Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tips & Advice That Work For Baby Eczema

Baby Eczema Back PlaquesBaby Face Eczema

We received a lot of infant eczema advice from friends and family. When we told them about our son’s eczema almost everyone seemed to know someone who had a child with eczema and they all recommended different things. So we got a lot of advice and spent a lot of time doing trial-and-error to see if something would work. My advice to anyone else would be to not worry about testing all these different products and remedies just yet and try using a very greasy ointment like Vaniply all over your child once a day at bedtime, and add a medium-potency steroid ointment as needed and see if that takes care of it. Then you can go back and try other things if that doesn’t work. (Read the full story of how we found out about Vaniply here: Vaniply For Baby Eczema.) We would have saved a lot of time and money had we just done that in the first place. But if that’s not helping as well as you’d like, here are some other things that we felt definitely helped:
  • Control home humidity. Our drafty old house had very low humidity during the winter months. We used a large console humidifier that I was refilling daily to keep the humidity as high as possible in the upstairs part of the house over the winter months. Besides the noise of the console humidifier fan running all the time I was tediously filling bucket after bucket with water and chemical scale treatments every day to keep the tank topped off. Last year we finally installed a whole-house humidifier that attaches to our forced-air furnace and regulates the home humidity automatically. We know that effective air sealing would be a better option, but it’s just not feasible in our current home so we opted for the furnace-mounted humidifier. While a whole-house humidifier is more expensive to purchase and operate, the convenience is very much worth it to our family. I haven’t missed filling up the water buckets one bit. And our son’s skin has been much better this year. We don’t know for sure if that’s due to using the Vaniply all the time or him growing older and his skin changing, but having more humidity in the home seems to have a positive impact on his worst spots.
  • Apply creams or ointments immediately after bathtime. Another great tip was to apply Vaniply immediately after giving our son a bath, within a few minutes of drying him off or even while he was still a little damp. This really did seem to lock in moisture and help him recover from being washed. He was usually so happy to not be itchy he would go right to sleep afterwards (or maybe it was just the bath itself causing him to feel content). We also didn’t give him a bath all that often, maybe twice a week all winter. (We have been using a very gentle Cetaphil cleanser as his bathtime soap without his eczema acting up.)
  • Focus on the torso. Maybe this depends on what specific type of eczema your baby has, but our son’s worst areas were always on his torso. He would get scaly patches on his legs and arms but he only got the oozy, scabby plaques on his back and tummy. So we consistently slathered him up with ointments in that area of his body. Today we rarely apply Vaniply to his whole body, instead we only put it on his tummy, sides, shoulders and back.
  • Plastic wrap helps topical steroids work better. The pediatric dermatologist told us about this one. When a plaque spot is oozing badly and not responding to the steroid ointments, apply a square “bandage” of clear plastic wrap (like Cling Wrap or Saran Wrap) over it to keep the ointment in contact with skin. Similar to a band-aid or transparent wound dressing, this prevents the ointment from rubbing off on clothes and seals moisture in the area. We didn’t think this would actually work, but it did help clear up some stubborn plaques. Also we only used this at bedtime, without any tape or anything to hold the plastic wrap in place, and usually it was still in the right spot by morning. The ointment must help keep it in place.

