Caring for a Child with Atopic Dermatitis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | June 2017 | Last updated: September 2023

Having a child with atopic dermatitis (AD) can be challenging. AD causes significant disruption for the child and their parents. Besides the effects of AD on the child’s skin, AD can cause considerable emotional stress, financial stress, and fatigue for parents and caregivers.

Emotional impact

Studies have shown that nearly 50% of children with AD report their condition causes a severely negative effect on their quality of life. Some of the factors that impact quality of life include fatigue and sleep deprivation, activity restriction, and depression. The intense itch caused by AD often disrupts sleep, as the child wakes to scratch the itchy skin.

Children with severe AD tend to have fewer friends, participate in fewer group activities than their peers and may experience bullying or teasing, which can lead to poor self-esteem. Children with AD may be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, or poor school performance, which may be linked to the disrupted sleep caused by the itch-scratch cycle.1-4

Impact of atopic dermatitis on the family

When a child experiences such a negative effect on their quality of life, it affects the parents, too. Researchers have found that parents of children with moderate to severe AD spend up to 3 hours a day caring for their children's skin, and parents of children with AD experience feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and depression. Parents with children who have chronic diseases are more likely to experience depression, and the depression rate in mothers of children with AD is twice as high as in mothers of children with asthma.1

Studies on the impact of AD to the family have found that the chronic flares of the disease compromises family functioning in financial, social, and personal ways. Mothers of children with AD have significant stress, with mothers of children with more severe disease reporting higher levels of stress. Characteristics that contribute to stress include children with AD being more demanding, less adaptable to physical or social environments, and more clingy.5

Fatigue and lack of sleep

One of the most commonly reported negative effects on parents of children with AD is fatigue or lack of sleep. Children with AD frequently experience disrupted sleep as they wake to scratch. Parents, especially those who co-sleep with their children, may also experience sleep loss or disruption.1

Financial impact

Caring for a child with AD also has financial impacts, as they need to frequent doctor visits, prescription medications, and skin care products. Finding the right moisturizer for a child with AD may require trying out several brands, which also gets pricey.1

Support for parents and caregivers

Social support is extremely important for parents of children with AD. Parents need a support network, which can include health care professionals, family, friends, clergy, a support group, and online support networks. Some people find comfort from faith communities.

Parents should also be aware of the signs of depression, such as lack of interest in once-pleasurable activities, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite or eating too much, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you experience these symptoms or think you may be depressed, seek help from a mental health professional.6

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