Baby eczema can be a worry for any parent, but with the right treatment and advice, symptoms in little ones can vastly improve. Here's all you need to know about eczema in babies.
What is baby eczema?
Baby eczema, also known as infant eczema or atopic dermatitis, is a type of common skin condition that is normally characterised by an itchy red rash and dry skin. Babies can develop different forms of this skin condition, although the most common type is atopic dermatitis.
Eczema can affect any baby and although it can be hard for parents to discover that their baby has this condition, the good news is that it's not contagious and symptoms often clear up naturally as the baby gets older.
Who might get baby eczema?
Eczema can affect anyone of any age, but is most frequently seen in children.
Eczema baby research has revealed that around one in five little ones will be afflicted with this skin condition. Symptoms can appear when a baby is just a couple of months old, and in about 65% of cases, symptoms show up before a baby's first birthday. In 90% of cases, symptoms will be evident before the age of five.
The encouraging news is that most babies outgrow eczema by the time they start school. Even those youngsters who continue to experience symptoms may find that these improve over time, or they have long periods where they remain symptom-free.
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing early on whether a baby will outgrow eczema as they get older or not. The best thing you can do in the meantime is to choose the right baby eczema treatment to soothe symptoms, and avoid any possible triggers that may ignite flare-ups.
It's not always completely clear why some babies develop eczema and others don't. Often, it's a combination of genetic or environmental factors that come into play.
Eczema occurs when the body fails to produce enough fatty cells, known as ceramides. This causes the skin to lose moisture, making it very dry. As the skin's barrier doesn't work as well as it ought to, the skin is vulnerable to germs or allergens entering the dermal layers, which can worsen symptoms and cause an infection.
It's thought that around one in eight babies may develop eczema if someone in the family suffers from an allergic condition, such as eczema, hayfever or asthma. In other words, if a baby's parents experience eczema themselves, there is a greater risk that baby might get it too.
Experts also argue that children with eczema may be prone to suffering other types of allergic conditions, such as asthma or hayfever.
Baby eczema face symptoms are usually the first to appear with this condition, where patches of red, scaly skin form on the cheeks or scalp. The rash may then present on a baby's neck, legs, arms, chest and nappy area. Baby eczema on face symptoms may also be associated with rashes behind the ears. Skin tends to look red and weepy in babies with eczema under six months old.
Usually, after the age of one, symptoms may also be noticeable on the wrists, ankles, inside the elbows, the back of the knees, or anywhere else on the body.
Interestingly, babies of Asian, black African or black Caribbean origin tend not to get eczema on the creases of the skin.
Eczema rash is typically dry, thickened, scaly and rough, resulting in itchiness, which can irritate and upset little ones. If you notice cracked, crusty skin with pus, fluid or blood around the rash this suggests that the skin has become infected with bacteria, so immediate action should be sought. Antibiotics are usually required to clear up the infection.
Often, it's the consequence of baby scratching the itchy skin that can lead to infection, so applying soothing baby eczema cream can help keep the itchiness at bay. Over time, scratching may cause the skin to thicken, darken or become scarred.
Baby eczema symptoms tend to come and go, but you can reduce flare-ups from occurring by knowing how to treat baby eczema, caring for your little one's skin, and recognising and avoiding any potential triggers.
Seeking expert advice
If you suspect that your baby may be suffering from eczema, it's important to get a confirmed diagnosis from your GP or a dermatologist. This is because baby eczema can be confused with another very common skin complaint in infants called cradle cap.
Like eczema, cradle cap appears on the face and scalp, including the sides of the nose, behind the ears and on the eyebrows or eyelids. The key difference between cradle cap and eczema, however, is that cradle cap is less red and scaly in appearance, and symptoms typically subside by the time baby reaches about eight months old.
Crucially, once a professional has confirmed a diagnosis of eczema by examining your baby's skin, you can work together to find the right treatment for your little one.
Although there's no cure for eczema, the good news is that it's very treatable, and there are lots of things you can do to help manage the condition in your baby. The goal of treatment is to keep the skin moisturised, soothe itching and reduce inflammation.
Eczema treatment baby options depend on the severity of your infant's symptoms. Mild symptoms consisting of a few small areas of red patches can be successfully treated using over-the-counter creams or emollient lotions. Creams containing ceramides are a good choice. In some cases, a low-dose steroid cream may also be used, which can help to reduce any inflammation.
Not all creams or lotions have the same effectiveness on every baby, so deciding which is the best cream for baby eczema may largely depend on trial and error. Equally, over-use of one type of emollient may cause sensitivity in a baby over time, so you may wish to alternate different brands for a while.
Even when your baby may appear free from symptoms, it's still vital to make sure his or her skin is liberally moisturised regularly using lotions or emollients, so that it doesn't dry out.
