Itching For Relief: A Mom’s Journey to Soothing Her Son’s Eczema

in Features, Indoor Allergies, Skin Allergy
Published: July 8, 2015
045Jennifer and her kids. (Vivian Doan Photography)

Nothing in life had prepared me for the wondrous joys of motherhood. The sweet little baby sounds, adorable little hands and feet, and the constant need to hold, cuddle or caress this new little bundle of love.

All was bliss until three months after the birth of Tristan, our first child. Little did I know that our journey was about to take a turn up a long and at times incredibly steep hill – no, make that a treacherous mountain.

At three months of age, Tristan was diagnosed with eczema. Although he never had that super soft baby skin I was expecting at birth, his dry skin had started to develop small, raised, red patches. We consulted our pediatrician who prescribed topical corticosteroids. At the time, I had no idea there were other options, especially for a mild case, so we applied his medication as instructed.

Things gradually worsened and one spring, when Tristan was around 2 years old, his eczema suddenly flared up terribly. A pediatric dermatologist advised us simply to continue to moisturize with over-the-counter products and apply stronger doses of topical steroids.

Well, pretty much all the skin-care products we tried from the drugstore burned my son’s skin. He would run away in fear and then cry after the cream was applied; stinging him and making his already inflamed skin alarmingly red. I would cry too, frustrated that a cream could cause him so much pain when it was supposed to provide relief.

The topical steroids helped tremendously at first, but once we took the required breaks from them, Tristan’s skin would flare up again, each time worse than before. I asked the dermatologist about my concerns: “Why did the creams burn and why was my son’s skin worsening with topical steroid use? Could this be related to his diet?” As for the creams, we were told to try different types until we found one that didn’t sting – but all of our attempts seemed to further irritate my son’s skin.

I began to wonder if it was the alcohol in the cream that was bothering him as it was the only ingredient listed on every single product we’d tried. So we ditched the creams and moved to an alcohol-free, oil-based balm and guess what? No burning or stinging! It made sense – alcohol on eczema is like pouring alcohol on an open wound – ouch!

After that discovery we decided to look into diet and natural healing. We cut the topical steroids completely and started wet wrap therapy, an intense moisture treatment that involves wrapping the skin in damp bandages and cream. It helped to provide temporary relief, but it wasn’t enough.

IMG_1453Eczema behind Tristan's knees

At around 3 years old, again in the spring, Tristan’s eczema flared up worse than ever (later we determined spring pollen to be a severe trigger for him). His body was covered in eczema head-to-toe. He looked like a burn victim and scratched relentlessly. He didn’t sleep and neither did my husband or I as we took turns trying to relax Tristan during the night, while attempting to prevent him from scratching himself until he bled.

Lack of sleep, worrying about my son, stress and desperation for answers ultimately took its toll. I hit rock bottom and just didn’t know what to do. While steroids work for some patients, I knew they were not the answer for Tristan.

After further testing, Tristan was eventually diagnosed with asthma, IgE-mediated allergies to dairy and tree nuts, anaphylaxis to sheep’s dairy and multiple food intolerances, including gluten, soy, bananas and black pepper. The doctors told us that Tristan was considered atopic, the term for someone affected by allergies, asthma and eczema, and that it was unlikely he’d grow out of all these conditions.

Next: Find out how Tristan is doing now