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For Kids with Eczema, a Simple Solution

Relief may be as close as the laundry room for kids who suffer from the painful and itchy skin condition known as atopic dermatitis or eczema.

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have found that the best treatment for the chronic skin condition, which affects an estimated 17 percent of school-age kids, may be as simple as mixing a small amount of bleach in the bath water.

31 kids ages 6 months to 17 years with eczema took part in the study, which appears today in the journal Pediatrics. For the half who bathed for 5 to 10 minutes twice a week over three months in a bathtub full of water mixed with 1/2 cup of bleach, improvement was so swift and pronounced that the study was halted early so the kids bathing in plain water mixed with placebo could benefit from the bleach.

Researchers figure the bleach combats such bacteria as staphylococcus that aggravate eczema and make it itch more, which leads to increased scratching and allows bacteria to enter the body if skin is broken. The stakes have risen in recent years with the emergence of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria that can be deadly. (Bleach-bathing kids in the study also received a nasal antibiotic to fight staph.)

Added evidence that the bleach baths worked: Bleach-bathed kids who had eczema on their faces saw no improvement there, even when the eczema on their bodies improved dramatically. That's because they weren't instructed to dip their faces in the water.

People with eczema or parents of itchy-skinned kids may find the study perplexing, as swimming in swimming pools notoriously worsens eczema symptoms. Lead author Amy Paller, chair of dermatology and professor of pediatrics at the Feinberg School, says it's the many other chemicals in pool water that aggravate atopic dermatitis.

Paller says it's safe for parents to act on her study's findings and go ahead and bathe their kids in this very dilute bleach solution, but recommends mentioning the practice to the child's doctor. To extend the bath's benefits to the face, she says, have the bather close his eyes and mouth and dunk his face in the bath water.

Elegant in its simplicity, the bleach bath has yet another virtue, particularly valuable in these economic times: It's dirt cheap.

If anybody out there tries this, I'd love to hear how it works.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  April 27, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chronic Conditions , Family Health , General Health  
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Unbelievable! I have some itchy bumps on my back and along my jaw line. I've had them for about 10 years and the dermatologists say they are itchy red bumps. It's frustrating. I took a small solution of water and bleach and rubbed it on my jawline for the past 3 days. THREE days. I'm almost cured! I mean it is UNREAL how well this has worked. I have tried EVERYTHING. I am so frustrated in the winter (when it's the worst) and beside myself that I found something. And it's not eczema that I have, but it still worked! Thanks so much!

Posted by: Stormy1 | April 29, 2009 6:57 AM | Report abuse

I'm assuming this is an adult size bathtub, but how full? 1/2 cup seems like a lot of bleach.

Posted by: vdykas | April 29, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

To vdykas:

From the study:

Patients were instructed to add either 0.5 cup of 6% bleach (final concentration: 0.005%; treatment arm) or water (placebo arm) to a full bathtub of water (40 gallons); the amount of administered bleach solution or water was adjusted by the family on the basis of the bathtub size and estimated height of bathtub water.

Good question!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | April 29, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

For the above concentration of bleach, I have calculate the equivalent ratio which is 3 milliliters of bleach per every gallon of water. Please double check if I am right.

Posted by: emily8 | April 30, 2009 1:37 AM | Report abuse

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