Baby eczema: Everything you need to know
What is eczema?
Dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema is a skin condition which is usually developed during early childhood. So what is baby eczema? It is a chronic skin condition characterised by symptoms such as red, itchy, cracked and dry skin. The skin may become so dry and cracked that it can cause bleeding. Babies suffering from eczema may also experience thick skin with pimple-like eruptions which may ooze liquid. Baby eczema is not hereditary, and flares up in response to external factors such as animal hair, food allergies and exposure to harsh chemicals. Read below to see the symptoms and causes of baby eczema, as well as how to minimise flare ups.
How do I know if my baby has eczema?
It is often hard to tell whether your little one is suffering from eczema, especially when they are younger and are unable to speak up for themselves. Only a qualified medical practitioner is able to diagnose your baby, however, there are a few tell-tale signs that your baby may be suffering from eczema. If your baby is experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should consult with your paediatrician:
In babies, eczema flare ups will most commonly occur on the cheeks, and outer areas of the arms and legs. Although it is less common, your baby may also experience flare ups on the chest, back and tummy area. This rash will sometimes contain blisters, which easily rupture and seep liquid, making the open area a breeding ground for bacteria and other infections.
Itchy and inflamed skin
If your baby is constantly scratching and their skin seems reddened or irritated, they may be experiencing an eczema flare up. This itching can become unbearable, making it hard to sleep or concentrate. You may notice a change in your baby’s behaviour such as being easily agitated and sensitive to being held or picked up.
Changes in skin texture
Over time, you may notice certain areas of your baby’s skin become dry and cracked. Your little one’s skin may also thicken and harden, and have a rough-looking appearance in comparison to the rest of the body. This is a common symptom of eczema and is a big indicator that your child may be suffering from this chronic skin disease.
What causes baby eczema?
The disease is caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Children are more likely to develop eczema if one or both of the parents’ experience an atopic disease such as asthma or hay fever. Environmental factors such as food allergens, weather, chemicals and pet dander may also result in a flare up of the skin. Eczema is also associated with a malfunction of the body’s immune system. Your skin is made up of 3 layers. The outer layer (epidermis) is further divided into the basal layer, the spinous layer and the corneal layer. The visible part of the skin (corneal layer) protects the body from germs and is constantly renewing cells from the basal layer of the skin. In eczema sufferers, the corneal layer does not provide enough protection because it has been damaged by the body’s inflammatory response.
Another possible cause of eczema in children may be due to a gene mutation which affects the production of a protein called filaggrin, which is needed by the body to form the outer layer of the skin. Due to the body producing less filaggrin, the balance of fats in the skin is affected, which causes moisture loss.
How can I minimise eczema flare ups?
Although eczema is a chronic condition, by making a few simple lifestyle changes, you will be able to effectively manage and minimise the chance of your baby experiencing a flare up.
Many people who are diagnosed with eczema also experience allergic reactions to certain foods, which may trigger a flare up. Common food allergies associated with eczema may include:
- Cow’s Milk
- Dairy Products
- Soy Products
- Artificial Colourants
- Artificial Flavourants
- Foods with high sugar content
Pay special attention to the ingredients listed in baby milk formulas, and processed baby foods, as your baby’s skin may react negatively to these. If your baby is old enough to eat solid foods, try introducing anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish, apples, blueberries, spinach, broccoli and soft cheese.
Extreme temperature changes, such as excessive heat and moisture, may cause eczema to flare up. For babies suffering from this condition, it is especially important to ensure that they are dried properly after bathing, and that they are not over-dressed, which may cause sweating and excess moisture on the skin. Keeping your baby’s skin cool and comfortable is fundamental to preventing breakouts.
Pay special attention to the clothing that you put on your baby’s delicate skin, as some materials may aggravate the eczema. The harshness of synthetics, wool and rough linen may aggravate the skin. If your baby is suffering from eczema, try to dress them in 100% cotton clothing, as it is the most breathable fabric. You should also try to choose loose fitting clothing that does not rub against the skin. You can even cut off the tags of clothing, as these have been known to cause irritation. The same goes for your baby’s bedding- select materials that are high quality and breathable.
If your baby is sick or experiencing stress or discomfort, such as when they are teething, it may make them more likely to experience a flare up of symptoms. While it is not always entirely possible to avoid stress, you can minimise the effects it has on your baby by administering pain medication to ease discomfort.
One of the biggest aggravators for eczema is caused by artificial irritants. Pay special attention to the ingredients in washing powders, fabric softeners and grooming products such as shampoo, conditioner and body lotions. These products may contain harmful chemicals which may irritate your baby’s delicate skin. Try to search for products with little to no chemicals, or find a natural alternative.
Carpets and pet hair
Carpets and rugs may be a sneaky cause for your baby’s eczema getting worse. These items generally collect lots of dust, microscopic insects and pet dander. These may further irritate your baby’s skin, causing flare ups. If your child is suffering from eczema, it is best to rid your home of any carpets or rugs.
Trim your baby’s nails
While doing this will not minimise the chances of a flare up, it will stop your baby from scratching the skin until it breaks open or bleeds. Another alternative would be to place long socks over your baby’s arms, tucked under a shirt. This makes it harder for your baby to remove and is less harsh than scratching with fingernails.
Baby Eczema Treatment
Eczema will usually get better over time or simply go away on its own, with your child experiencing fewer flare-ups as they grow older. Although eczema can be effectively treated and managed, there is no known cure. The following can help to minimise the symptoms associated with eczema:
Over the counter medication & anti-inflammatories
To reduce discomfort and pain, you may want to consult with your doctor to prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication or a mild pain killer such as paracetamol. This will reduce redness and pain in your baby’s skin while experiencing a flare up
Topical products for baby eczema
There are many chemically based topical creams, lotions and balms currently available on the market for sensitive and inflamed skin. These products can help to soothe and heal the damaged skin, as well as moisturise and nourish the skin to restore it. They however could end up doing more damage to your little one’s skin over a period of time, due to the chemical base thinning their skin. It would be advisable to perhaps look for a more natural product with tea tree oil, such as Ultra Bee’s baby eczema balm. Tea tree has been known to be a natural anti-septic, which kills fungi, viruses and bacteria. It also has soothing properties, which will help to reduce the itching and irritation associated with eczema, whilst also being kind to your baby’s skin. The other ingredients- propolis, bees wax, honey and pollen, also help to nourish and heal the skin and restore it to its normal texture.