Eczema and ACEs: How to Help Your Itchy Child

Eczema and ACEs: How to Help Your Itchy Child

Eczema is somewhat of a mystery in the medical world. No one is sure what causes the disorder – usually marked by an itchy, scaly skin rash — but it’s thought to be a combination of environmental and genetic triggers.

As it turns out, one of those may be a history of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. Kids with two or more ACEs have an 80% greater chance of later on developing eczema, among other autoimmune disorders, according to a 2009 study by Robert Anda, Vincent Felitti, and others.

And at least one group of researchers has linked ACEs and childhood poverty to an increased risk of eczema, asthma and allergies.

No one has yet found a cure for eczema — aka atopic dermatitis — although a medication under study appears to reverse the immune response that causes the rash.

One problem with this mystery ill is that its itching can keep kids awake at night. This could be especially problematic for kids with ACEs, since toxic stress and emotional problems can be be exacerbated by sleep deprivation.

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What parents can do

Make it easier for kids to get a good night’s sleep. Even kids with mild or inactive eczema may be more likely to sleep poorly than children who don’t have the skin disorder, according to a new study from the United Kingdom. Try 100% cotton pajamas and clothes — they’re better than wool or polyester, both of which can cause itching.

Develop a relaxing bedtime routine. To help your child sleep well, create a consistent, inviting wind-down time before bed. Bedtime routines that include a fun bath, story time and conversation with parents are one of the best “anchoring rituals” for kids with ACEs, providing comfort and security.

Moisturize dry skin. This can help relieve the relentless itching that keeps kids awake.But beware: Lots of moisturizers have ingredients that can cause skin reactions, especially in children with eczema. Here’s a list of common allergens in moisturizers to watch out for – and one preservative (methylisothiazolinone) that is capable of causing a painful, itchy rash. Watch out for harsh soaps and detergents as well.

Help your child de-stress. Since stress can cause flare-ups of eczema, try creating fun daytime routines to help your child relax. These might include outdoor play, cooking together, family dinners, walking the dog, and breathing exercises to calm down.

If home remedies don’t work, talk with your doctor. Let him or her know about your child’s history of ACEs as well.


Cromer, L.D. (n.d.). Stress, Adversity, and the Health of Young Children Living in Poverty. Presentation poster from the University of Tulsa: School of Community Medicine.

Dube, S., Fairweather, D. , Pearson, W., Felitti, V., Anda, R., and Croft, J.  (2009, February). Cumulative Childhood Stress and Autoimmune Diseases in Adults. Psychosomatic Medicine 71 (2): 243-250.

Ramirez, F.D., Chen, S., and Langan, S.M., et al. (2019, March 4). Association of Atopic Dermatitis with Sleep Quality in Children. JAMA Pediatrics. Retrieved from

Zirwas, M.J., and Stechschulte, S. (2008, November.) Moisturizer Allergy: Diagnosis and Management. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology 1(4).