How to manage itchy skin conditions.If you’re like most parents, your children’s health is very important to you. You may even find yourself agonizing over the best ways to treat any skin conditions they may have. The good news is that you can manage many skin issues at home, without costly co-pays or referrals to a specialist.
One common skin disorder is seborrheic dermatitis, frequently known as dandruff in children and cradle cap in infants. Your child may complain of an itchy, dry scalp, and you might even notice white flakes on his hair shaft. You can control this condition with most anti-dandruff shampoos found at your local drugstore or market. Daily use of these shampoos for one to two weeks, and then a gradual move to a more gentle shampoo, can keep the scalp healthy and free of irritants.
If your child has thick, yellow scales on his scalp, it’s likely cradle cap, which is common in infants. These scales can be quite thick and sometimes occur on the eyebrows as well. You can treat cradle cap at home by removing the scales with a little olive oil and a soft toothbrush, lifting and brushing scales away gently. This method may need to be repeated several times throughout the week before your infant’s cradle cap resolves. You can also treat cradle cap with a non-irritating product found at your local drugstore. As with any skin condition, if your child or infant’s symptoms do not improve after two weeks of home treatment, see your healthcare provider.
If you have ever received a call from the school nurse informing you that your child has lice in his hair, you know that once you get over the shock the next step is finding a safe treatment plan. One thing to remember is that lice are not harmful or a sign of poor hygiene. The good news is that most over-the-counter lice treatment is safe for children two months of age and older. Lice are not always preventable, but they are treatable. The most common over-the-counter treatment is one-percent permetherin cream, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can feel safe using this product, which kills live lice, but does not kill the eggs. Retreatment is recommended in seven to nine days to kill newly hatched eggs. An essential part of this treatment is to comb out any visible nits on your child’s hair shaft. Nits are lice eggs, and are usually visible by inspecting your child’s hair. Nit combs are usually included in lice-treatment packages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not support school policy not to return to school until a child is nit-free. This means that after treatment your child can return to school, but don’t forget to repeat treatment as previously mentioned. If this treatment fails, call your child’s healthcare provider for advice. There are many safe treatment options.
After you treat your child, treat the house. Lice spread during close contact with affected individuals — through sharing combs, hats, pillows, beds and school nap mats. Wash any household item your child has used in hot water within two days of treatment. If items can’t be washed, a quick spin in your drier may suffice. You can also place Items in a closed garbage bag for two weeks and then return them to normal use. Wash all combs or brushes thoroughly with warm water.
Last but not least, use this experience as a teaching moment for your school-aged kids. Tell them the importance of not sharing personal items such as combs, hair bows and hats with their classmates. Don’t forget to check other family members regularly, to ensure that they remain lice-free.
Dry skin is a common among kids, and proves to be worrisome to many parents during the winter months. Your child’s skin is an important barrier to many common bacteria, and keeping it healthy protects against skin infections. The good news is that by adjusting some hygiene practices, you can keep your child healthy through the harsh winter months.
- Use a gentle, moisturizing soap. Strong fragrances and dyes can irritate your child’s skin
- Avoid anti-bacterial soaps, which are known to be harsh on skin
- Reduce shower and bath time — this will help prevent skin dehydration
- Decrease water temperature, which will help prevent dryness
- Remember that emollients such as petroleum jelly can help seal in moisture, prevent skin cracking and are great for dry lips. In addition, they are cost-friendly
- Apply emollients or lotions to damp skin within minutes after bathing, to seal in moisture and keep skin looking and feeling healthy
If you have tried everything to keep your child’s skin healthy, but it remains dry and inflamed, he could have atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema — a chronic condition that causes intense itching and inflamed skin. A child with eczema will have recurrent symptoms. Sometimes moisturizers alone are not enough to keep it under control. You may need to use thick emollients on the skin at least two to three times a day. If your child might have eczema, choose fragrance- and dye-free emollients. Apply emollients shortly after bathing, and use only mild soaps to cleanse the skin. You might need to use fragrance- and dye-free laundry detergent as well.
If your child’s skin remains inflamed, you will likely need to use a prescription-strength hydrocortisone cream, so schedule a visit with your provider.
After a diagnosis of eczema, you might want to learn about some new research regarding eczema and bleach baths. No more than twice a week, you can fill a standard-size tub with water, and add one-half cup of plain bleach. Don’t worry: This is no stronger than the pool water your child swims in each summer. Allow your child to soak for 10 to 15 minutes, avoiding the eyes and face. A bleach bath is thought to help kill bacteria, and decrease inflammation and itching. This will help reduce a secondary skin infection, commonly caused by cracked, dry skin. After your child’s bleach bath, moisturize.
While we know that healthy skin is important, it’s easy to forget about nail health. Keeping your child’s nails clean and healthy will help to prevent many diseases.
Here are some tips:
- Trim your child’s nails straight across, avoiding curving on the ends. This can help prevent painful ingrown toenails. Remember that toenails grow more slowly than fingernails, so they will need less trimming.
- Always avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes. Too-tight shoes can lead to added pressure on the nailbed and to poor nail health.
- Teach your kids early-on not to bite their nails. Not biting nails can help prevent the spread of many common childhood illnesses, along with pinworms.
- If your children participate in sports, teach them to protect their feet by not walking barefoot in the school shower or locker room. Avoiding going barefoot may help prevent the spread of many fungal infections.
- Teach your teens to have safe manicures and pedicures. Many nail salons do not sterilize their tools, which can lead to the spread of painful bacterial infections and fungal infections. Bringing one’s own nail clippers and tools to the nail salon can help eliminate the risk of these types of infections.
If your child’s nails change color or the skin around the nails appears infected, consult your healthcare provider. An examination can rule out poor blood circulation, skin disorders or infections, and even some lung diseases.
Rebecca Cannon, MS, RN, CPNP, is a board-certified PNP working in primary care, currently for Wellstar Pediatrics and Adolescent Center in Austell, GA.