Eczema in babies
It can be quite distressing for parents when it becomes apparent that their baby is suffering from eczema. We know that mums and dads want to do everything possible to alleviate any discomfort, so we’ve put together this guide to what eczema is, what triggers it, and how you can protect your little one from the worst of it.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a condition which causes red, dry patches to form on the skin. These patches are often rough and itchy and can cause a lot of discomfort, especially for babies. If someone has eczema it means that the barrier of their skin does not work very well which can lead to dry skin. This in turn can make them more susceptible to allergies and some infections.
Eczema is often also referred to as dermatitis and the names are mostly interchangeable. There is a specific type of eczema called atopic dermatitis, which refers to a skin reaction which may develop in a part of the body that has not come into contact with any ‘allergens’. Roughly 1 in 5 children will develop eczema at some point in their lifetime, and while it cannot be cured there are several ways to treat and prevent flare ups.
Most little ones will outgrow their eczema by the age of 4 or 5, but some may continue to experience it throughout puberty and, in some cases, adult life.
What does baby eczema look like?
Eczema can appear anywhere on the body for anyone of any age. However, in newborn babies (up to the age of around 6 months), it most commonly occurs as a rash on the face and scalp area. Older babies (6-12 months) usually experience eczema in ‘fold’ areas like the elbows and knees.
Common symptoms include:
- An itchy rash (dry or oozing)
- Dry, scaly skin
- Areas of redness and swelling
- Rough, thickened skin
- Dark skin round the eye area
Eczema may occur intermittently, and when symptoms do form this is called a ‘flare up’.
What causes eczema?
Currently, we don’t know exactly what causes eczema to develop in babies, but it is thought that genetics may play a role. It has also been suggested that eczema is the result of a problem in the immune system which affects the ability of the skin’s barrier to do its job properly. It is important to note that eczema is not contagious, so thankfully your baby can’t pass eczema on to or get eczema from another child.
Eczema flare ups can be triggered by a range of things, usually things that irritate the skin in one form or another. One major source of these triggers for babies is bathtime. Harsh chemicals found in soaps, bubble baths, and shampoos can often irritate babies’ skin and lead to the skin drying out. Hard water is also a proven cause of dry skin and trigger for eczema due to the minerals it contains. If you live in a hard water area, this may also be triggering flare ups in your baby’s eczema.
Eczema can be affected by different washing powders or fabric softeners, as these can contain harsh chemicals which cling to the fabric of your baby’s clothes and irritate their skin. If your baby has persistent flare ups, try switching to a softer, less abrasive detergent and see if this helps the skin to calm down.
Other possible triggers for your baby’s flare ups can include:
- Dry skin
- Heat and sweating
- Hard water
- Allergens such as dust or pollen
- Cigarette smoke
- Wool or synthetic fibres
- Emotional stress
How to treat eczema in babies
Although the main cause of eczema is still a mystery and there does not appear to be a cure, you can easily manage your child’s eczema by following a few simple steps.
Avoid known irritants as much as possible. Irritants can include (but are not limited to) detergents, soaps, perfumes, cigarette smoke, and some clothing fabrics such as nylon and wool.
If you live in a hard water area, try using a water softener to convert your water into soft water. Soft water is less abrasive to the skin and doesn’t contain the harsh minerals known to cause dry skin.
Keep your baby’s skin well hydrated using an unperfumed moisturiser. You should apply a liberal amount to any problem areas several times a day as needed. As a minimum, you should apply this after bathing your baby as this will help to lock in the moisture from their bath water.
Keep your child’s room ventilated and at a cool temperature. Hot and sweaty environments very often make eczema worse and can heighten the discomfort felt by the child.
Avoid dressing your baby in irritable fabrics. Stick to soft cottons that are breathable and will help to ventilate the problem areas.
Stick to cool or lukewarm water when bathing your little one. Long hot baths can trigger the eczema to become more inflamed. You should also avoid the use of rough flannels or loofahs on your baby’s skin, instead opting for a soft washcloth that is designed to be gentle on sensitive skin.
Keep an eye on your baby’s fingernails and give them a trim to make sure they don’t get too long. Long nails can make things worse when your baby inevitably goes to scratch the source of irritation.
How you go about treating your baby’s eczema will depend on the severity and frequency of the flare ups. Moisturisers should be applied liberally even when the skin is not experiencing a flare up, but even more so when it is. Ointments like petroleum jelly can also help the skin to retain moisture. Make sure to keep your little one cool and well hydrated, especially during the summer months, to reduce discomfort from prickly rashes and to help stave off additional flare ups.
Sometimes over the counter medications can be effective in reducing discomfort from eczema, or you may wish to consult your doctor for a stronger prescription.
The eczema will flare up from time to time, and it’s important that parents accept this is part of their baby’s development. It requires continual management from both the child and you, the parent. We recommend sticking to a strict prevention regime to keep flare ups to a minimum, and to keep a smile on your baby’s face.
When to call a doctor
Although many children are prone to eczema, you should also be aware of the warning signs that may indicate your baby is suffering from something more troubling.
You should call 999 for an ambulance or go to your closest A&E if your baby is suffering from a rash AND any of the following symptoms:
- High temperature/fever
- Stiff neck
- Muscle/joint pain
- Pale/mottled skin
- Cold extremities
- Being very sleepy or difficult to wake up
- Aversion to light
- Rapid breathing