Eczema is a condition where the skin lacks the right fats and oils to provide an effective barrier, allowing allergens — products that cause an allergic reaction — to penetrate the skin, which irritates and dries it out. Luckily, around 65 per cent of children who have eczema will grow out of it by age 7.
What are the symptoms?
Red, dry patches on the skin could be eczema. “Skin will be itchy, sometimes scaly or flaky,” says Dr Mary Glover, a paediatric dermatologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital in the UK. “You may notice your baby is extra wriggly, stops sleeping, or is more irritable due to the discomfort.”
What causes it?
Many babies inherit a tendency to develop eczema, so check your family history. However, diet can trigger it, too. “In some babies, exposure to foods such as milk, eggs and wheat will trigger the allergic reaction, causing eczema symptoms,” notes Professor Simon Murch from the UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Other triggers include toiletries and washing powders that contain perfumes, sulphates (which make products foam), preservatives, dust and pet fur.
What can you do?
“Mild eczema can be treated with over-the- counter emollient creams, which will address the dryness,” says Professor Murch. “Steroid creams help by reducing inflammation, but are only available on prescription and should be used under guidance from your paediatrician or dermatologist.” Reduce the number of baths your baby has and avoid soap and bubble bath (even unperfumed ones). “Use non-biological washing powder and avoid fabric conditioners — they’re also irritants,” says Dr Glover. You’ll also need to watch out for scratching, so keep nails short or use baby mittens.
See your doctor if...
The eczema spreads or gets worse. “The longer you leave eczema, the harder it is to treat, so talk to your doctor as soon as it appears,” advises Dr Glover. “If your baby isn’t responding to treatment, book another check-up.”
Did you know?
Eczema also tends to flare up in times of stress, when the temperature is too high or low, during a bacterial infection, or when the skin is irritated by fabrics (such as wool).