Finding hope for childhood eczema

While there is no cure for eczema, the right treatment plan can make a big difference.

21 October 2016
by Paige Dorkin

In September 2015, two South African families with personal experiences of the toll childhood eczema can take travelled to the Avène Hydrotherapy Centre in southern France for three weeks of treatment based on water from a thermal spring with unique healing properties.

The therapeutic reputation of Avène Thermal Spring Water has been recognised since 1736. Studied by many doctors over the centuries, it was officially declared beneficial to the general public in 1874. The two families shared their stories – both about living with eczema and about the thermal water treatment they received.

The Swartlands: “It was a very stressful time for us”

Brother and sister Zahraa, 3, and Zaahid, 2, were both diagnosed with eczema at the age of three months. What started as cradle cap developed into dry, red spots all over their bodies.

“It was a very stressful time for us because we didn’t know how to treat it,” says the toddlers’ mom Tougeeda Swartland. “We had to change our lifestyle to eliminate the triggers – from sheets and clothes to food.”

“We treated their eczema with emollients (moisturisers) and steroid creams, but the steroids had side effects. We gave them antihistamines to help with the itching at night. We even got to a point where we used to ‘wet wrap’ Zaahid from head to toe.” (Wet bandages are applied over emollients or steroid creams to red, weeping areas of eczema). 

“The treatment at the hydrotherapy centre was very different,” explains Tougeeda. “The children had daily baths, showers and underwater massages, and we applied moisturiser after the thermal water treatments.” The Swartlands also learned the best way to apply emollients and what to do when the children scratched. 

“After a day or two, we could see results. There was less redness and they didn’t itch as much at night. Their skin felt like a newborn baby’s. As their skin got better, they slept better and felt happier.” 

Zahraa and Zaahid’s eczema responded very well to the thermal water, both during the course of the treatment and in the months after they returned to South Africa. “Most of the rashes have completely gone and they haven’t had any flare-ups,” reports Tougeeda. “Avène has given us hope again.”

The Odendaals : “He would scratch until he bled”

“James was diagnosed with eczema just after his first birthday,” explains his mother, Yolande Odendaal. “It started as a rash (contact dermatitis) all over his body. And then the scratching began. He would wake up in the middle of the night and scratch until he bled. James is now 11, 
so this has been a long and difficult journey. “We took a lot of strain as a family – emotionally, physically and financially. Treatments tend to be costly and by March each year our medical savings were exhausted.”

As well as sleepless nights spent scratching, James has had a tough time at school. Other children avoided him because of his sores. Yolande even found notes from other parents in his school bag, asking if she had taken him to a doctor. “If only they knew everything we’ve tried!” she says. 

“We saw GPs, dermatologists, homeopaths, naturopaths, SCIO therapists (SCIO stands for Scientific Consciousness Interface Operations System – a type of alternative therapy), and immunologists, and went to allergy clinics. We tried any new product claiming to help eczema. We even did a six-month elimination diet which did nothing to his skin.” 

James later developed allergic rhinitis and asthma, conditions that, like eczema, are atopic (when the immune system overreacts to allergens such as dust or pollen). Because he is very allergic to grass, he couldn’t take part in any outdoor activities. “He often asks me why he can’t have skin like his younger brother, who doesn’t have eczema,” says Yolande. 

Yolande and James visited the Avène Hydrotherapy Centre where James received treatment for his eczema. They also attended workshops on practical and creative ways to deal with itching, such as satisfying the sometimes overwhelming impulse to scratch on a piece of Velcro rather than on skin. “It was wonderful for James to meet other children who have been through similar experiences, and for me to meet the other moms.”

James’s skin became noticeably softer and better hydrated in response to the thermal water treatments, as well as to regular application of emollients (moisturisers) that contain the thermal spring water as a key ingredient. 

Because his skin is extremely reactive to environmental factors, he did suffer a flare-up during the course of the treatment and has had a few flare-ups since his return to South Africa. But the treatment at the hydrotherapy centre did yield significant improvement in the condition of James’s skin and, with the continued use of the Avène products, the Odendaals are hopeful of further improvement.

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IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com