Recognizing the Signs – Managing the Symptoms
It is estimated that about 20% of infants and young children have eczema – 65% of infants develop symptoms in the first year of life, and 90% of children develop symptoms before the age of five. Baby eczema often starts between 2-6 months of age and it usually shows up on a baby’s forehead, cheeks, and scalp, but it can spread to the arms, legs, chest, or other parts of the body as an itchy rash.
Your baby’s rash might look like dry, thickened, scaly skin, or it might be made up of tiny red bumps that can blister, ooze, or become infected if scratched. Eczema isn’t contagious, but because it’s intensely itchy, scratching can be a problem.
What Causes Eczema
No one knows for sure what causes eczema, but there are a number of things that can trigger an irritation in the baby’s skin. One of the biggest risk factors for developing infant eczema is genetics – a family history of allergies, including eczema, hay fever, and asthma. Eczema is not an allergic reaction to a substance, but it can be triggered by allergens in your baby’s diet — or in your diet if you’re breastfeeding.
Once baby’s skin is irritated and aggravated, the area becomes extra vulnerable to other irritants and dryness, perpetuating the cycle. Common triggers of infant eczema include:
- Heredity – family history of allergies
- Rough, scratchy fabrics
- Detergents and harsh soaps – including bubble bath solutions
- Moisture (from milk, saliva, or sweat)
- Heat and Humidity
- Cigarette smoke
- Dust and animal dander
- Food allergies – If you or your doctor suspects that your baby’s eczema is affected by certain foods, the most likely culprits are cow’s milk and eggs, followed by soy, wheat, peanuts, and fish. You may want to try eliminating these from your baby’s diet, or from your diet if you are breastfeeding. There is a specific protocol to follow if food allergies are suspected, consult your pediatrician to discuss these options.
Infant eczema requires immediate action before the condition spreads and becomes unmanageable. The following preventative measures and help combat flare-ups, control the rash, and avoid spreading to other areas of the body.
- Keep your baby’s skin from becoming too dry. Many experts now believe that daily bathing can be helpful for babies with eczema. The water should be lukewarm only – very warm water dries out the skin.
- Use mild, fragrance-free soaps and shampoos, or those made for sensitive skin . Wash baby at the end of bath time so that the baby is not sitting in soapy water. As soon as you get your baby out of the tub, pat skin dry (don’t rub). Then immediately apply a liberal amount of moisturizer, cream, or lotion to lock in the body’s own moisture
- Keep baby cool and dry – use lightweight, natural fabrics like cotton. Avoid scratchy materials such as wool which can be very irritating to the skin.
- Keep your baby’s nails short. Scratching and rubbing can further irritate or inflame the skin. If scratching is a problem, try putting baby to bed with cotton mittens or socks to avoid worsening the condition.
- Rapid changes in temperature can make eczema worse. Try to avoid sudden changes in temperature.
- Use mild, fragrance-free detergent for washing clothes and bedding. Avoid fabric softeners.
DID YOU KNOW….
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Over the Counter and Professional Treatment
In addition to taking the preventive measures outlined above, the main goal of most treatment plans is to control the rash and relieve the itching, since excessive itching can lead to infection. Over the counter products such as hydrocortisone 1% creams and ointments help reduce the inflammation, and are common treatments for eczema.
If the over-the-counter products are not effective, and you are unable to control your baby’s rash, you should contact your pediatrician. He or she may prescribe a stronger hydrocortisone ointment or cream to help control the rash, and/or an antihistamine to relieve the itching. Depending on the severity of the eczema, your baby may need antibiotics if a secondary infection develops.
- National Institutes of Health: U.S. Library of Medicine: Rash: Child Under 2 years; Eczema
- Prescription for Nutritional Healing; Second Edition. James F. Balch, MD., Phyllis A. Balch, CNC.
- American Academy of Dermatology: Eczema in Infants
- Pediatrics: May 2009, VOLUME 123 / ISSUE Supplement 4; Amy S. Pallor, M.D., Walter J. Hamilton Professor and Chair of the Department of Dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.