Eczema (also called atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis) is a very common dry skin condition.  Eczema shown as red blotches on a young child's backIt affects about 1 in 5 babies and children in the UK. Eczema often appears in the first few months of life. Eczema usually improves in most children as they get older, but some children with more severe eczema may continue to have eczema into adult life.  

Eczema can cause the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked and sore.  Sometimes, children with eczema make may have periods where the eczema becomes more severe (flare ups).

Eczema has many triggers that include:
  • Irritants such as soap, clothing (wool, polyester), cigarette smoke, chlorine in swimming pools
  • Changes in the climate such as drier air or temperature (too cold or too hot)
  • Environmental allergens such as house dust mite and moulds
  • Viral illnesses
  • Hormone changes
  • Stress and anxiety 
  • Rarely foods
    • Immediate reactions ( less than 1 hour ) after eating
    • Delayed reactions (4 to 6 hours) after eating with a flare of eczema

The National Eczema Society has more information about household triggers and how to manage them.

There is currently no cure for eczema, however avoiding trigger factors and using of moisturisers 3 to 4 times a day can help keep it under control. Your local community pharmacist or GP can advice you if other treatment for eczema is needed.

The exact cause of eczema is unknown. It is not down to one thing.  Atopic eczema often occurs in people who get allergies. Atopic means sensitivity to allergens.  This type of eczema can run in families, and often develops with other conditions like asthma and hay fever.

If you are worried that the eczema rash looks different to normal please see our page on rashes for advice on where to seek help.

How to tell it's eczema

Eczema in babies often appears at between 3-6 months of age. It can develop anytime after birth or in childhood.

The main features of eczema are:

  • Intense itch
  • Dry skin
  • Rash
  • Redness
  • Inflammation

In infants and babies, eczema affects the face, scalp and body. It does not usually affect the nappy area. As your child grows older the pattern of eczema changes. It affects the skin behind the elbow and the knee. In some children it affects the whole body.

In children of Asian, black Caribbean or black African ethnic groups, eczema can affect different places including the front surface of the knee or wrist. It can also look different with the skin being bumpy and slightly darker instead of red.

It is important to be aware of and look for signs of worsening eczema.

Recognise a flare: A flare is a worsening of the eczema. Skin may become red, sore, (more) itchy, crack or bleed

Recognise infected eczema: If skin suddenly worsens, weeps fluid or crusts it could be infected and your child may need antibiotics. Seek urgent advice if your child is unwell or the infection is widespread.

Blisters or cold sores need urgent antiviral treatment. See your GP or seek medical advice the same day.

Food allergy: this is rare. Consider food allergy if eczema started as a baby. It is not usually the cause of eczema in older children.

How to treat eczema

Treatment of eczema can help reduce symptoms.  Most children’s eczema improves over time.  Severe eczema can have significant impact on daily life.  Eczema has an increased risk of skin infections.

Top Tips:

  • Moisturise every day, even when the skin is clear of eczema
  • Apply moisturiser using downward strokes. Do not rub it in 
  • Do an extra rinse when washing clothes
  • Wear soft, comfortable, loose clothing
  • Keep fingernails short to prevent scratching
  • Emollients are moisturisers that soften the skin. It is okay to try different emollients. Talk to your GP or nurse if you do not like one you have been given.
  • Expect to use large amounts. A large tub (250 to 500 g) per week.
  • Use everyday, all over.
  • You may need to change emollient type if one does not work.
  • Emollients form a protective barrier on the skin.
  • Emollients are best used few minutes after a warm bath, while the skin is still slightly damp.
  • Emollients are safe so they can be used as many times a day as needed.
  • Use at least 2 times a day when skin clear but increase to 4 to 6 times a day during flare ups or when the skin looks dry.
  • Do not put hands in tubs of emollients as these can introduce germs easily. This is a common reason for repeated skin infections in eczema. Use a clean spoon or spatula to get emollients out of the tub.
  • For school and for older children and young people emollients with pumps may be better.
  • Apply in direction of hair growth. This reduces the chance of infection.
  • Fire hazard. Most eczema treatments contain paraffin and are flammable.

