Eczema is a skin condition that causes patches of dry, red skin and itchiness that affects between 10 and 20 percent of children under the age of 10, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. That means children across the country go to school each morning with the possibility that the intense itchiness and red, scaly patches of skin can interfere with their learning and participating in school activities.
Even though parents can’t be with their child through the school day, there are things they can do to make it easier and help their child better cope with the symptoms of eczema.
Moisturize your child’s skin overnight
To help relieve itching, have your child take a warm bath in the evening. When your child is done, pat the skin dry with a soft cotton towel. Avoid rubbing as that can irritate the skin. While the skin is still damp, apply an emollient, such as petroleum jelly or an ointment that your doctor recommends.
Before your child goes to school, reapply the emollient to any dry patches of skin. Overnight moisturizing might help your child sleep better and relieve some of the itching the next day.
Create an eczema care kit for school
Gather up supplies your child might need during the school day, such as emollients, moisturizers, alcohol-free hand sanitizer, antibiotic ointment, gauze pads, bandages, and other items you might use at home to help relieve your child’s discomfort.
Request this kit remain in the classroom or in the nurse’s office for your child to use during the school day. Be sure to have your doctor write a letter explaining why your child needs the items and instructions for how and when your child should use them.
Eczema is a common childhood skin condition but don’t assume your child’s teacher understands it. Provide educational materials from the National Eczema Foundation, such as Tools for School: An Educator’s Guide. This provides information about eczema, common triggers, and tips to help teachers care for your child during a flare.
Let the teacher know how you handle flares at home and what the teacher can do to help alleviate problems in the classroom. Ask her to be on the lookout for bullying or problems with socialization. Let her know if your child seems fidgety; it might be from the itchiness and your child might need to go to the nurse to apply lotion.
Know your child’s triggers
Eczema triggers can be different in each child. However, there are some common triggers such as extreme temperatures, stress, rough fabrics, soaps and detergents, pollen, and food allergies according to the National Eczema Foundation. It helps if you keep a diary of eczema flares and potential triggers to determine which situations are more likely to cause a flare for your child.
Suggest basic accommodations based on your child’s triggers
Your child’s teacher might be able to make some simple changes in the classroom to help prevent eczema flares, for example, seating your child away from heat sources, sunny windows or using alternatives for craft supplies such as glue, paint, clay or other substances that exacerbate your child’s eczema, or having your child wear protective gloves when handling these substances.
Contact the physical education teacher if sweating is one of your child’s triggers and ask about modifications to activities as well as providing a suitable and private place for your child to apply moisturizers or emollients after class. Ask if physical education class is held outdoors where your child might be exposed to heat and sun.
Request an evaluation if symptoms are interfering with your child’s ability to learn
If your child has severe eczema, you can request an evaluation for a Section 504 plan. This is a plan that can address physical, medical and learning issues and can include specific modifications and accommodations, such as opting out of certain activities, using laptops instead of paper/pencil when hand eczema interferes with writing or modified physical activity.
Encourage your child’s teacher to discuss eczema and how it affects children, without signaling out your child
This can help the other children understand when they see signs of eczema and why a rash might appear. It can foster empathy and understanding.
Teach your child stress management
Stress is a very common trigger for eczema according to the National Eczema Foundation. Make sure your child is involved in enjoyable activities, talk to your child about stress levels and provide steps for reducing stress.
Send your child’s lunch and snacks to school
If your child has food allergies or there are certain foods that trigger an eczema flare, you might need to pack your child’s lunch and provide snacks to avoid having your child exposed to food allergens, such as peanuts. If the food allergy is life-threatening, request the classroom or school become a allergen-free zone and provide an EpiPen to keep in the nurse’s office.
Teach your child how to perform self-care
Teach your child how to recognize the warning signs of a flare and how to apply emollients. This helps give your child a sense of empowerment; she has control over the eczema rather than the other way around.
While you want to do everything possible to help better manage your child’s eczema during the school day, you also want your child to participate fully in school. It is sometimes a balancing act to avoid taking away their ability to join their classmates, make friends and participate in activities and still help them manage their symptoms.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.