"In my day we used to throw the babies on the grass and let them get dirty. It's healthy."
If my dad said that to me one more time when my kids were little, I thought I'd scream. What would he know about raising babies?
Well, it turns out that he might be onto something after all.
A recent study has shown it's society's 'ultra-cleanliness' that is contributing to an increase in childhood allergies and eczema. The Institute of Child Health at Bristol University in the UK said children of parents with the highest standards of cleanliness are up to three times more likely to develop allergies and skin problems such as eczema. Children with eczema are the cleanest and most washed babies in the world.
Most babies will have peeling, flaking skin, redness and little 'milk rashes' around their mouths, but eczema is different. When a child develops eczema, the skin can become red, dry, itcy and scaly. When not managed correctly it can weep, bleed, crust over, become infected and cause extreme discomfort.
Families with a history of asthma and hay fever are more likely to produce children with the condition. Some never outgrow it.
Thirty per cent of Australian babies will now be affected by the condition and 10 per cent of adults.
Kalli Hourn is 10 and has suffered from eczema her entire life. Her mum Roberta says it's been a struggle. “Your heart goes out to these kids. They want to tear their skin apart and somehow you’ve got to stop them."
“I hate this time of year because of how her skin flares up. It’s dry and itchy and you’ve really got to get on top of it quickly so the eczema doesn’t spin out of control.”
For her daughter Kalli she has had success using moisturiser. “Once I started with the intensive moisturisation my daughter’s eczema really settled but you really need to slather on that cream!” she said.
Sadly there is no cure, only treatments designed to alleviate the condition as much as possible.
This week is Eczema Awareness Week, supported by Cetaphil. Dr Ann-Maree Kurzydlo of eczema.org.au took the time to answer some questions for us:
Why is eczema increasing in Australian children?
One proposal is the “hygiene hypothesis”. According to this hypothesis, the decreasing incidence of childhood infections in developed countries has led to the increased incidence of both allergic and autoimmune conditions. This theory is based on the fact that our immune system needs to be exposed to bacteria or germs in order to develop in a balanced way. This is particularly important in the first year of life. It teaches our immune system to differentiate between harmful and harmless substances. An immune system that has not encountered germs, may start to see harmless items such as animal hair, as potentially dangerous. This can lead to allergies and eczema.
Some studies have shown children from homes where they are over-washed, along with their environment, may be three times more likely to develop eczema. Obviously genetic factors are still the main culprit, but over-bathing, including the use of anti-bacterial soaps and regular use of hand sanitizers may perhaps be doing more harm than good. These products also tend to cause irritation to the skin and are well known to worsen eczema.