What is eczema?
Eczema is a dry, itchy skin condition that affects up to one in five children. It usually appears for the first time before your child is two years old. The good news is that most children who have eczema will grow out of the condition by the time they are in their teens. Eczema can’t be cured, but it can be controlled with the right treatments.
Eczema is also known as atopic eczema, or atopic dermatitis. Atopic means that your child has inherited the tendency to develop conditions such as eczema, asthma and hayfever. The end result is the same: dry, itchy, red and cracked skin, which can sometimes ooze fluid and bleed. The areas most affected in babies are the hands, face, neck, elbows and backs of the knees.
Having eczema means that the skin’s barrier doesn’t work as well as it should, which makes it drier. His skin will be more prone to infections and allergens can enter the skin more easily, which can make the condition worse.
What causes eczema?
We don’t know exactly what causes eczema, but genes may play a role. Allergic conditions, including eczema, asthma, and hayfever, have increased over the last few decades, though it has started to level off.
Eczema affects the skin in flare-ups. Your baby’s skin may have dry and itchy patches of skin most of the time, but during flare-ups, these areas worsen and become inflamed. This happens as his immune systems overreacts to substances he’s allergic to (allergens). He may then need more intensive treatment.
Eczema flare-ups can sometimes be triggered by skin irritation caused by chemicals, such as the detergents in bubble baths, shampoos, washing powders and fabric softeners. Use bath emollient rather than soaps and detergents in the bath. You could also try changing your washing detergent to non-biological, to see if this improves your baby’s eczema.
Eczema can be extremely distressing in babies because they find it very difficult not to scratch, which can lead to infections. In some cases eczema can disturb your child’s sleep and affect his confidence.
How can I treat my baby’s eczema?
The treatment of eczema depends on its severity. If your child has mild eczema with only a few red and itchy areas, you may simply be advised to use an emollient lotion, cream or ointment, sometimes combined with a short course of a low-strength steroid cream.
Moisturising your baby’s skin to prevent flare-ups is crucial. All children with eczema need to use liberal quantities of an emollient several times a day, even if no patches of eczema are present. This prevents skin from drying out too much.
There are a huge variety of moisturisers or emollients available and you may have to try several to find the one that suits your child best. These are available as creams, ointments, lotions and bath additives.
You may have to use large quantities of emollient on a regular basis. Your doctor should regularly offer repeat prescriptions once you know which one works best. Aqueous cream is an emollient that is best avoided. It can contain detergents that can irritate your child’s skin.