The causes and symptoms of baby eczema explained with advice on treatments and natural remedies you can try to soothe your baby's irritation.
What is it?
Eczema (also known as dermatitis) is the term used to describe a range of skin conditions characterised by very dry, itchy skin. Other common symptoms include a reddening, cracking, swelling or scaling of the skin as well as tiny bumps that bleed or ooze, although it is not contagious. Eczema can occur anywhere on the body but in babies it mainly manifests itself on the scalp, forehead, chest and around the joints. In more severe cases it can be incredibly itchy and irritating for your baby and may even disrupt their sleep.
What causes baby eczema?
A large number of babies suffer from atopic eczema which is largely hereditary based and tends to develop around 2 -3 months of age. The term atopic refers to an oversensitivity of the immune system which causes sufferers to react to aspects of their environment that would not normally elicit an immune response. There is no real way of knowing whether a baby will develop atopic eczema although there is a increased chance if other members of the family suffer from atopic conditions such as eczema, asthma or hayfever themselves.
Irritant contact and allergic contact eczema are also common and tend to be brought on by either prolonged (irritant) or immediate (allergic) exposure to a specific allergen. Suffering from one type of eczema increases the chance that you will develop other types, so if your baby suffers with atopic eczema you may notice that exposure to certain things in his or her environment causes flare ups.
How can I treat it?
Unfortunately, because atopic eczema is an allergic condition there is no specific catch-all treatment, however there are several remedies that may help to improve the condition of your baby's skin and reduce irritation significantly.
- Moisturise - As eczema is characterised by very dry skin, keeping your baby's skin moisturised can really help to reduce discomfort - try generously applying an emollient several times throughout the day but especially after a bath. While baby lotion or oil can be used for this your doctor may be able to recommend a more effective moisturising cream (as you may find that even special baby products may irritate your baby's skin).
- Careful bath times - Bathing your baby in lukewarm (rather than warmer) water will help your baby's skin to retain moisture and stay hydrated. You should avoid using soap based bath products and instead go for those designed for babies with sensitive skin. Leave washing your baby with product until just before you take them out the bath as this means they will not be sitting in 'soapy' water. Additionally, you should always pat rather than rub your baby dry as rubbing removes some of the much needed oils that form part of the skin's defence.
- Avoid detergents - Household detergents such as washing powders can be irritating to your baby's skin so try to use sensitive products and dry linen outside on the line rather than in the tumble dryer whenever possible.
- Choose cotton - Clothing your baby in cotton rather than in synthetic or woolen materials will enable your baby's skin to breathe and help to reduce irritation. Cotton bedding will again stop your baby from overheating, becoming clammy and flaring up.
- Go dust free - Keeping your home and especially your baby's nursery dust free may help to reduce eczema flare ups. Keep soft furnishings in the nursery to a minimum and try to hoover as often as possible. Keeping your home well aired should help too. If you have longer pile carpets rather than wooden or laminate flooring, sitting or laying your baby on a cotton or plastic playmat can be better than playing directly on the carpet.
- Keep pets away - Pet hair is a common irritant so at the minimum you should keep your pets out of your baby's nursery and wash your baby's hands when they have been touching animals.
- Diet - There is a limited amount of evidence that suggests sensitivity to certain foods can cause eczema flare ups. If you are in the process of weaning your baby you should make sure you introduce one food at a time so that you can notice any reactions. You should also make sure that you follow current recommendations for when to introduce certain foods into your baby's diet, leaving more 'allergenic' foods such as cow's milk and wheat til later. Breastfeeding your baby until they are at least 4 months old is one of the best ways to minimise eczema, however you may need to look at your own diet if they are showing sensitivities. However, you should never restrict your own or your baby's diet without seeking the advice of your doctor first. If you think that your baby has a problem with certain foods see your healthcare provider at once.
- Minimising scratching - Itching and scratching can make eczema flare ups worse by breaking the skin and letting infections in. Try keeping your baby's nails short and fitting them with cotton mittens and socks before a nap to help to reduce this.
Your doctor may recommend trying a steroid cream if your baby's eczema is particularly bad as these can help to clear up flare ups quickly. However, you should follow the application instructions carefully, using steroid creams very sparingly on your baby's delicate skin, especially around the face as with prolonged exposure over time they can lead to thinning of the skin.
Will my baby grow out of it?
Seeing your baby suffer with itchy eczema can be really distressing especially if the discomfort is disrupting their sleep. It can be helpful to know that most babies grow out of eczema by the time they are two or three, with most symptoms reducing after 12 months of age, additionally, scaring from eczema is uncommon. So, by ensuring you keep your baby's skin well moisturised, steering away from soaps and strong detergents and taking the advice of your doctor you should be able to soothe your baby's discomfort and help stop the itching.