If your baby has red, patchy spots that are dry, itchy and scaly, it very well may be eczema. Do not despair, eczema is fairly common in babies and young children and they tend to eventually outgrow it.
About 20 percent of little ones have eczema. Most babies and children who have it develop their symptoms before age 5 (and 65% of them develop it in the first year of life).
Eczema in babies tends to appear on babies cheeks, and the joints of their arms and legs, but it can show up anywhere on the body. It also comes and goes. While eczema is not contagious, it can be quite uncomfortable for your little one.
Causes of eczema:
While there is no known cause for eczema in babies, it is thought to be an immune system response that gets set off when a baby is in contact with various soaps, detergents and creams. Stress can trigger eczema as well as can heat and sweat. Genetics also plays a role in the development of the condition, so if one or both parents have eczema, the baby is much more likely to have it too.
There is some debate about whether allergens play a role in triggering eczema in babies. For example, some experts believe that eliminating certain foods, such as peanuts, eggs, cow’s milk and various fruits may help alleviate eczema. It is debatable whether breast feeding can trigger it as well.
Dry skin can exacerbate eczema. So a baby living in a cold climate might be more subject to eczema if the house has a low humidity level in winter.
A parent might confuse eczema with cradle cap, another rash characterized by a red, scaly look. But unlike eczema, cradle cap usually shows up on a baby’s scalp, the sides of her nose, eyelids, eyebrows and behind her ears. Cradle cap also generally clears up by the age of eight months, while eczema does not.
It is important to get your baby’s eczema under control. It is uncomfortable for her and if she scratches that can make things worse. It can even cause an infection.
Take good care of your child’s skin is a vital part to managing her eczema.
While it may be counterintuitive, many experts now believe that a lukewarm bath helps hydrate your baby’s skin. When bathing your baby, wash her body and her hair last so she is not sitting in soapy water for long, which can irritate her skin. When the bath is done, pat your child dry with a towel and do not rub. One of the key steps to treating your baby’s eczema is applying a moisturizer right after the bath. You can use an ointment or cream that does not have a scent like Aquaphor or petroleum jelly. Ointments and creams generally contain less water content than lotions and thus do a better job of moisturizing.
Another treatment is to use an over-the-counter steroid like hydrocortisone cream, although if used too frequently on the same body part, those can lead to thinned skin, so remember to use them with caution. Another topical cream may help as well. An over-the-counter antibiotic such as bacitracin can help with cheek eczema.Severe cases of eczema may require ultraviolet light treatment or antibiotics if the rash becomes infected. Speak to your child’s pediatrician for more information.
He or she might recommend a consult with a dermatologist if he deems it necessary.
Mitigating Eczema at home:
Here are some more things you can do at home to alleviate your child’s discomfort.
- Do not bathe your baby in hot water as that can remove baby’s protective oils. Instead do a warm-water bath for not longer than ten minutes
- If you live in a cold climate, consider purchasing a humidifier to attach to your central heater. A dry environment will only exacerbate your child’s eczema while more moisturized air will help her.
- When bathing your baby, only use soap where your baby gets dirty, like her genitals, hands and feet. Use only water on arms and legs for a few days to avoid worsening the eczema.
- Use a moisturizer while baby’s skin is still wet
- Use a fragrance-free laundry detergent on your baby’s clothes. Scents and perfumes can make eczema flare up
- Dress your baby in loose-fitting, cotton clothes for maximum breathability. Avoid scratchy fabrics like wool and other itchy materials that can be irritating to your baby’s skin.
- Be mindful about whether your baby is too hot. Overdressing her or putting too many blankets on her can trigger an eczema flare by making her hot and sweaty
- Watch to see if your child scratches. She may get immediate relief from scratching or rubbing her dry, irritated cheeks against a sheet at night, but that action can just irritate her skin more in the long run and make her discomfort far worse. Use soft bed sheets and cut her nails as short as possible to mitigate the effects of scratching.
- Steer clear of cigarette smoke as that can worsen eczema
- Fast temperature changes can worsen eczema, so avoid having your child go from being hot to cold too quickly.
- It is possible additional stressors are contributing to your child’s eczema. Do what you can to figure out what those might be and avoid them.
With these strategies in hand, you should be in a great position to manage your child’s eczema and make her happy and comfortable.