And here are some things that we felt didn’t help:
  • Controlling/eliminating foods. In our case our son was breastfeeding for his first eczema flare-up and eventually switched to table foods over the course of several months. So my wife tried not eating certain foods and food groups to see if that would help, and later we were worried about a possible link between food allergies and eczema so we introduced table foods very cautiously. But all that trial-and-error with food didn’t have any effect on his eczema.
  •  Probiotics. We used an expensive probiotic called Florajen 4 Kids that has to be kept in the fridge because it has live cultures. We gave our son one capsule a day for over a month. It didn’t do any harm, but we couldn’t detect any change in his eczema from using it. It did seem to make his stools less soft and almost completely eliminated diaper blowouts for us. Not sure if that was a fluke but since using it he hardly ever has had loose stools.
  •  Antibiotics. When our son got a typical 6-month old ear infection the pediatrician prescribed amoxicillin and later cefdinir (a cephalosporin) antibiotics and told us to watch the eczema plaques closely to see if there was any change. He did say this was unlikely to have any effect but it could affect the bacteria on the skin. No change was observed.
  •  Antibiotic and antifungal topical creams. Neosporin ointment (bacitracin, neomycin and polymycin B) and Lorimin antifungal cream (clotrimazole) were suggested in case the plaques were caused by a fungal or bacterial infection of the skin. After a week of testing individually and then as a pair (we mixed them together in the palm of our hand) there was no change.
  •  Coconut, mineral and olive oils. These were mostly suggested anecdotally by friends and family, not a doctor, but it seemed plausible that they might have a positive effect on keeping our son’s skin moisturized. Although we didn’t do any long-term testing, we didn’t see any results from applying them to the scaly plaques a few times. Using the oils was far messier than using the creams and basically guaranteed a stain on our son’s clothing, so we didn’t pursue this very long.
  •  Colloidal oatmeal creams. We bought a big bottle of Aveeno Baby Eczema cream for home, another one for the diaper bag and more tubes for daycare and applied it generously at every diaper change. The Aveeno product soaked in quickly and smelled nice, but it didn’t really help our son’s eczema. Our pediatrician said the colloidal oatmeal was supposed to help sensitive skin, but I think there is probably so little of it in any of the Aveeno products that it has minimal effect compared with the other ingredients. By the next diaper change our son’s skin would feel just as dry. I’ll also mention that we ground up rolled oats in a blender to make oatmeal baths which did seem to have a soothing effect on the itching, but did not have any effect on the plaques. It was also a pretty big mess to wash out of the tub every time.

So there you have it, a few ideas that actually worked for us and some that definitely did not. Hopefully someone can learn from our experiences. If you are the parent of a child with eczema, I would advise you to simply start with one application of a heavy, greasy ointment product like Vaniply each day and go from there. For our infant son, we normally saw his pediatrician at his regular well-child check-ups so we usually changed his treatment plan regularly to see if something different would work or not. So don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician or provider and let them know you want to try something else, they might have access to new research (or different types of steroids) that can really help. And most importantly, don’t give up! Our son’s eczema is now well-controlled and he hasn’t had a flare-up in months. So there is hope that someday he will simply outgrow it.

Do you have any other advice for us or other readers about how to deal with infant eczema? Tips and tricks we haven’t tried? I look forward to reading your comments below!

Vaniply Vs. Vanicream, Aquaphor, CeraVe

In case you're curious, here are some general notes about Vaniply and a brief comparison of Vaniply vs. Vanicream, Aquaphor and CeraVe skin products. All of these products were recommended to us for using on our son's infant eczema, but we saw the best improvement with Vaniply. 
The active ingredient in Vaniply is listed as 1% dimethicone. (Note that the manufacturer website lists 2% dimethicone, but the label says 1%.) This is the same ingredient that can be found in silicone caulk (like you would use around your bathtub, for example), and our pediatric dermatologist explained that it acts as a sealant to keep the skin’s moisture in. Unlike caulk though, it has a very mild smell – I think most people would say Vaniply doesn’t really have a smell at all.
Also, Vaniply has a relatively short ingredient list and says it’s free of dyes, fragrances and preservatives, which I haven’t seen in other dimethicone ointments. Most other dimethicone protectants I found seem to be for diaper rash and contain natural ingredients that might irritate eczema more than help. Most of the time I’m all for natural ingredients, and the long chemical names of Vaniply’s ingredients do make me wonder how safe it is for long-term use, but for now it seems worth it. Other ointments like contain natural components, like Remedy lotion contains aloe juice and Secura diaper cream contains clove oil.

At first we were shocked at how greasy Vaniply is. You can wash your hands with Dawn dish soap and hot water and they will still be greasy if it’s on your hands. It really does seem like something that should come in a Mystik grease gun cartridge. Sometimes we even use a nitrile glove to apply it if we don’t want to deal with greasy hands the rest of the evening. We have noticed that sometimes our son’s pajamas retain some of the greasy feeling, but it always seems to come out in the wash ok. (We use Tide Free & Gentle in a front-loading washer.)

