Baby eczema (also called infant eczema or atopic dermatitis) appears in about 10% to15% of children. It shows up as patches of red or dry skin. The skin is almost always itchy, dry, and rough.
While it may appear just about anywhere on a baby’s body, eczema most often occurs on a baby’s cheeks and at the joints of their arms and legs.
Infant eczema can be easily confused with cradle cap, another significantly less red, scaly rash of infancy. Cradle cap generally clears up by 8 months, and usually appears on the scalp, sides of the nose, eyelids and eyebrows, and behind the ears.
Why Do Babies Get Eczema?
Eczema is caused when the body makes too few ceramides. Ceramides are the fatty cells which help provide the barrier protection to the skin. If you don’t have enough of them, the skin will lose water and become very dry.
Heredity is a big factor in whether an infant gets eczema. If mom or dad have eczema, a baby is a lot more likely to develop it, too.
Defects in the skin barrier, allowing moisture out and germs in, could also be a factor.
Does Eczema in Infants Go Away by Itself?
Fortunately, most children outgrow the itchy irritation of eczema before school age.
A small number of kids will have eczema into adulthood. Remissions do happen and can last for years, though the tendency to have dry skin often lingers.
What Triggers Eczema in Children?
What triggers one infant’s eczema won’t trigger another’s. Still, there are some common eczema triggers to avoid, including:
- Dry skin. This is often caused by low humidity, especially during winter when homes are well-heated and the air is dry. Dry skin can make a baby’s eczema more itchy.
- Irritants. Think scratchy wool clothes, polyester, perfumes, body soaps, and laundry soaps. These can all trigger a baby’s eczema flares.
- Stress. Children with baby eczema may react to stress by flushing, which leads to itchy, irritated skin — and an increase in eczema symptoms.
- Heat and sweat. Both heat and sweat can make the itch of infant eczema worse.
- Allergens. There’s still debate as to whether food allergies in children trigger eczema. Some experts believe that removing cow’s milk, peanuts, eggs, or certain fruits from a child’s diet may help control eczema symptoms. Remember, a breastfed baby may be exposed to those foods through mom’s milk in addition to actually ingesting them
How Can I Help My Baby’s Eczema at Home?
One of the keys to treating infant eczema is to prevent your baby from scratching. Scratching can make the rash worse, lead to infection, and cause the irritated skin to get thicker and more leathery.
Be sure your baby’s nails are trimmed often, and then take the edge off of them with a file if you can. Some parents also slip “scratch mittens” onto their little one’s hands. Others try long socks, tucked in under a long-sleeved shirt, so they’re harder for a baby to remove.
Other things you can do to treat your baby’s eczema at home include:
Bathe your baby for no more than 10 minutes in warm water. Hot water can strip skin of its natural, protective oils.
Use mild, unscented body and laundry soaps. Perfumed, deodorant, and anti-bacterial soaps can be rough on a baby’s sensitive skin.
Use soap only where your baby may be dirty, such as the genitals, and hands and feet. Simply rinse off the rest of your baby’s body.
Pat your baby’s skin dry; don’t rub.
Apply a moisturizer while your baby’s skin is wet.
Oatmeal soaking products added to your baby’s tub may make your little one’s skin less itchy. Talk to your doctor.
To minimize the irritation of clothing rubbing on the skin, dress your baby in loose clothes made of cotton. Always wash new clothes before putting them on your baby.
Use a mild, fragrance-free detergent to wash your baby’s clothes.
Avoid putting too many blankets on your baby or overdressing your little one. This can make your baby hot and sweaty, triggering an eczema flare.
When Should I See a Doctor About Baby Eczema?
Don’t just assume your baby has eczema — get a medical diagnosis first. This not only eases your mind; it can help you treat your baby’s eczema more effectively.
Once you know infant eczema is what you’re dealing with, keep an eye on your baby’s condition and call your doctor if:
- Your baby doesn’t respond to treatment within a week of starting over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams. Prescription treatment may be necessary.
- A yellow or light brown crust or pus-filled blisters appear on top of the eczema. This could be the sign of a bacterial infection that needs antibiotics. Contact your doctor.
- Your baby is exposed to anyone with cold sores or genital herpes, both of which your baby is more likely to contract.