Protecting against dry hands from frequent handwashing during COVID-19

Frequent and thorough handwashing remains a top method of protecting against COVID-19 and other viruses, but dry and cracked hands may be an unfortunate side effect in children and adults alike.

“Thorough handwashing is an absolute must during COVID-19, but it can lead to dry skin ,” says Dr. Angela Dangvu, a pediatrician in the CHOC Primary Care Network. “There’s a lot we can do to help, while still ensuring proper handwashing is maintained.”

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Dr. Angela Dangvu, a CHOC pediatrician

Here, Dr. Dangvu offers tips to help protect tiny hands against dryness without compromising thorough hand washing that’s so critical during the pandemic.

Choose soap carefully

Start by choosing a moisturizing hand soap, Dr. Dangvu says. Pick soaps that look more like lotions than  a typical soap with words like “moisturizing” or “conditioning” on the packaging. Unless your child is already using these and is accustomed to them, try to skip antibacterial or deodorant soaps.

If they are available, use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer, Dr. Dangvu advises. The alcohol content in the hand sanitizer can sting hands that are already dry and cracked. If hand sanitizer is only available, be sure that it has at least 60 percent alcohol to ensure a thorough cleaning.

Timing is important

Parents should remind their children that when they are at home, they ought to be washing their hands at these times:

  • Before and after cooking or eating
  • After using the restroom
  • After cleaning around the house
  • After touching family pets
  • Before and after caring for a sick family member
  • After blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After changing a diaper
  • After being outside — playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.

Beyond these instances, children do not need to continually wash their hands at home, Dr. Dangvu says.

“Children are such great learners and have been so incredibly adaptable during the pandemic, and many have really taken on to importance of handwashing,” she says. “Too frequent handwashing can worsen dry and cracked hands.”

Creams, not lotions

Applying moisturizer to a child’s hands after hand-washing or bath time can also help prevent dry hands. Select products described as creams rather than as lotions: The former are richer and have more staying power than thinner products like baby lotions, Dr. Dangvu says.

“They tend to stay on and be a better moisture barrier,” she says. “Parents should use them right after children wash their hands. If skin is still a little moist, the cream will trap that moisture. Apply it after bath time too.”

A three-step approach

If a child’s little hands still become dry, Dr. Dangvu recommends a three-step approach:

  1. Start by regularly applying cream to the hands.
  2. If dryness doesn’t improve after a few days, move on to a petroleum-based ointment. Parents can intensify the therapy by applying ointment to hands before bed, and asking children to wear cotton gloves or even socks over their hands to lock in moisture while they sleep.
  3. If the condition doesn’t change after a few more days, parents can try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

If these steps don’t yield improvement, it’s time to consult the child’s pediatrician to rule out a bacterial infection or other condition, Dr. Dangvu says.

Learn more about the CHOC Primary Care Network.

Hand-washing 101

When kids and adults alike come into contact with germs, they can become infected just by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to stop germs from spreading.

Don’t underestimate the power of hand-washing, says Dr. Reshmi Basu, a CHOC pediatrician.

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Dr. Reshmi Basu, a CHOC pediatrician

“Besides getting an influenza vaccine, washing your hands is one of the best ways to protect yourself against  the seasonal flu,” said Dr. Basu.

Improper handwashing can also lead to food contamination and foodborne illnesses. But when, how long, and with what should we wash our hands? Dr. Basu offers tips for parents:

Hand wash rules

  • Use warm water and soap for best hand hygiene.
  • Scrub vigorously, and remember the backs of hands, between the fingers, under the nails and the wrists.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds — or the time it takes to sing “Happy birthday” twice.
  • Rinse and dry with a clean towel.

When to wash your hands

It’s important to wash your hands frequently throughout the day. However, a few times it’s especially needed:

  • Before and after cooking or eating
  • After using the restroom
  • After cleaning around the house
  • After touching animals, including family pets
  • Before and after visiting or caring for sick friends or relatives
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After changing a diaper
  • After being outside — playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.

Hand-washing FAQs

What kind of hand soap is best?

Using a moisturizing hand soap is best during winter months, when more frequent handwashing is necessary, Dr. Basu says. To avoid further drying out the skin, choose a soap labeled “moisturizing” or “conditioning,” she adds.

Are hand sanitizers OK?

The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing hands with soap and whatever whenever possible because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands.

But if you’re on the go, and soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol that will kill at least 99% of germs.

This article was updated Oct. 15, 2020.

