The simple household bleach is not only useful in whitening a load of laundry, but it can also turn out to be an effective treatment for kids' chronic eczema, according to a new study.
Eczema is characterised by severe itching, which is so bad that kids may break the skin from scratching and get chronic skin infections that are difficult to treat, especially from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
And now, researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have discovered that diluted bleach baths could provide powerful relief from the problem.
It's a cheap, simple and safe treatment that drastically improves the rash as well as reduces flare-ups of eczema, which affects 17 percent of school-age children.
The researchers found that if paediatric patients with moderate or severe eczema (atopic dermatitis) are given diluted bleach baths, it would decrease the signs of infection and improve the severity and extent of the eczema on their bodies.
Thus, bleach baths could translate into less scratching, fewer infections and a higher quality of life for these children.
The typical treatment of oral and topical antibiotics increases the risk of bacterial resistance, something doctors try to avoid, especially in children. Bleach kills the bacteria but doesn't have the same risk of creating bacterial resistance.
Amy S. Paller, M.D., the Walter J. Hamlin Professor and chair of dermatology, and professor of pediatrics, at the Feinberg School, said that patients on the bleach baths had a reduction in eczema severity that was five times greater than those treated with placebos over one to three months.
"We've long struggled with staphylococcal infections in patients with eczema," said Paller.
She noted more than two-thirds of eczema patients have evidence of staphylococcus on their skin, the bacteria that most commonly causes infection and worsens the eczema.
"This study shows that simple household bleach, which we think decreases the staphylococcus on the skin, can help these children," she said.
In the study, the researchers treated 31 paediatric patients (6 months to 17 years old) who had eczema and a bacterial staph infection for 14 days with oral antibiotics.
While half of the patients received bleach in their bath water (half a cup per full standard tub), the other half received a look-alike placebo.
Also, they asked the patients to put a topical antibiotic ointment or placebo control into their nose (where the staphylococcus can also grow) for five sequential days of each month.
All were instructed to bathe in the bleach twice a week, and soak for five to 10 minutes for three months.
"The eczema kept getting better and better with the bleach baths and these baths prevented it from flaring again, which is an ongoing problem for these kids. We presume the bleach has antibacterial properties and decreased the number of bacteria on the skin, which is one of the drivers of flares," said Paller.
The study has been published in the journal Pediatrics.