Objectives To determine the clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of including emollient bath additives in the management of eczema in children.
Design Pragmatic randomised open label superiority trial with two parallel groups.
Setting 96 general practices in Wales and western and southern England.
Participants 483 children aged 1 to 11 years, fulfilling UK diagnostic criteria for atopic dermatitis. Children with very mild eczema and children who bathed less than once weekly were excluded.
Interventions Participants in the intervention group were prescribed emollient bath additives by their usual clinical team to be used regularly for 12 months. The control group were asked to use no bath additives for 12 months. Both groups continued with standard eczema management, including leave-on emollients, and caregivers were given standardised advice on how to wash participants.
Main outcome measures The primary outcome was eczema control measured by the patient oriented eczema measure (POEM, scores 0-7 mild, 8-16 moderate, 17-28 severe) weekly for 16 weeks. Secondary outcomes were eczema severity over one year (monthly POEM score from baseline to 52 weeks), number of eczema exacerbations resulting in primary healthcare consultation, disease specific quality of life (dermatitis family impact), generic quality of life (child health utility-9D), utilisation of resources, and type and quantity of topical corticosteroid or topical calcineurin inhibitors prescribed.
Results 483 children were randomised and one child was withdrawn, leaving 482 children in the trial: 51% were girls (244/482), 84% were of white ethnicity (447/470), and the mean age was 5 years. 96% (461/482) of participants completed at least one post-baseline POEM, so were included in the analysis, and 77% (370/482) completed questionnaires for more than 80% of the time points for the primary outcome (12/16 weekly questionnaires to 16 weeks). The mean baseline POEM score was 9.5 (SD 5.7) in the bath additives group and 10.1 (SD 5.8) in the no bath additives group. The mean POEM score over the 16 week period was 7.5 (SD. 6.0) in the bath additives group and 8.4 (SD 6.0) in the no bath additives group. No statistically significant difference was found in weekly POEM scores between groups over 16 weeks. After controlling for baseline severity and confounders (ethnicity, topical corticosteroid use, soap substitute use) and allowing for clustering of participants within centres and responses within participants over time, POEM scores in the no bath additives group were 0.41 points higher than in the bath additives group (95% confidence interval −0.27 to 1.10), below the published minimal clinically important difference for POEM of 3 points. The groups did not differ in secondary outcomes, economic outcomes, or adverse effects.
Conclusions This trial found no evidence of clinical benefit from including emollient bath additives in the standard management of eczema in children. Further research is needed into optimal regimens for leave-on emollient and soap substitutes.