Treatment for baby eczema involving steroid creams should always be managed under the supervision or your GP. This is because steroid creams may thin the skin with extended use, so applying the correct dosage and monitoring possible side-effects are essential.
Stronger creams may be prescribed for more severe symptoms, and sometimes, oral antihistamines may be given if itchy skin is causing a lot of discomfort in baby, and affecting his or her sleep. Occasionally, bandages or wrapping soaked in creams or emollients may be applied to the skin, especially where symptoms are severe.
If the skin becomes infected, antibiotics are normally used to clear the problem up.
Eczema is a very changeable condition, so it's imperative that symptoms are regularly monitored and treatment adjusted, if necessary. Tailored treatment is vital, as this condition is highly individual, varying from person to person, and appearing in different forms.
Treatment for baby eczema should improve symptoms after a week or so, but if no progress is noted, or symptoms get worse, don't be afraid to re-visit your doctor.
As well as liberally applying the right eczema baby face and body moisturisers and emollients, there are many other things you can do to help manage baby eczema symptoms and reduce flare-ups from occurring.
Avoid perfumes and harsh ingredients
Products with perfumes added can irritate and dry the skin, causing itchiness. Check product ingredients and stay clear of items containing perfumes or other harsh ingredients. Instead, choose those specially designed for problem skin, such as bath lotion, soap powder or sun cream for eczema baby products.
Aqueous cream should also be avoided, as research has shown it can result in stinging and burning of the skin, which can exacerbate eczema on baby face and body symptoms.
If your baby gets too hot, this can make him or her feel sweaty, which can worsen itchy symptoms of eczema. Try to maintain the temperature at home at a cool but comfortable level so baby doesn't overheat. It's not just keeping a cool, constant temperature that is important; it's thought that quick changes in temperature - going from hot to cold or vice versa - may also irritate eczema symptoms in babies.
When bathing baby, keep the water temperature tepid, as this reduces sweating and is also very soothing for the skin.
When flare-ups strike, compresses applied to the skin can keep it cool and reduce the heat caused by inflammation.
Bathing and cleansing
Although babies love splashing about in water, try to keep bath sessions to around 10 minutes. Only use soap on areas of your baby's body that may be dirty, such as the genitals, and even then, stick to fragrance-free products or those especially tailored to babies with eczema or sensitive skin. Wash and shampoo your baby at the end of the session, so that he or she isn't sitting for too long in soapy water, which may dry out the skin.
After bathing, pat your baby's skin dry and avoid rubbing it with a towel, as this may cause skin irritation. Don't forget to apply moisturising creams straight after bathing, preferably while the skin is still slightly damp.
Avoid using wool, polyester or nylon fabrics on your baby as these may cause your baby's skin to sweat, and the itchy fibres may aggravate the skin. Instead, stick to lightweight cotton fabrics, which will allow baby's skin to breathe. Equally, don't overdress your baby or wrap them up in lots of heat-inducing blankets or layers.
Wash new bedding or clothing in fragrance-free detergent before using them on your baby.
There is some debate that certain foods may worsen eczema symptoms in a baby, although this may only affect around one in 10 cases.
Possible food allergen triggers could include cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, soya, wheat or some fruits. Bear in mind that even if your baby isn't consuming these directly, they may gain exposure to them via breast milk.
If you think that certain foods may be triggering eczema flare-ups in your baby, it's worth keeping a food diary for a while so you can see if any patterns are emerging.
Never eliminate important foods, such as dairy products, wheat or eggs, from your baby's diet, without talking to your GP first.
A few studies have also suggested that the use of probiotics may be useful for reducing eczema symptoms in babies, although no firm scientific links have been established yet.
Experts believe that house dust mites can sometimes cause an allergic reaction in some little ones, which may worsen eczema symptoms . Although it's impossible to eliminate house dust mites completely, you may be able to reduce your baby's exposure to them by washing bed linen at 60°C. Some people also place soft toys in the freezer for 24 hours to kill off dust mites!
Other allergen-causing substances associated with triggering eczema flare-ups in babies include pollen, pet fur or exposure to cigarette smoke. If you think allergens may be exacerbating your little one's symptoms, keep a diary of when flare-ups occur, and under what circumstances or conditions.
Naturally, babies with itchy skin from eczema will try to scratch it, but you can help reduce scratching from worsening the skin by keeping baby's nails trimmed and filed so that they're as short as possible. Some parents even recommend putting scratch mittens on baby's hands. Alternatively, long socks placed on the hands will do the trick.
Although it is distressing for any parents to see their bundle of joy suffering from the effects of eczema, it is important to remember that the condition is very treatable with the right skin care, creams, lotions or medicines. With many babies outgrowing the condition, hopefully it won't become a long-term concern.