The company that makes Vaniply also makes a product called Vanicream, which we have used sometimes on our son’s face where we didn’t want the ultra-greasy feel of Vaniply. Vaniply is much more greasy than Vanicream. Vanicream is a lighter cream that seems to soak into skin fairly fast, while Vaniply leaves a greasy layer on top the skin for a long time. Vaniply has a texture that resembles petroleum jelly, while Vanicream is closer to yogurt or a normal hand lotion texture. Vaniply is translucent similar to Vaseline or petroleum jelly. Vanicream is opaque white and we’ve noticed the white color of Vanicream stays visible in skin cracks and around fingernails for some time after application. Neither Vaniply or Vanicream have a fragrance-y smell to them, I think they just seem to smell like their component chemicals.

Vaniply, Aquaphor, CeraVe

Other creams like the Aveeno Baby Eczema lotion and Cerave lotion definitely have a distinct smell to them. The Aveeno lotion was similar in consistency to Vanicream but seem to soak in more quickly. The colloidal oatmeal that is supposed to soothe skin didn’t seem to make any difference in our case. Cerave lotion is another one that we’ve tried on the recommendation of another doctor. Cerave has a thick, yogurt-like texture and feels very moist when applied to skin. It seems like Cerave almost separates out like yogurt in the tub size as well, with water pooling in scooped-out areas of the cream. For our son Cerave seemed to cause a burning sensation and made him cry when initially applied to his worst areas of eczema, so now we only use it when his skin is already in good condition. We didn’t notice any discomfort when applying Vaniply, Vanicream or Aveeno.

Vaniply For Baby Eczema

The first months of your new baby’s life are going fine. He or she has amazingly soft skin. You’re using baby soaps and washing their clothes with gentle laundry detergent. But as soon as winter arrives with cold temperatures and dry air, you notice scaly, rough patches on their skin followed by broken-down spots that ooze icky stuff and develop crusty scabs.
Eczema On Baby's FaceInfant Eczema Plaque
That’s exactly what happened to us and our little guy. He was born in October, and by the end of December he had what our pediatrician called “one of the worst cases of baby eczema he had ever seen”. His once-soft infant skin was dry and scaly, with rough patches on his tummy and back. There were a couple spots, especially around his shoulder blades, that were red and oozing fluid which just irritated his skin even more and developed scabs (we later learned these are called “plaques”). He also had a rough, red chin and patches on his face for weeks during his worst breakouts.

Baby Eczema Creams & Steroids
He would cry himself to sleep because he was so itchy. When we snuggled him he would scratch his red face on our clothes by moving his head back and forth. We went to the pediatrician multiple times and tried many different solutions. We tested almost every piece of advice we got from our network of family, friends and online forums. Rinsing laundry with vinegar. Using the extra rinse feature. All-cotton clothes. Coconut oil. Two pairs of pajamas with the inside pair being slightly damp. Moisturizing soaps (like Dove bar soap and Cetaphil cleanser). A whole cupboard full of baby lotions like Aveeno, Aquaphor, Cerave and SkinFix. Increasingly powerful steroid creams ranging from over-the-counter anti-itch cream to a medium-potency cream that our pharmacist said had no guidelines for baby use. Two different antibiotics. Probiotics. Antifungal and antibacterial creams. Oatmeal baths. Bleach baths. Dermatitis shampoo. Oral antihistamines (Claritin). And finally… Vaniply.

After months our son having more or less the same symptoms we finally were able to see a pediatric dermatologist at a major regional hospital. The dermatologist took a brief look at our son and gave us two pieces of advice. First was to throw away all of his pacifiers to clear up his face eczema. And second was to slather him up with a greasy ointment once a day from head to toe. He recommended Vaniply as his favorite product, but said petroleum jelly, Aquaphor or other very greasy ointments would probably work just as well. He also explained that instead of all the steroid creams we were using, we should switch to a steroid ointment instead, because the ointment works better for the worst eczema areas. 
Vaniply for Eczema comes in small and large tubes
We got the Vaniply and a new triamcinolone ointment and applied it religiously before bedtime every single day. And his skin is mostly cleared up! Our son is now 15 months old and he does still have a few small patches where we could use steroid cream to clear them up but we don’t like to use the steroids for very long. His itchiness is well-managed and he isn’t developing any new plaques. So my advice to other parents who have baby eczema is to give Vaniply a try. On a side note, his face eczema cleared up within a couple weeks of getting rid of the pacifier and his chin doesn’t show any permanent effects.

