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On Call: Itchy Winter Skin

Q. Now that it's colder, my son's eczema is worse. What can I do about it?

A. In winter, forces conspire to dry out skin: Cold air tends to be dry, and so does indoor heating. That aggravates eczema. So you'll need to be diligent about moisturizing.

If you moisturize his skin on a regular basis, you can often prevent bad flare-ups. The thicker creams (plain old petroleum jelly is fine) are more effective than lotions. Apply one liberally twice a day.

Another way to soothe, and prevent, eczema outbreaks is to make sure the water your child bathes in is lukewarm, not hot, and that you use a mild, moisturizing soap (Dove, Aveeno, and Basis are some brands that I recommend for my patients). Then pat him with the towel rather than rubbing him dry, and put moisturizer on him immediately afterward. This way, you'll get into a habit of applying it regularly.

If these steps don't work, your pediatrician may prescribe steroid creams for use on the worst areas  -- be sure you follow directions exactly. If your child's scratching himself a lot, Benadryl or another antihistamine can help temporarily. But if discomfort continues, you'll want to ask your doctor about a better long-term skin-care regimen.