- Signs & Symptoms
- Bathing & Moisturizing
- Bleach Bath
- Prevent Scratching
- Related Resources
Causes of eczema in babies
Although the cause of eczema isn't completely understood, up to 10% of babies and toddlers have it. If you have a family history of eczema, asthma, or hay fever, your baby may be more likely to develop it. Eczema in adults may not look the same in a child, which is why identifying symptoms and triggers is important to protect your baby's skin. Triggers of eczema in babies may include the following:
- Many soaps, disinfectants, and fragrances can make eczema worse for your baby's skin.
- Common products that may cause flare-ups include detergents and dryer sheets, bubble baths and some shampoos, disinfectants such as chlorine, dyes, and coarse fabrics such as wool and other rough materials.
- Typical allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold can cause itchy, inflamed skin. Eczema is not an allergic reaction to a substance, but allergens or irritants in the environment (such as pollen or cigarette smoke) can trigger it.
- Make your home an allergy-free zone by vacuuming and wet dusting frequently and keeping soft toys (which trap dust) to a minimum and washing them often. Groom pets regularly.
- Extremes in temperature and humidity may trigger an eczema flare-up.
- Environmental triggers include very hot or very cold temperatures, high or low humidity, cigarette smoke, and pollution.
- Keep your baby's bedroom temperature between 68 F and 72 F and maintain even humidity in your home.
- Use a humidifier if the air in your home is dry.
- It's relatively rare in infants, but one in 10 children with eczema experience symptoms caused by food allergies. In general, children under 5 years of age with severe eczema also may have a food allergy, most commonly triggered by milk, eggs, nuts, seeds, or wheat. Some children with eczema develop severe allergic reactions to foods and many develop asthma and hay fever symptoms as they get older.
Abnormal or sensitive skin
- Skin is a barrier that protects you against bacteria, irritants, and allergens.
- Children with an abnormal skin barrier lose moisture from the skin and are more sensitive to external irritants and/or allergic substances and bacteria in the environment.
- This all leads to dry skin, inflammation, and infections.
- In eczema, the skin is prone to developing infections. Infants often have a rash on their cheeks caused partially by a drool of saliva. It breaks down the skin proteins, leading to increased redness and, sometimes, it becomes difficult to control eczema on their cheeks.
- While stress doesn't cause eczema, symptoms may worsen as the result of tension, anger, or frustration.
- If your child is having problems at daycare, you may notice more eczema flare-ups than usual.
- Stress also can cause habitual scratching, which perpetuates the itch-scratch cycle.
- In that case, keep your child's fingernails short and consider cotton gloves or mittens if your child tends to scratch while sleeping.
- Few babies have sensitive skin. Avoid any animals that may make the rash worse.
Herpes virus infection (serious)
- Keep your child away from anyone with fever blisters (cold sores). The herpes virus can cause a serious skin infection in children with eczema.
What are eczema symptoms and signs?
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common rash that occurs in people of all ages.
- It is particularly common in children.
- Eczema can start early, during the first few months of life.
- The eczema rash is red, dry, and itchy.
- Some children grow out of it, whereas others can have sensitive skin and a rash for years.
- Eczema tends to come and go and may get worse during certain times of the year, such as during the colder, drier winter months.
- Eczema is a skin condition that usually appears as an itchy, red patch on the hands; feet; backs of elbows, and around the knees, ankles, and wrists.
- It may also affect your baby's cheeks, chin, chest, forehead, or scalp.
- Eczema can appear in other areas, too (the diaper area where moisture acts as a barrier).
- Dry skin, sweating, pet dander, or even dust can cause a flare-up of your child's eczema.
- Scratching also can make eczema worse, causing redness, swelling, and other symptoms such as itching.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for eczema. It tends to come and go. Kids often outgrow some of their eczemas, but they may continue to have rashes or sensitive skin for life.
- When the red, itchy rash is present, doctors often recommend anti-inflammatory medicines to help reduce active skin inflammation.
