Partnering with Your Child’s School or Caregivers

Children with atopic dermatitis (AD) have extra challenges when starting school, whether preschool, elementary school, or even starting with a new caregiver for daycare. AD is common among children, and there are an estimated 1 million school-aged children living with eczema in the US. However, the condition greatly varies in its severity and individual triggers, so even if the child’s teacher has experience with eczema, the parents may need to provide information about their unique child’s sensitivities and treatment plan.

Causes and triggers

It’s important for educators and caregivers to understand the basics about AD, especially that it is not contagious and is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Children with AD frequently have allergies, which may act as triggers for their eczema. Talk to teachers and caregivers about the known triggers and the importance of avoiding those triggers, including dry skin, heat, sweating, perfumes, particular foods, or other allergens, like pollen, pet dander, or dust.1

Avoiding triggers may require making alterations in the classroom or activities, such as:

  • Soap: Since many soaps irritate skin affected by AD, children with AD may need to bring a moisturizing soap or non-soap cleanser from home to use at school, as well as a moisturizer.
  • Temperature: Overheating can trigger itching and scratching, and young children with AD may not be aware of this. Teachers can help by ensuring children stay out of the sun during the heat of the day.
  • Sweat: Sweat that stays on the skin can be a significant trigger to AD. If showering is available after sports, washing the sweat off can reduce flares. In other cases, children with AD may be better off with an alternate activity.
  • Crafts: Many materials, such as sand, water, paint, clay, and some foods, can be triggers for children with AD. Substitutions may need to be made, or children can wear gloves when doing crafts. Hands should be washed and moisturized after these activities.2

Physical, emotional, and social impact

AD is extremely itchy and causes a rash and dry skin. During acute flares of AD, symptoms may also include blisters, bumps, and weeping skin. In addition to the physical symptoms, teachers and caregivers should understand AD can also cause significant emotional and social challenges for children. It can be emotionally difficult to live with a chronic and visible condition like AD, and many kids experience teasing, bullying, or avoidance from their peers because of their skin’s appearance.1,3

The intense itch of AD frequently causes disruption in sleep, as children wake to scratch. The repeated waking and loss of sleep can cause fatigue and behavior problems in school. Children with AD may be more likely to experience hyperactivity or poor school performance related to their sleep problems caused by the itch-scratch cycle.4,5

Additional resources

The National Eczema Association has created toolkits called Tools for School (nationaleczema.org/living-with-eczema/tools-for-school/) for parents and teachers that provide information on the causes of eczema, the emotional and physical consequences of living with eczema, and ideas for ways to foster a positive school experience for children with eczema.

The National Eczema Society (UK non-profit) also has an informational packet called Eczema at School (www.eczema.org/eczema-at-schools) that helps parents and teachers understand the needs of children with eczema while they are at school.

Emily Downward | June 2017
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