Anti-Itch Creams and Remedies for Children

Medications and Home Remedies to Ease Your Child's Itch

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What treatments can help with your child's itching no matter the cause?. Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Itching is a common and frustrating symptom for children. Whether it is caused by mosquito bites or chigger bites, hives, or poison ivy, itching can leave kids miserable, scratching all day, and sleepless through the night.

Fortunately, even when you don't know the definite cause for your child's itching, there are some common treatments that can provide relief, including many over-the-counter "anti-itch" type medications.

Let's look at what you can do at home to help with the itch, the over-the-counter treatments available, as well as medications which may need to be prescribed by your pediatrician.

Itch Relief Home Remedies

The over-the-counter and prescription anti-itch medications described below can help your itchy child, but there are many simple things you can do to both help her itch and decrease the damage she may do to her skin by scratching. This includes:

  • Keeping your child's fingernails cut short
  • Dressing your child in loose, light, cotton clothing
  • Not letting her get overheated since sweating will likely make her itch more
  • Take cool or lukewarm showers or baths and avoid hot water
  • Keeping her distracted
  • Not allowing her skin to get overly dry
  • Find your favorite over-the-counter anti-itch medications and keep them handy to quickly use when your child develops an itchy rash since scratching usually makes most itchy rashes worse
  • Avoiding things that seem to trigger episodes of itching, especially if she has eczema, sensitive skin, or allergies to nickel
  • Using insect repellents and teaching your child to avoid poison ivy to help avoid common things that cause itching
  • If itching is severe, you may wish to have your child wear soft cotton gloves overnight to decrease scratching

    Non-Steroidal Topical Medications

    Many non-steroidal topical medications can be used in combination with a topical steroid cream to provide maximum relief, either with or without an oral antihistamine, like Benadryl (diphenhydramine.) Be careful not to mix topical and oral Benadryl together, however, as Benadryl is sedating even in normal doses. And watch your kids for reactions from medicines that have "caine" type analgesics in them. Allergies to these analgesics (such as to popular sunburn lotion) are fairly common.

    Topical medications which are not steroids include:

    • Aveeno Anti-Itch Cream with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal
    • Band-Aid Anti-Itch Gel
    • Benadryl Itch Stopping Cream
    • Caladryl Clear Topical Analgesic Skin Lotion
    • Calamine Lotion
    • Domeboro Astringent Solution Powder Packets
    • Gold Bond Maximum Strength Medicated Anti-Itch Cream
    • Itch-X Anti-Itch Gel with Soothing Aloe Vera
    • Lanacane
    • Sarna Ultra Anti-Itch Cream and Skin Protectant

    Wet dressings, compresses, or soaks with Domeboro solution mixed with water (modified Burow's Solution) or Aveeno oatmeal baths can be especially soothing for itchy rashes. These work well for most itchy rashes, including poison ivy, insect bites, and chicken pox.

    Topical Steroids

    Topical steroids are typically the mainstay of over-the-counter itch relief treatments and include a variety of brands of 0.5% and 1% hydrocortisone cream, such as:

    • Aveeno 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream
    • Cortizone 10
    • Cortaid
    • Lanacort Cool Cream

    There are also many 'store' brands of hydrocortisone cream made by Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and others.

    Keep in mind that steroids should usually be avoided if you think that your child has any type of infection as a cause for his itching. With an infection, applying a topical steroid can worsen the rash and decrease the ability of the body to fight off bacteria. Topical steroids work particularly well for inflammatory or allergic types of itchy rashes, such as insect bites and poison ivy.

    Oral Antihistamines

    Benadryl (diphenhydramine Hydrochloride) is the standard oral antihistamine that most parents use when their kids are itching.

    It is available over-the-counter without a prescription and comes in a variety of forms, including liquid, chewable, and fast melt dissolving tablets, so even younger kids who can't swallow pills can take it easily. The only downsides are that Benadryl is short-acting (about 4-6 hours) and can make kids very sleepy.

    A prescription strength antihistamine, such as Atarax or Vistaril (hydroxyzine), can sometimes be used for children with persistent itching since it usually works a little longer than Benadryl (about 6-8 hours.) Unfortunately, once-a-day antihistamines such as Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec don't typically provide any relief from itching.

    Oral antihistamines work well for most itchy rashes, including poison ivy, insect bites, chicken pox, and hives.

    Prescription Strength Anti-Itch Treatments

    If you are not able to get your child's itching under control with over-the-counter medications, even when the cause is a simple bug bite or a mild case of poison ivy, or if you don't know why your child is itching, then a trip to your pediatrician might be a good idea. Your child's doctor can then perform an evaluation and prescribe a prescription strength anti-itch medication if needed. These prescription anti-itch medications most commonly include stronger topical, intermediate potency steroid creams, such as:

    • Cutivate cream 0.05%
    • Elocon cream 0.1%
    • Locoid cream 0.1%
    • Triamcinolone acetonide 0.1%
    • Westcort cream 0.2%

    Other prescriptions for itching might include an oral antihistamine, as discussed above, prednisone (an oral corticosteroid,) or other medications depending on the underlying cause of the itching.

    For example, a child who has scabies, which can be extremely itchy (and contagious,) would need treatment with Elimite, an antiparasitic medication. On the other hand, children with poison ivy would likely need many of the anti-itch medications described above, including prednisone, while a child with chicken pox would want to avoid steroids at all costs.

    Bottom Line on Treatments for Your Itchy Child

    Itching is bad enough for adults, but when your child is itching you can feel helpless. That said, there are a number of simple measures as well as over-the-counter and prescription treatments which can help reduce her itch. If you have any question at all as to the cause of the itch, or if what you are trying isn't working, don't hesitate to contact your pediatrician.

    Sources:

    Kliegman, Robert M., Bonita Stanton, St Geme III Joseph W., Nina Felice. Schor, Richard E. Behrman, and Waldo E. Nelson. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2015. Print.

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