Check out my related post Tips & Advice That Work For Baby Eczema to learn more about what worked and what didn't work for our son. Have you had an experience with Vaniply for eczema or another use? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Diaper Bags vs Diaper Backpacks

Here's a question for all you parents out there: do you prefer a diaper bag or a diaper backpack?

File:Think tank bag 18.06.2012 11-21-17.jpg
Photo by Dirk Franke is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Here is kind of what I'm thinking most people carry for a diaper bag. It's usually a messenger bag or tote bag with some pockets outside and some organization inside the bag.

"Retro Backpack_NA" by Spreadshirt is licensed under CC BY 2.0
And here is what I'm thinking of when I imagine using a diaper backpack. It has a large zippered main compartment and then a smaller front organizer compartment. Instead of a single shoulder strap or tote handles, it has shoulder straps.

I'm really torn between a diaper bag vs. a diaper backpack. The backpack lets you keep your hands free to help your kids get their coats on or carry snacks. The bag lets you easily access the contents without having to unzip anything and generally offers more pockets and organization. I'm almost thinking you would have both and then decide which to take with you depending on what your day has in store. For example, on a zoo trip where you'd be walking a lot, the secure zippered storage and shoulder straps of the backpack would be tough to beat. And the easy access of the diaper bag is ideal for a quiet setting like a church service or doctor's office.

What are your thoughts? Does family size make a difference? Do moms and dads prefer different types of bag? Give me a shout out in the comments section!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Review

Sculpt Keyboard

I recently bought the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and thought there might be a few points that other reviews left out that I could explain. I spend all day, every day at my day job hammering away on my keyboard, so I thought I’d be in a unique position to provide a review of the Sculpt from an office/heavy user perspective.

I bought this for $65 from an online camera retailer of all places. I went with the “for business” version that doesn’t include the mouse since my office-supplied mouse was working out fine. And also because some online reviews said the mouse really wasn’t worth it for them.

Sculpt Keyboard side view


First off, the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard is a very comfortable keyboard to type on. The whole reason I purchased it was because I was having some mild wrist pain from using my flat aluminum Apple keyboard with my wrists improperly resting on my desk. I tried using a wrist rest but just couldn’t dig how I felt like I had to hover my hands over it.

Sculpt Keyboard profile view

When you have the included optional (and quite nifty) magnetic “stand” in place under the edge that faces you, the Sculpt has a very gentle negative tilt that keeps wrists higher than fingertips. (Of if you choose not to use the stand it has a nicely positive tilt.) There’s also a slightly tented profile to the keys, so the split center keys (TGB, YHN) are highest, with a slope down to the outside edge keys. This positions the wrists quite well in my case. It’s worth noting I have hands that are well above average size, so this keyboard could be a great fit for someone similar with very large hands.

Sculpt Keyboard cutout detail

The oversized wrist rest itself is covered in a matte textured material with just a little bit of padding under it. The texture is kind of non-slip, like a cross between vinyl faux nubuck and a nylon duffel bag, but I’m not sure how well it will wear. Overall, though, the wrist rest does add a nice level of support.

Build Quality Notes

The Microsoft Sculpt keyboard is both strikingly upscale and cheap at the same time. The curvy, swooping, stingray-inspired shape with the center cutout definitely looks cool sitting on my desk, and the glossy matte key trim contrasts nicely with the matte faux nubuck of the wrist rest. Coworkers comment on it all the time.

Sculpt Keyboard upside down!
Sculpt Keyboard battery compartment

But looking closer reveals that the glossy surfaces are an absolute fingerprint and dirt magnet. (For me this is a non-issue since the rest of my work area is pretty haphazard and nobody is going to be judging me based on keyboard cleanliness.) The plasticky, rough texture of the back of the keyboard is also a little off-putting. It kind of feels like something you would find in a 1990s-era Toyota. Some online reviews suggested that Microsoft was building the Sculpt on par with Apple hardware – based on the observations above I don’t think I would agree. The Sculpt is functional, just not fabulous in the amazing way that Apple does their hardware (although I’ll admit it’s the comfort that counts here!)

