Scientists are investigating if installing a home water softener can relieve children’s eczema symptoms.
Eczema affects up to 20% of children in the UK.
It typically occurs on the face, neck, and the insides of the elbows, knees, and ankles.
In infants, it is usually seen on the forehead, cheeks, forearms, legs, scalp, and neck.
The study, which began in 2007 and will run until this summer, is recruiting children aged six months to 16 years with moderate to severe eczema.
Eight research centres in Portsmouth, Boston, Lincoln, Nottingham, Leicester, Cambridge, Newport on the Isle of Wight and London are involved.
Just over 230 children have already taken part, but the researchers are looking for another 80.
The children, or their parents, will be asked to complete a daily diary to record eczema symptoms and will be issued with a small computerised wristband to monitor their level of night-scratching while they are asleep.
The families have the water softener for 12 weeks, then it is taken away from another four to see if there is any change.
The children continue to use their normal eczema treatment throughout the study.
Professor Tara Dean of Portsmouth University, one of the experts co-ordinating the study, said: “If water softeners are found to improve the symptoms of eczema it will be a breakthrough for both patients and doctors.”
Eczema causes the skin to become dry and itchy and may blister
Margaret Cox, chief executive of the National Eczema Society, said she looked forward to having the evidence to be able to advise families if using a softener would help.
“Anecdotally there are years of reports of people saying soft or softened water was helpful.”
She said the suggestion was soft water was better to wash with, and therefore needed less soap or detergent – which are irritants for people with eczema.
(At Sensitive Skincare Company we think that the study is missing out on one very important element of the picture in regards to skin affected by hard water. It is the chemical chlorine which is very irritating and further drying to skin
that is dry and sensitised.)