April 27 (HealthDay News) -- Diluted bleach baths offer a safe, simple and inexpensive way of treating children with eczema, according to U.S. researchers.
The skin disease, which affects 17 percent of school-age children, can affect youngsters' appearance, sleep, and their ability to concentrate in school.
Eczema-related itching can be so bad that children sometimes break the skin and get chronic skin infections that can be difficult to treat, the researchers noted.
The study, by a team at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, included 31 patients, ages 6 months to 17 years old, with moderate or severe eczema plus a skin infection. Half of the children took diluted bleach baths (half a cup of bleach per full standard tub), while the others had a placebo mixed into their bath water. The children were told to soak in the baths for five to 10 minutes at a time, two times a week.
Because the amount of bleach used was so small, the diluted bleach baths were nearly odor-free, the study noted.
Over one to three months, the children who took the diluted bleach baths had a reduction in eczema severity that was five times greater than those in the placebo group. In fact, the children taking the baths showed such rapid improvement in eczema and infection symptoms that the researchers stopped the study early, so that children in the placebo group could get the same amount of relief.
"The eczema kept getting better and better with the bleach bath, and these baths prevented it from flaring again, which is an ongoing problem for these kids," Dr. Amy S. Paller, the chair of dermatology, and a professor of pediatrics, said in a Northwestern University news release. "We presume the bleach has antibacterial properties and decreased the number of bacteria on the skin, which is one of the drivers of flares."
The study will be published in the April 28 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, April 27, 2009