Sculpt Keyboard keypad

At first, I had really mixed feelings about was the separate number pad. This separate pad means you can position it wherever you like on your desk. Initially I thought this seemed like an afterthought – as if Microsoft simply copied the Apple wireless keyboard and then realized that their users are nerdy, number-crunching types who use Excel and can’t live without their number pad. But the more I’ve used it the more it’s grown on me, I like that I can keep it off to the side when I’m not really using it. This also lets me position my mouse a little closer to the keyboard, which I suppose is more ergonomic. Granted the number pad feels a little cheap, like one step above a pocket calculator, but it does have nice rubber feet that have kept it securely planted on my desk surface (the main keyboard has these rubber feet too). It also has a convenient Calculator button and a backspace button so you can quickly crunch some digits and correct them if you screw it up.

The function keys across the top double as a row of quick access buttons, and you switch between regular function key mode and quick access button mode with a chintzy, wiggly toggle at the far right of the keyboard where you couldn’t possibly reach it from the typing position. That little toggle feels like it will be the first thing to break off. Also note the function keys don’t have the same travel and key feel as the regular keys – they are more like the buttons on the side of your iPhone that control the volume, for example, in that there’s hardly any key travel. This gives them a jarringly cheap feel that I still can’t get over. If you need to use the Esc key a lot for anything, you might even want to skip the Sculpt keyboard for that reason alone – you’ll miss the satisfying clunk of the longer-travel letter switches every time you need to use it.

Luckily the rest of the keys have a reasonably light action with satisfying travel, a nice balance between a chiclet keyboard and those huge old dinosaur keyboards with massive key travel. Although some reviewers said this keyboard was quiet, I do not find it to be that quiet. Each key press does result in a definite click, so in my morgue-quiet office I’m sure my co-workers can hear it across the hall in their offices too. My old aluminum Apple flat keyboard was quieter, but I guess I’m willing to trade that for the improved typing position.
Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard


The bottom line is I love the typing position and the at-a-glance style is nice, but I wish some of the small details were nicer. The toggle switch for the Fn keys, the cheapo feel of those same F-keys and the finish of the unit leave a little to be desired.

Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard USB dongle

Update - Saved My USB Dongle That Was Stuck in Port!

The most ridiculous thing occurred today at my office. The little USB dongle for the Sculpt keyboard got jammed into a USB port on my PC and I couldn’t get it to come back out! It seemed like there were little metal tabs inside the port that just clicked in place, and then the nano-dongle was just so small that it felt like it was going to break off if I yanked too hard. Little pieces of the black plastic started flaking off when I tried to grab it with a binder clip that I happened to have handy. Not exactly confidence-inspiring.

After about ten panicked minutes and some frantic and increasingly furious Google searching that revealed that there is absolutely no way to buy the USB dongle separately, I managed to pry the little tabs out of the way with a thin plastic sheet and retrieve the tiny dongle. From now on, I will only be inserting it into the USB ports just far enough to contact the connectors, not so far that those little tabs catch it!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Buying A New Vs. Used Car To Save Money

Choosing to buy a new or used car ultimately depends on balancing your lifestyle with your transportation needs. But if you’re looking strictly at the money angle, here’s my take on it.

Buying Used Makes Cents

Let’s look at a real-world example, with a Ford F150.
New 2015 F-150 XLT Super Crew Short Bed price: $37,500
State sales tax (national average of 6%): $2250
Total: 39750
48 month loan at 2.5% interest: total $41814
Full coverage insurance to cover the lender: $1400 per year
Driving 12,000 miles at 20 mpg (V6 ecoBoost), $2.75 gas price: $1650 per year
Cost to own the truck for 48 months: $54014

Used 2013 F-150 XLT Crew Short Bed, 32,696 miles: $28,500
Sales tax (6%): $1710
Total: 30210
48 month loan at 2.5% interest: total $31778
Full coverage insurance: $1400 per year
Driving same amount of miles as above, except V8 only gets 16 mpg: $2062 per year
Cost to own the truck for 48 months: $35240

We have not considered maintenance costs, it’s possible the used truck will require more repairs and scheduled maintenance than the new one. Still, there is nearly $19,000 difference between buying the new truck and the used truck. That can buy a lot of mechanic time, tires, etc.

You do also miss out on the latest electronics and safety features. But since when is an aluminum body and more buttons on the steering wheel worth $19k? Better still, you can choose an even older truck and increase your long term savings...