Many parents become concerned when they notice a skin rash during the early years of their baby's life. This rash often appears in the skin folds of the arms, neck or legs but it can also occur first on a baby's forehead, cheeks and scalp before spreading to other parts of the body.
Baby eczema can look like dry, thickened and scaly skin or be made up of tiny red bumps that can blister and ooze. Baby eczema is not contagious.
Baby eczema is very common and affects around 1 in 5 children. The face and scalp are most commonly affected in babies, and as children get older, it spreads to the limb creases – backs, wrists, ankle and neck, and the front of the elbows being the most likely sites to be affected.
Why do babies suddenly develop baby eczema?
- Many families find that eczema is inherited from a parent or close family member who suffers from hay fever, eczema, asthma or other allergies.
- Although it is not an allergic reaction to a substance, baby eczema can be triggered by certain allergens in your baby's diet or in your diet if your baby is breast fed.
- In approximately 10% of cases the condition may be due to an allergy to certain food groups such as citrus, soybeans, fish, nuts, wheat, eggs, peanuts or milk protein while dust mites, feather pollens and other allergens may be a contributing factor.
- An eczema rash can also be aggravated by heat as well as changes in temperature.
- Some babies are susceptible to irritants that come into contact with their skin. These can be chemicals in certain soaps, lotions and detergents. Wool is another irritant.
- Dry skin can be a further trigger.
How can you treat baby eczema?
- Don't let your baby's skin become dry. Daily bathing in lukewarm water is helpful if you use a mild soap and shampoo to wash at the end of the session which should not be too long.
- Immediately pat the skin dry without rubbing before applying plenty of natural moisturiser or emolient to keep the moisture in.
- Let your baby's skin breathe by using cool natural fabrics such as cotton for both clothing and bed linen. Avoid wool as this can be scratchy and irritating to the skin.
- Use natural fragrance-free detergents for washing your baby's clothes and bed linen and stay away from fabric softeners.
- Avoid extreme temperature changes for your child.
- Keep the fingernails cut short and put mittens on so that your child cannot scratch the eczema rash. Cool compresses to the area for a few minutes at a time will soothe and discourage scratching too. Babies cannot control the urge to scratch and if they do, this can result in bacterial infections, bleeding and major discomfort. Scratching not only disturbs your baby’s sleep but can worsen the itch and cause further inflammation.
The good news about baby eczema is that by the age of 3 years, the number of children with eczema is halved and approximately 70% of all children completely outgrow this condition by their teens.
However, in the meantime remember that baby eczema is a condition that is chronic and needs to be managed in the long run, as there are intermittent flare-ups every few weeks.