Combating Wintertime Dry Hands in Kids

When the temperatures drop, the wind swells and the house’s heater gets cranked up each winter, dry and cracked hands are an unfortunate and common side effect in children and adults alike.

“The cold air is more drying and wind is also more drying. And then add forced-air heating, and that will dry skin out even more,” CHOC pediatrician Dr. Angela Dangvu says.

While parents can’t do much to control the weather, they can take a few steps to help protect tiny hands against dryness.

Choose soap carefully

Start by using a moisturizing hand soap. Frequent hand washing, which is critical during winter viral season, compounds the problem by the further dehydrating the skin, Dr. Dangvu says.

Look for soaps that more resemble a lotion than a traditional soap and have words like “moisturizing” or “conditioning” on the label. Avoid antibacterial or deodorant soaps.

Also, hand sanitizer gel is an effective way to clean hands that is less drying than a soap-and-water method. However, children with the beginnings of dry skin should avoid gel as its alcohol content can sting, Dr. Dangvu cautions.

Creams, not lotions

As a preventative measure, parents can apply moisturizer to their child’s hands after hand-washing or bath time. Look for products described as creams rather than as lotions: These are richer and have more staying power than thinner products like baby lotions, Dr. Dangvu says.

“They tend to stay on and be a better moisture barrier,” she says. “Parents should use them right after children wash their hands. If skin is still a little moist, the cream will trap that moisture. Apply it after bath time too.”

A three-step approach

If a child’s little hands still become dry, Dr. Dangvu recommends a three-step approach:

  1. Start by regularly applying cream to the hands.
  2. If dryness doesn’t improve after a few days, move on to a petroleum-based ointment. Parents can intensify the therapy by applying ointment to hands before bed, and asking children to wear cotton gloves or even socks over their hands to lock in moisture while they sleep.
  3. If the condition doesn’t change after a few more days, parents can try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

If these steps don’t yield improvement, it’s time to take children to the pediatrician to rule out a bacterial infection or other condition, Dr. Dangvu says.

Ring in the New Year with these Flu Prevention Tips

Flu activity peaks between December and February and can last as late as May. To ensure the start of a healthy new year, remind your friends and family of these flu prevention tips to stop the spread of germs:

  • Wash your hands often and use respiratory etiquette during flu season. There are many other respiratory viruses out there besides the seasonal flu, and the flu vaccine cannot protect against all of them.
  • Use hand sanitizer.
  • Postpone play dates with sick kids.
  • Wear appropriate outdoor clothing.
  • If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.

If you haven’t already, get a flu shot. CHOC Children’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics urge that all children ages 6 months or older be immunized against influenza. It is especially important for people who are at high risk of complications from flu to get a flu vaccine, including:

  • Pregnant women
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People of any age with chronic medical conditions
  • People who are immunosuppressed
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Health care workers

For more health tips from the experts at CHOC, visit www.choc.org/health.     

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5 Things to Know About Enterovirus D68

As news continues to spread about enterovirus D68 (also known as EV-D68), it’s important to know what the virus is and how it can be prevented. To help protect you and your family, please read the following tips provided by Kids Health. Be sure to share them with your family and social networks!

1. There are many kinds of enteroviruses, including coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, polioviruses, the hepatitis A virus, and enterovirus D68. These viruses are common and infect millions of people every year. They can infect anyone, but they’re more likely to cause illnesses in infants, children, and teens who haven’t developed immunity against the virus, and people with weakened immune systems.

2. EV-D68 causes respiratory illness, and the virus can be found in respiratory secretions such as saliva and mucus. The virus likely spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches contaminated surfaces.

3. There is no vaccine for preventing EV-D68, but you can help protect yourself and your family by following these tips:

• Wash hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Make sure you clean in between the fingers and under the nails, where germs can collect.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing utensils with people who are sick.

• Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

• Teach kids how to cough safely –into their elbow, not their hands.

4. No antiviral medications are currently available for EV-D68. But symptoms such as fever and muscle aches can be relieved while the infection runs its course, which often takes as little as a day or two. However, some people with severe respiratory illness may need to be hospitalized.

5. When to call the doctor: Emergency rooms across the country are seeing a spike in visits because caregivers are concerned that their child may have an EV-D68 infection. Most kids who are infected with EV-D68 will have cold-like symptoms, such as cough, congestion, and a runny nose. These symptoms should be watched closely, but do not require emergency medical care. If your child has a history of asthma and develops cold-like symptoms, it’s best to contact your doctor for advice. Seek emergency medical care if your child has severe respiratory symptoms such as wheezing or difficult or labored breathing.

For more information, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

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