Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin rash that can show up as red, crusty patches on a baby’s skin within their first few months to before the age of five. It’s fairly common, easy to treat, and most children grow out of it over time. Keep reading to learn more about what eczema is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
Eczema looks like dry, thickened scales on the skin, or like tiny red bumps that ooze or become infected when scratched. It is very itchy but luckily known to come and go fairly quickly. On babies, it usually appears on the cheeks and scalp, as well as the arms, legs, and chest. As children grow older, it tends to develop more on the insides of elbows, the backs of knees, wrists, and ankles. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, but scratching will only make it worse, causing the rash to become more thick and dark, which can scar over time. Be sure to check with a doctor to determine if a child’s rash is definitely eczema if symptoms get worse.
Doctors do not know for sure what causes eczema, in fact, there isn’t even a cure yet, but they do know it is often inherited. Therefore, a child is more likely to have it if there is a family history of the rash. Treatments have made major headway, such as with over-the-counter methods, prescriptions, and topical medications, so medical professionals are learning more and more about it as time goes on. Eczema occurs when the body makes too few fatty cells called ceramides, which causes the skin to lose water and dry out. The rash can also be triggered by heat and sweating, infection, and/or allergies to pet dander, dust, and pollen. It is not an allergic reaction, but simply an after effect of these allergies. Less commonly, it can be set off by allergens in a child’s diet.
If your child has eczema, it can be easily aggravated by heat, chemicals in soaps, fragrances, lotions, and detergents, an as well as fabrics like wool. Changes in temperature and stress have also been known to result in flare-ups of the rash.
There are many different methods for treating eczema and one can often start right at home. Moisturize with lotions that have ceramides in them. These are available over the counter and by prescription. Moisturizers that are fragrance-free, or ointments like petroleum jelly, will also help a baby’s skin retain it’s natural moisture levels. Over-the-counter products like hydrocortisone can help alleviate itching and inflammation. These all work best when applied right after a bath. Baths can also help hydrate and cool the skin, as well as relieve itching, just make sure the water isn’t too hot. Keep the bathtime short and add oatmeal soaking products for even more soothing relief. Be sure to pat the skin dry, do not rub–this will only irritate the skin and counteract the cooling effects of the bath.
After a bath and moisturize, keep allowing the skin to breathe using loose clothing with all natural fibers, like cotton, that won’t stay on the skin. Avoid using too many layers as well to keep out unnecessary heat–too much sweat can cause an outbreak. Use mild, unscented laundry soaps when washing clothing–deodorant and antibacterial soaps can be harsh on sensitive skin.
If at-home remedies aren’t working within a week, it’s time to call a doctor for stronger, prescription eczema medicine. It’s also important to check with a doctor if any light brown or yellow crust or pus-filled blisters appear on top of existing eczema. This could be a sign of bacterial infection, which will definitely need antibiotics to treat. A doctor should also be called if a child has been exposed to anyone with cold sores or herpes. Eczema can make a child more susceptible to picking up these germs. Doctors can also use a method known as phototherapy, or light therapy, that uses a special type of light called ultraviolet B that will decrease symptoms of eczema. And for severe cases, some doctors recommend immunosuppressant medications that work by controlling the immune system. These are not FDA approved, but many doctors’ use them to treat difficult cases.
All of this may seem scary, but eczema is easy to treat and most children will outgrow it before they start school. Only very rarely do some kids continue to have eczema throughout adulthood. Most times, if anything they’ll just experience dry skin. Other helpful tips are to keep a diary of the key eczema triggers during infancy and early childhood. This will help doctors and/or experts diagnose proper treatment if need be. Keeping a child’s nails short will also help prevent vicious scratching and irritation. All of these steps will soon become second nature and prevent a child’s eczema for getting out control.