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Raising Children with Food & Other Allergies in Singapore

The Chlorine Cure: A quick dip helps tame eczema

Posted by Cris on | August 31, 2011 | 2 Comments

Water therapy, Singapore style

Want to help clear up your child’s eczema?  Chuck them into the pool.

It sounds counterintuitive.  Most people think chlorine dries out the skin, exacerbating eczema.  It can, in long doses.  But a short swim can do wonders.

A controlled dose of chlorinated pool water is actually good for eczema because it helps kill the bacteria that colonize the affected skin, says Prof. Hugo Van Bever, the head the Pediatric Allergy, Immunology & Rheumatology Department at Singapore’s National University Hospital.  Moisturizers designed to ease eczema, and even steroids, won’t actually do much until that bacteria is killed off.

It’s all about timing. If you stay in the pool too long, the chlorine will indeed dry the skin too much; so will the sun.  So a child with eczema who goes for a long swim during the heat of the day will indeed suffer later on.

Dr. Van Bever advises his patients to go for a 10 to 15 minute swim during the evening, two or three times a week, then moisturize immediately afterwards. This regime that makes a marked difference for his patients, he says.

One thing to note: its not just about killing bacteria –  so don’t run out an buy an antibacterial wash and think that’ll do the trick.  Those soaps can harm sensitive, atopic skin, particularly on the face.  Dr. Van Bever’s pool therapy, meanwhile, is part of a broader approach to health.  Allergies, including atopic skin conditions, travel in packs, and chances are a kid with food or other allergies has asthma and eczema too.  Encouraging your child to swim and get active helps build strong lungs and a strong body, which increases the chance they’ll suffer less from conditions like asthma later on.  Clearing up the eczema is nice fringe benefit, and a good excuse to get active and outdoors.

I tested the pool therapy theory out last week.  My daughter, The Bug, has had a very stubborn patch of eczema below her eye that has refused to budge for the last three months.  Our pediatrician suggested I try Desowen, a steroid cream commonly prescribed for eczema.  I tried two rounds of that, to no avail.  The GP down the road thought it was actually ringworm, and gave me an antifungal cream.  That didn’t work, either.  I took her a pediatric dermatologist, who gave me a different kind of steroid cream that worked for a few days, but the eczema came back.  I tried it again, and it had no effect.   My pediatric allergist gave me some non-steroid moisturizing creams, and said to apply it throughout the day.  It cleared a little, but didn’t disappear entirely.  We were starting to feel very frustrated:  the patch really bugged her, and I started to worry it was going to cause permanent damage to the skin under her eye.

Throughout all this, she was out of the pool for several months, first because our condo’s pool was being repaired, then because she came down with a stubborn cough.  Last week, she got back in, and swam every other day.   Dr, Van Bever was right.  The pool water, combined with the non-steroid moisturizer, has improved the patch notably.  There’s still a white patch there, but the dry, scaly skin has cleared up.   How’s that for a low-tech, low-cost cure?  It’s only a matter of time before some enterprising pharma company tries to bottle it and sell it.




2 Responses to “The Chlorine Cure: A quick dip helps tame eczema”

  1. Louiza
    September 6th, 2011 @ 12:32 am

    Thanks for the post – this is very interesting! I must try it out! I have very very stubborn patches of eczema on my neck, scalp line and behind my ears and nothing is clearing it up!

  2. Cris
    October 6th, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    How did it go!? Did you have any success? My daughter’s patch has definitely improved – and has yet to return!

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