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Explore These 3 Natural Ways to Manage Contact Dermatitis in Children

Contact dermatitis is a common problem among children. It has multiple causes and can repeatedly occur throughout childhood.

Girl scratching her left elbow while sitting with her legs folded to the side

Contact dermatitis is extremely common in children. This is because a child’s skin is thinner and more likely to react to substances. They also have a higher skin surface area to body ratio.

Sensitisation – a sensitive response to stimuli – mainly occurs among newborns and babies up to three years old. The onset of allergic contact dermatitis can also happen as they become older.

Here are the causes and effects of this debilitating skin condition and the methods you can adopt to manage its onset effectively.

The Risk Factors of Contact Dermatitis in Children

Dentist performing a dental procedure on a boy who’s looking up while lying down on a chair 
Dental amalgam for cavities contains mercury, a type of metal that can trigger an allergic reaction in children.

A few common substances that can irritate your child’s skin are: 

  • Urine 
  • Saliva 
  • Detergents 
  • Certain foods 
  • Soaps and baby lotions 

Poisonous plants such as poson ivy, metals, latex, and medications, too, can make your child’s skin vulnerable to contact dermatitis.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), children with congenital imbalances like Wind, Dryness, and Blood Deficiency are at a higher risk of skin conditions. Heat, Dampness, and toxins in the body can also provoke the onset of contact dermatitis.

Poison ivy 

Poison ivy releases an oil called urushiol when burned, bruised, or damaged. If the oil touches your child’s skin, contact dermatitis will transpire, and an itchy rash with bumps or blisters may appear.

Your child may be susceptible to urushiol exposure through: 

  • Direct contact with parts of poison ivy 
  • Indirect contact with objects that have urushiol on their surfaces 
  • Inhalation of urushiol particles from burning poison ivy 

Metals 

Nickel and mercury are two metals that increase your child’s risk to contact dermatitis. Various foods contain nickel, such as cocoa, grains, beans, and peas. Nickel is also found in items like costume jewellery, belt buckles, watchers and pant zippers. 

Mercury, meanwhile, is present in restorative and prosthetic dental appliances, such as amalgam – a type of filling material that’s used to treat cavities. Contact lens solution also contains a derivative of this metal and may set off an allergic reaction in children. 

Latex 

A fluid from rubber trees, latex is processed and used to manufacture numerous products, such as:  

  • Balloons 
  • Balls 
  • Pacifiers 
  • Milk bottle nipples 
  • Rubber gloves 
  • Rubber toys 

For some children, contact with these products can bring about skin conditions like irritant dermatitis or an allergic reaction. The chemical additives added during the production phase could also cause the issue. If your child uses gloves, moisture will get trapped against the skin, leading to contact dermatitis. Now that’s a slippery slope! 

Pharmaceutical products 

The extent of use for topical preparations containing neomycin – an antibiotic used to prevent bacterial infection in the intestines – relates directly to your child’s risk of allergy. The more neomycin is used to treat venous ulcers and chronic stasis dermatitis instead of general cuts and abrasions, the higher the risk. 

Sunscreen lotions containing ingredients such as oxybenzone, dibenzoylmethanes, cinnamates, and benzophenones may induce an allergic reaction

How Can You Manage Your Child’s Contact Dermatitis?

Man applying a wet, brown-coloured towel to a child’s forehead
A cold compress can effectively reduce inflammation in children with contact dermatitis.

To diagnose and prescribe suitable remedies for the condition, a clinical physician will firstly look at your child’s symptoms, which may include the following: 

  • Skin itching, swelling and blisters 
  • Mild skin redness and swelling of the skin 
  • Scaling and temporary thickening of the skin 

They will also examine your child’s medical history and possible contact with irritants or allergens. Blood and skin tests may also be performed to identify the root causes of an allergy. 

Correct internal imbalances with TCM herbal formulas

If your child’s contact dermatitis stems from Wind-Heat pathogens, a TCM practitioner may recommend Xiao Feng San (消风散). It is often used conjunctively with Dang Gui Yin Zi (当归饮子) to clear Wind-Heat and nourish blood and Dryness.

TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling recommends that an accumulation Heat, Dampness and toxins can be resolved by consuming Long Dan Xie Gan Tang (龙胆泻肝汤) and Hua Ban Jie Du Tang (化斑解毒汤) decoctions. These can help clear Heat, remove Dampness, cool blood and detoxify the body.

Another natural ingredient your child can consume is bird’s nest to maintain their skin’s health.

Keep the affected area clean  

The first step in treating contact dermatitis is to wash the skin area that comes into contact with irritants. It’s advisable that you wash and dry parts of your child’s upper body, including the face, neck, hands, and in-between the fingers.

If outdoor objects or your child’s clothing is exposed to urushiol, wash them immediately. Do note that pets may also come into contact with it. Hence, they must be cleaned regularly to lower your child’s risk of an allergic reaction.

Calm the inflammation with wet compress or creams  

Once a skin area has been thoroughly cleaned, use a wet, cold compress to suppress inflammation, reducing symptom severity. Apply a wet dressing if the skin is “weeping” excessive fluid. It can decrease itching and accelerate the recovery process.

You may also consider the application of a corticosteroid cream or ointment to lessen itching. A healthcare provider may also prescribe antihistamine pills or liquids.

Recognising and addressing the symptoms of contact dermatitis early can help to minimise its effects. Speak to a TCM practitioner before providing your child with herbal formulas to ensure they’re compatible with your child’s unique body constitution.

References

  1. DermNet NZ. 2020. Allergic contact dermatitis in children. [online] [Accessed 8 July 2022] 
  2. Children’s Hospital of Philadaelphia. Contact Dermatitis. [online] [Accessed 8 July 2022] 
  3. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Poisonous Plants: Types of Exposure. [online] [Accessed 8 July 2022] 
  4. MELISA Diagnostics Limited. Nickel allergy. [online] [Accessed 8 July 2022] 
  5. National Library of Medicine. 2017. Severe dermatitis might be caused by a cross‐reaction between nickel and palladium and dental amalgam resolved following removal of dental restorations. [online] [Accessed 8 July 2022] 
  6. Medscape. 2022. Allergic Contact Dermatitis. [online] [Accessed 8 July 2022] 
  7. University of Rochester Medical Center. Contact Dermatitis in Children. [online] [Accessed 8 July 2022] 

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