth, Elliott embarked on a quest to do whatever she could to help him. She researched her needs and then made sure the health care system met them.

“Charlie had rough, scaly, bumpy skin,” says Elliott, chief operating officer for marketing firm Mayhill Moon. At first the inflammation was mainly on her cheeks and thighs, but then it started to develop on her elbows. “My son’s pediatrician officially diagnosed him with moderate to severe eczema and suggested we take him to a pediatric dermatologist.” It’s not a bad idea, but she and Charlie would have to spend months on a waiting list, which Elliott found “extremely frustrating”.

It was then that she set out to learn as much as she could about Charlie’s condition. One thing that struck her was that many children with eczema have moderate to severe food allergies. “Seeing how long it took to be referred to a pediatric dermatologist, I then took it upon myself to call a pediatric allergist. Luckily they got him in pretty quickly and we found out that Charlie was severely allergic to all forms of eggs and also had lactose intolerance.

It was a defining moment. “What we’re doing now is lathering his cheeks and chin with CeraVe Healing Ointment before and after he’s eaten so it doesn’t irritate his skin,” she says. “The ointment helps act as a barrier to any food that could cause a flare-up.”

Elliott carefully analyzed every aspect of Charlie’s routine to relieve him in various ways. “One thing that has helped my son is giving him a bath every night,” she says. “I thought it would dry him out even more, but our dermatologist said a quick 5-10 minute lukewarm bath – after which we pat him dry and weave him in immediately – will keep all the moisture in his skin. We use the lotion , CeraVe shampoo and body wash during his bath time. We also apply CeraVe Healing Ointment to his cheeks throughout the day to keep moisture locked in. Charlie was also prescribed two topical ointments to use as needed as well as oral medication to help when it is really itchy.

To help him sleep, Elliott relies on the softest bedding. “We use bamboo crib sheets, and they’re very breathable — when we use a flannel crib sheet, his cheeks are very chafed when he wakes up,” she says. “We also make a lot of bamboo clothing. He can also wear cotton clothes, but we definitely stay away from wool or polyester. Charlie is fine now. “We have a schedule of medical check-ups every 3 to 6 months, and he’s doing so much better than we were a year ago.”

The emotional toll of constant worry and care, however, is considerable. Raising a child with eczema and food allergies is exhausting and frustrating,” she says. “Still, push for help to relieve your child. My advice to other parents who are also going through this is to always be your child’s advocate. They cannot advocate for themselves, so it is to our responsibility to do so for them.

Resilient mom, resilient child

Karen Fischer is an award-winning nutritionist and author who lives and works on Australia’s Gold Coast. Dedicated to helping people with eczema through her online support network, she is the owner of Skin Friend, a skincare company. Her own story – and that of her daughter Ayva, now 22 – is why she made eczema relief her job and her passion.

“I experienced eczema pain from head to toe,” says Fischer. “I have health practitioner qualifications, but I didn’t really understand eczema until I experienced it.”

Before she got pregnant with Ayva, Fischer found herself dealing with the skin condition. “My eczema started off as a little patch,” she recalls. “After a stressful period at work, it suddenly spread to my whole body. Every time I ate, it spilled out. Some nights the itching was so bad that I couldn’t sleep. I had to constantly wash my sheets, I couldn’t eat out with friends, I was socially isolated. Nobody understood and I spent a lot of time at home crying.

Noticing the connection between food and her flare-ups, Fischer took a close look at what she ate. “Your skin is literally made from the foods you eat, so it made sense to change my diet,” she says. “Genetics play a role, but I believe eating healthy, low-chemical foods can compensate for these genetic defects.” Identifying the foods that seemed to trigger her eczema — and eliminating them — helped Fischer get better.

Her pregnancy, thankfully, was uneventful. “I had suffered from hand dermatitis before I got pregnant,” she says. “With a healthy diet, this quickly disappeared, so I had a rash-free pregnancy. However, Ayva developed eczema 2 weeks after she was born. Fischer was devastated to see Ayva in pain and the baby was struggling to sleep, but the new mum didn’t immediately think she could approach her daughter’s skin condition the same way she had dealt with hers. “I thought eczema was a disease genetics and couldn’t do anything, so I used topical steroids to treat his eczema with no success,” she recalled.

Then, a breakthrough: “A nurse who cared for Ayva told me about food sensitivities and she put me on the path to healing my daughter’s eczema. Nutritional biochemistry was my favorite subject in college, so I designed a diet specifically for Ayva based on research I had read in various hospital allergy units. Ayva’s skin cleared up and we gradually expanded her diet. The right foods can make your child’s body resilient.

Today, mother and daughter are happy and healthy. “Eczema is a complicated skin disorder and everyone is quick to give you advice,” says Fischer – before offering his own advice. According to her, “a healthy diet is the permanent long-term solution”.

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