10 ways to help a child with itch

| Kathryn Jones

Watching a child with psoriasis try to cope with bouts of severe itching can be really difficult and heart-wrenching. You can’t rationalize with young children about the need to avoid scratching because they are too young to understand the mechanisms of psoriasis. And they may not have the coping mechanism needed to refrain from scratching.

So what can you do to help a child fight the urge to itch? Dr. Steven Q. Wang has some valuable advice. He is the co-founder of Dr. Wang Skincare, maker of natural and non-steroidal ointments for people with eczema and psoriasis, as well as director of Dermatologic Surgery and Dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. 

Here are 10 things Dr. Wang said you can do to help a child with itch:

1. Make sure you wash all new clothes and beddings before using them.

2. Care for their hands and nails.

•    Trim and file the fingernails. “Make sure the nails are short and there are no sharp edges,” Wang said. “If they have to scratch, only the finger tips are in contact with the skin, not the nails. This can help prevent or reduce the damage to skin in case they start to scratch.”

•    Give your child something to play with to occupy their hands. Toy cars, Barbie dolls, small balls or any hand toys can keep their hands busy and reduce the chance for them to scratch their skin, Wang said.

•    Consider giving your child cotton gloves or socks to wear on hands at night. “Your child may still rub his or her face with these protections at night,” Wang said. “Make sure the texture and outer surface of the gloves and socks are soft and smooth."

3. Gently clean their skin after every meal. 

Food particles can irritate sensitive skin. Wang suggests using lukewarm water and a gentle soap like Dove to wash off the food particles. “No harsh soap,” Wang noted. “That can irritate the skin more. Some parents even coat the faces and hands of young toddlers with moisturizers before meals.”

4. Place moisturizers or topical medication in the refrigerator. 

The cool sensation helps to relieve itch.
5. Give them an oatmeal bath in warm water. 

Kids enjoy relaxing baths too. If they don’t like the soothing oatmeal, consider adding natural, moisturizing oils such as sunflower seed oil or coconut oil, Wang suggested. After an approximately 15- to 20-minute bath, pat the skin dry, leaving a small amount of water on the surface of the skin. “Do not rub the skin with a towel,” he advised. “Immediately apply moisturizer to cover the whole body. The moisturizer helps to seal in all the water on the skin.”

6. Buy them comfortable, loose-fitting, cotton clothes. 

7. Cover your kids in thick moisturizers before going into the cold weather.

8. Offer rewards. 

“For some older children, you can create an incentive for the child to stop or reduce the frequency of scratching,” Wang said. “Rewards can be in any form, ranging from a sticker to ice cream. Some parents even create games. They give their child a small star to be placed on a sticker chart for each time the child successfully fought off the urge to itch.”

9. Teach your child alternatives to scratch. 

“Other motions such as clenching fists, gently pressed down on the skin or even lightly patting the itchy skin site can reduce the severity of itch,” Wang said. “Teach your child to apply moisturizers and cool compresses whenever they start to itch."

10. Call your doctor. 

The doctor may recommend over-the-counter oral or topical antihistamines like Benadryl for relief. He or she may even prescribe stronger medication for comfort relief, Wang said. 

The opinions expressed by National Psoriasis Foundation Blog conributors are their own and do not reflect the opinions or positions of the National Psoriasis Foundation. The information posted on the NPF Blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for profesional medical advice. 

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