February 16, 2011

Water Softeners Offer No Improvement For Children With Eczema

(Ivanhoe Newswire) "“ In previous trials, children were prescribed ion-exchange water softeners to reduce symptoms of eczema, the skin condition that affects up to one in five school-age youngsters.  The move followed research that has shown that eczema is 50 percent more common among primary school pupils who live in hard water areas.  However, a recent study shows water softeners provide no additional clinical benefit to customary care in children with eczema, so the use of them for the treatment should not be recommended.

The authors hit the hard water areas of England to conduct a randomized controlled trial among 336 children aged 6 months to 16 years with a diagnosis of eczema.  The groups received either installation of an ion-exchange water softener plus usual eczema care, or usual eczema care alone for 12 weeks.

Research nurses measured each child's eczema severity score at baseline and at 6, 12, and 16 weeks to record changes in eczema severity.  The authors furthermore investigated any changes in eczema symptoms over the study period such as sleep loss, itchiness, and the amount of topical treatments used.

There were no clinically significant differences between the groups in any of the outcomes that were measured independently, even though both treatment groups improved in disease severity during the course of the trial.  However, parents in the trial did report minor health benefits in a number of the more subjective outcomes "“ sleep loss and itchiness "“ and just over 50 percent chose to buy the water softener at the end of the trial for the reason that perceived improvements in the eczema and the wider benefits of water softeners.

"The results of this study are clear, and as a result we cannot recommend the use of ion-exchange water softeners for the treatment of moderate to severe eczema in children," which Kim Thomas from the University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK, was quoted as saying.  "Whether or not the wider benefits of installing a water softener in the home are sufficient to justify the purchase of a softener is something for individual householders to consider on a case by-case basis."

SOURCE: Public Library of Science (PLoS), February 15, 2011