Baby eczema can be alarming, especially when it appears during your baby's first few months. The good news is that not only is it treatable, but it's actually very common, occurring in about 10 to 15%.
Do you want to know if the red, dry and itchy blotches on your baby’s skin are a manifestation of eczema? We hope the responses to these questions will shed light and give you the answers you are looking for.
What is eczema? Based on the Greek word, ekzein, which means to boil out, eczema is a skin condition characterized by rashes that appear all over the body. It is also described as the oozing, crusting, scaling, and pigmentation of the skin. Skin with eczema can also develop papules or small, raised pimples that do not produce pus, which tend to cluster together.
Eczema in babies can start within the first five years, and more often than not, during the first six months of life. Some babies outgrow eczema as they grow older, but some tend to live with it until they become adults.
Why do babies get eczema?
Babies can have eczema for different reasons. One is the lack of ceramides in their body or the fatty cells that protect the skin. When there is not enough production of ceramides, the skin loses water, making it very dry and more susceptible to eczema.
Another reason is heredity. Studies show that babies with parents who have a history of eczema, hay fever or asthma are likely to have eczema. Babies even double their chances of having eczema if both their parents have it. Although babies with eczema may be more predisposed to have allergies and asthma, one does not necessarily cause the other.
A combination of external factors can also cause eczema in babies. Irritants, dust, allergens, microbes, changing weather conditions, food, and stress can all cause eczema.
It can be very difficult to watch babies struggle with eczema, especially when it affects their sleep, but as a parent, it is essential to control their scratches.
This itch-scratch cycle by the National Eczema Organization shows that scratching an itch too much is more damaging than relieving. Scratching worsens rashes, which leads to more itching and more skin inflammation over time.
Eczema symptoms in babies can be in the form of rashes that appear on the cheeks, forehead, scalp, and around the eyes. These eczema symptoms can spread to the creases of their knees and elbows as they learn how to crawl. And as they get older, eczema symptoms can spread to their neck, ankles, and the creases between their legs and buttocks as they become more active and engaged with activities.
Aside from the lack of ceramides and genetics, the following factors are also known to cause baby eczema:
- Dry skin. Dry skin can be caused by a variety of lifestyle factors. Over washing the skin with harsh soaps is one, plus the overuse of alcohol and other sanitizing agents to regularly clean skin. When baby's skin becomes dry because of these practices, it can make their eczema itchier.
- Weather. Although it is impossible to control the weather outdoors, you can take charge of the conditions inside your home. Eczema tends to thrive in hot and humid conditions, so keep your baby's skin comfortable and free from sweating with air-conditioning. If it happens to be cold and dry outside, use a cool mist humidifier to prevent your baby’s skin from becoming too dry.
- Irritants. Aside from bubble baths, laundry soaps and air fresheners infused with perfumes, other causes of baby eczema are clothes made of wool, polyester fabrics, and carpets. Pet hair and dander can also cause eczema flare ups.
- Stress. Babies who have eczema may react to stress by flushing, or the rapid reddening of the skin. This can worsen eczema symptoms already present in them, making skin more itchy and irritated.
- Food allergens. Some experts say that certain allergies to cow's milk, eggs, and nuts can trigger eczema in babies.
While the specific cause of baby eczema remains to be unknown, knowing its symptoms and causes can make you prepared to treat and prevent it.
How can baby eczema be treated?
Treatment depends on the severity of your baby's eczema. But regardless of its intensity, it is important to address the dryness and the inflammation of your baby’s skin.
Have good bathing routine. Lukewarm water relaxes baby’s skin from rashes and itchiness and keeps it well-hydrated. Do not use hot water as it can remove your baby's natural protective oils. Keep bath time short, use a gentle baby soap, and refrain from using bath additives such as bubbles and salts to prevent any potential irritation.
Use anti-inflammatory medications for infected rashes. Have your pediatrician prescribe you one that effectively relieves inflammation and is safe for your baby. You can also use topical steroids such as hydrocortisone and corticosteroid creams for your baby’s immediate itch relief. Ask your doctor before using it.
Apply moisturizer on your baby’s skin after a bath. This should be done within 3 minutes after bathing to ensure that moisture is locked in. Moisturizers that contain ceramides are great and these are available as over the counter and by prescription. You can also use a fragrance-free lotion. Massaging baby's skin with virgin coconut oil is also effective in keeping baby’s skin soft and hydrated after bath time.
How can it be prevented?
Most babies will outgrow their eczema as they get older. Until such time, keep in mind the following ways you can manage and hopefully prevent your baby's eczema from coming back:
Breastfeeding works best, as babies inherit a part of their mom's immune system, which boosts their own immunity in the process. As such, it is helpful in preventing baby eczema since eczema is triggered by an overactive immune system.
Choose cotton over wool and synthetic fibers when it comes to your baby's clothes. Loose and soft clothing allows skin to breathe and prevents it from overheating versus tight-fitting ones made of rough and scratchy fibers. If cotton clothing happens to be colored, wash it first before letting your baby wear it since loose dyes can be a potential skin irritant.
Use a natural, gentle and fragrance-free head-to-toe cleanser. Use soaps that are effective at removing dirt while still being mild on baby's skin. Make it a habit to check the ingredients of the cleansers and soaps you plan to use for your baby's bath time. The same watchful eye goes for laundry soaps for your baby’s clothes. Stay away from scented ones and varieties with anti-bacterial components as these can be too strong for your baby's delicate skin.
Give extra TLC during and after bath time. Do not use sponges or scrubbers while giving your baby a bath. And before applying moisturizer after bathing, air dry baby's skin or pat dry with a soft towel. Do not rub the towel on their skin.
Keep baby’s nails trimmed so it won’t worsen their rashes. Over scratching can lead to infections and eventually, can cause skin to break, appear leathery and thick. You can also slip mittens on their hands to prevent them from scratching their rashes.
Being in control of your baby’s eczema means understanding it from all possible angles - what is eczema, what is its nature, what causes it and what are its symptoms, and how can it be treated and prevented.
Keep your baby's environment clean, practice good skin care habits with daily baths using gentle baby soaps and natural moisturizers after bathing. Know what triggers your baby's eczema and avoid them the best way you can.
What about you - does your baby also have eczema? Are there any tips you want to share with your fellow parents when it comes to your baby's eczema?