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New research – superfine wool not a risk factor for children with eczema

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Wool ‘itch’ factor debunked as research shows superfine merino wool can assist children with eczema. Clinical trials published in the Journal of British Dermatology looked at whether there was a link between fine merino wool and childhood eczema.
Across the western world one in every 10–12 children suffer from eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis. Dermatologists have for many years recommended that parents avoid wool because it was thought to be a risk factor that would irritate the skin.

John Su, adjunct clinical associate professor with Monash University and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said the results were surprising. “In particular, the group that changed from cotton to wool saw a significant reduction in severity scores.”

The trial, over a 12-week period, involved 39 children aged from four weeks to three years, who wore superfine merino wool garments against the skin for six weeks before changing to cotton, and vice versa.

Elly Stone enrolled her two-year-old son Aiden in the study after investigating a range of solutions to mitigate the effects of eczema, which he has had since birth. “He was born with it and in the first week he had to have antibiotics because he got an infection from the eczema,” she said. “And it’s a horrible feeling when your child is so uncomfortable and you don’t know what to do.”

Since taking part in the study, Ms Stone’s perception of wool has changed. “What we found was that the merino kept Aiden cooler than synthetic fibres and cotton, and it just felt better on his skin. It was less irritating,” she said. “Typically you think that wool is coarse, but the products that we were using were so fine and so soft that there was no irritation on the skin whatsoever.”

Dr Su is hopeful the medical community will embrace the findings and change their advice to patients with eczema. “The standard dermatology teaching for the last half a century has been that children with atopic dermatitis shouldn’t be wearing woollen clothing,” he said. “Which is based on a few poorly conducted studies in the 50s that suggested wearing wool would be irritating to the skin.”

Australian Wool Innovation general manager of research Paul Swan said changing minds in the medical community would lead to benefits for wool-growers. “This will lead to new markets and higher price product, particularly when we have very lightweight wool knits being sold for a medical purpose,” he said.

“In this case we’ve used commercial suppliers, Woolmark licensees like Devold of Norway, so we’re working with them to create an immediate market to help consumers.”

ABC Rural

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