Visit our Healthier Together page for more information on how to apply eczema treatments

Bathing and Showering
  • Avoid bubble baths and perfumed products (some of the eczema bath products can provide bubbles if put in running water).
  • Use your moisturiser (emollient) or a soap free wash to cleanse skin. Soap or soap based products can dry the skin.
  • Bath water should be tepid or lukewarm as heat is a common eczema trigger.
  • Skin should be patted dry after bath.
Topical (On Skin) Steroids
  • Steroid creams and ointments are treatments for flare ups of eczema and help heal the skin.   Steroids come in different strengths from mild to strong steroids.
  • Steroids are safe when used in short courses as advised by your doctor.  When applying it is important to apply sparingly to the skin so that skin glistens.
  • Use topical steroids once a day to eczema that is red and itchy. Stop when no longer red and itchy and restart if eczema comes back.
  • Leave a gap of 20 mins between applying your emollient and steroid. This is so that the topical steroid is not made less effective by the emollient.

Visit our Healthier Together page for more information on how to apply eczema treatments

See your doctor if:

  • Eczema is infected. It may be pustules, blisters, painful, weeping fluid. Antibiotics may be needed
  • Eczema is not going away with regular daily use of topical steroids for 2 weeks
  • Eczema is causing waking at night, missing school or mood problems

Further Information

Eczema society website. 

Eczema in Children Factsheet | Allergy UK | National Charity

A Guide for teenagers with Eczema booklet

15-eczema.jpgPicture credit: Skin Deep is a project developed by two groups in the UK who aim to produce resources that educate professionals and public about skin presentations in children with different skin colours.

Where should you seek help?

You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.

Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.

Sound advice

Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

All community pharmacies across England are required to be Healthy Living Pharmacies. This means that they are able to offer advice on a range of healthy living matters which includes eating a healthy diet. They can provide information leaflets and give parents, carers and young people more information about other organisations that might also be able to help.

Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare, and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment, and many have private consultation areas. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.

Sound advice

  1. Visit a pharmacy if your child is ill, but does not need to see a GP.
  2. Remember that if your child's condition gets worse, you should seek further medical advice immediately.
  3. Help your child to understand. Watch this video with them about going to the pharmacy.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns, or to the Community Paediatricians, or the child and adolescent mental health services.


Contact your local Health Visiting Team:

Bradford Health Visitors or call - 01274 221223

Wakefield Health Visitors or call - 0300 373 0944

Craven Health Visitors or call - 01423 544265

Leeds Health Visitors or call - 0113 843 5683

Calderdale Health Visitors or call - 030 0304 5555 (local rate number)

Kirklees Health Visitors or call - 030 0304 5555 (local rate number)

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

For more information about what Health Visitors do: What does a health visitor do?

School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5 to19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and, or emotional health needs.


Contacting the School Nurse

Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse. Phone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.

There is also a specialist nurse who works with families who choose to educate their children at home.

Contact your local school nursing team:

Bradford School Nurses 01274 221203

Wakefield School Nurses (0 to 19 service) 0300 373 0944 (local rate number)

Leeds School Nurses 0113 843 5683

Calderdale School Nurses 030 3330 9974 (local rate number)

Kirklees School Nurses 0300 304 5555 (local rate number)

Sound Advice

Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.

They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:

  • encouraging healthier lifestyles
  • offering immunisations
  • giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
  • supporting children with complex health needs

Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.

GPs assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.

All children should be registered with a GP. Anyone in England can register for free with a GP surgery. You do not need proof of address or immigration status, ID or an NHS number.

How to find your local GP.

Sound advice

You have a choice of service:

  1. Doctors/GPs can treat many illnesses that do not warrant a visit to A&E.
  2. Help your child to understand. Watch this video with them about visiting the GP or going to a walk in centre

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Please note, the online version of NHS 111 is only recommended for children over the age of 5. If your child is under 5 years old, please phone 111.

NHS 111 can also direct you to your nearest urgent treatment centre (minor injuries unit or walk-in centre).

Find your local urgent treatment centre.

When to visit an urgent treatment centre.

Sound advice

Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as:

  • loss of consciousness
  • breathing difficulties
  • severe bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • major trauma such as road traffic collisions

If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  1. Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services.
  2. If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment.
  3. Help your child to understand. Watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance