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Surprising new treatment for childhood eczema

10 May 2009

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It’s best known for whitening a load of laundry. But now simple household bleach has a surprising new role: an effective treatment for kids’ chronic eczema.

Chronic, severe eczema can mar a childhood. The skin disorder starts with red, itchy, inflamed skin that often becomes crusty and raw from scratching. The eczema disturbs kids’ sleep, alters their appearance and affects their concentration in school. The itching is so bad kids may break the skin from scratching and get chronic skin infections that are difficult to treat, especially from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have discovered powerful relief in the form of diluted bleach baths. It’s a cheap, simple and safe treatment that drastically improves the rash as well as reduces flare-ups of eczema, which affects 17 percent of school-age children.

The study found giving paediatric patients with moderate or severe eczema (atopic dermatitis) diluted bleach baths decreased signs of infection and improved the severity and extent of the eczema on their bodies. That translates into less scratching, fewer infections and a higher quality of life for these children.

The typical treatment of oral and topical antibiotics increases the risk of bacterial resistance, something doctors try to avoid, especially in children. Bleach kills the bacteria but doesn’t have the same risk of creating bacterial resistance.

Patients on the bleach baths had a reduction in eczema severity that was five times greater than those treated with placebos over one to three months, said Amy S. Paller, MD, the Walter J. Hamlin Professor and chair of dermatology, and professor of paediatrics, at the Feinberg School. Paller also is an attending physician at Children’s Memorial Hospital.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics April 27.

"We’ve long struggled with staphylococcal infections in patients with eczema," Paller said. She noted more than two-thirds of eczema patients have evidence of staphylococcus on their skin, the bacteria that most commonly causes infection and worsens the eczema. "This study shows that simple household bleach, which we think decreases the staphylococcus on the skin, can help these children."

In the study, Paller and researchers treated 31 paediatric patients (6 months to 17 years old) who had eczema and a bacterial staph infection for 14 days with oral antibiotics. Half of the patients received bleach in their bath water (half a cup per full standard tub), while the other half received a look-alike placebo. Patients were also instructed to put a topical antibiotic ointment or placebo control into their nose (where the staphylococcus can also grow) for five sequential days of each month. All were instructed to bathe in the bleach twice a week, and soak for five to 10 minutes for three months.

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Article Comments:

11/05/2009 10:10:53 PM
I just do not know how I feel about this! Bleach is a very harsh chemical that I cannot imagine soaking my child in. Thank God his Vidazrob probiotics have nearly healed his four yr old body, otherwise I just don’t know how desperate I would have become and possibly considered the bleach option. I wish more people would try probiotics as it has changed our life. Caroline *mommy of two

13/05/2009 3:00:11 PM
I like Caroline don’t know about using bleach .. My son has sufferd with this condition since 2 mths old an i have tried alot of things some work some dont i think i will try a few more before i get to the bleach stage .

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