- Topical steroid medications are the most effective treatment for eczema. If used properly under the direction of a dermatologist, topical steroids are safe to use.
- Oral antihistamines may be prescribed to reduce itching.
- If an infection is suspected, topical or oral antibiotics may be prescribed.
- Good skin care, including bathing and moisturizing, is a key part of managing your child's eczema.
Bathing and moisturizing routines to soothe baby eczema
Eczema is a recurring skin condition that usually appears within the first 6 months of life. Its main symptom is an itchy rash on your baby's cheeks, arms, and legs.
The skin irritation can range from mild to severe and can be distressing for both you and your baby. There are many ways to soothe your baby's skin. Find the routine that works best for you and stick to it. A consistent routine will help prevent flare-ups -- which are times when there are a lot more red spots and itchiness.
You'll want to come up with a regular bath-time routine for your baby that focuses on keeping their skin moist. It's important to not use any kind of soap when washing your baby -- including bubble bath -- because they can cause skin irritation.
Instead of using soap, bathe your baby in a once-daily bath in lukewarm water with a fragrance-free cleanser. Then, use a moisturizing cream all over the body. Apply the moisturizer within 3 minutes of getting out of the water -- when your baby's skin is still a bit damp. You can moisturize your baby's entire body twice a day.
In drier months, use products thicker than lotions like ointments. Creams and ointments are recommended over lotions and oils because they are better at keeping skin from drying out.
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Is a bleach bath right for your baby?
Bleach baths are not usually recommended for babies, but in difficult cases, your doctor may want to try them. Don't attempt these baths unless your doctor has recommended it and specified a routine.
When trying a bleach bath, carefully measure the amount of bleach that you use or you may harm your baby's skin further. A typical ratio is 1 teaspoon of bleach for a baby-sized bath or half a cup of bleach for a filled full-size bathtub. The bath should last 5-10 minutes. Follow this by rinsing your baby's entire body with regular water.
Use of corticosteroids to soothe baby eczema
In moderate to severe cases, you may want to use over-the-counter corticosteroid products, including creams, ointments, and sprays. Though you may hesitate to use these relatively harsh creams on your baby's skin, corticosteroids are the best at soothing red, itchy spots that can appear on the skin. They are one of the best ways to soothe your baby during flare-ups.
Apply the corticosteroid directly to the red areas before using your normal moisturizer. Then, apply moisturizer all over the skin, including right on top of the corticosteroid. There are stronger prescription steroids that your doctor may decide are right for your baby.
Overall, if you need to use corticosteroids, it's better to use them sooner rather than later. Around 30% of babies with eczema also get food allergies, usually to cow milk or eggs.
A study done at the Japanese National Center for Child Health and Development found that if you use corticosteroids within the first 4 months of seeing your baby's symptoms, it can lower their chances of getting food allergies by the time they're 2 years old. The chances of getting these allergies are higher when you do not apply the corticosteroids until after your baby has shown symptoms for over 4 months.
How to prevent scratching or rough treatment of the skin
Some of the worst problems that eczema can cause come from scratching the skin around the itchy spots. Small openings in the skin can lead to new problems like bacterial infections. Do the following to cut down on scratching:
- Keep your baby's nails clipped short.
- Cover your baby's hands with mittens or socks.
- Pat your baby dry after a bath instead of rubbing or scrubbing with the towel and then apply moisturizer while they are still a bit wet.
When to see a doctor or dermatologist
If your baby has not yet been diagnosed as having eczema, talk to your doctor whenever you first notice a rash. If your baby has already been diagnosed, then your doctor will be helpful in recommending the particular kinds of moisturizers and over-the-counter corticosteroids to use. Talk to your doctor under the following circumstances:
- Flare-ups last for multiple days
- Symptoms keep getting worse
- You notice pus or other signs of possible infection
- Before trying a bleach bath
- If you think you might need to try a stronger, prescription medicine
Though it can be stressful, you should be patient with both your baby and your doctor. It may take some time to figure out the routine that is best for you.
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