The first study of its kind in the world — involving 336 children aged between six months and 16 years old — has shown that installing a water softener for three months brings no additional relief for eczema sufferers.

Up to one fifth of all children of school age have eczema, along with about one in 12 of the adult population. Anecdotal reports from patients have suggested that hard water may worsen atopic eczema. Population surveys have also suggested a possible link between atopic eczema prevalence and the degree of water hardness.

It had been hoped that water softeners would provide simple but effective relief for the many children who suffer from this itchy and uncomfortable condition. However, the trial — Softened Water Eczema Trial (SWET) — carried out by The University of Nottingham and published today Tuesday February 15 2011 in the journal PLOS Medicine showed no objective difference in outcomes between the children whose homes were fitted with water softeners and those without.