Babies often get red, scaly itchy skin known as eczema. Around 1 in every 5 children in the UK is affected by eczema at some stage. Children usually get eczema during their first year of life, sometimes as early as in their third month. Dry, scaly, red patches appear on the skin, initially on the face, then on trunk and limbs. In older children, eczema affects mainly the creases of the neck, knees and elbows. No matter where they appear, the patches of eczema are very itchy and can disturb the child’s sleep. Children will scratch the itchy patches and the eczema can get infected as a result.
Most children outgrow eczema by the time they start school. Even those who continue to experience symptoms may find that these improve over time.
Speak to your GP, to the paediatrician or to the health visitor if you think your child has eczema, as the right treatment and good skin care can control eczema and alleviate much of the discomfort.
Tips on soothing your baby's eczema
- Apply an unperfumed moisturiser several times a day – for example, when you feed or change your baby – to help keep their skin moist. Even when your baby may appear free from symptoms, it's still important to make sure his or her skin is liberally moisturised regularly.
- Frequent bathing is important, at least once daily, twice daily is even better. Keep bath sessions to around 10 minutes and use lukewarm water. Avoid soap and bubble bath as these can dry or irritate the skin. Use instead a mild, moisturising cleanser/ soap substitute. Don't forget to apply moisturising creams straight after bathing, preferably while the skin is still slightly damp.
- Try to keep your child's bedroom cool as getting hot and sweaty can make their eczema worse.
- Try to identify and avoid anything that irritates the skin or makes the problem worse, such as animals, dust mites, cigarette smoke. Some fabrics can irritate the skin. Try to avoid wool and nylon and stick to cotton instead.
- There is some debate that certain foods may worsen eczema symptoms in a baby, although this appears to be rather rare. The currently accepted opinion is that a specific food allergy is not the cause of eczema, but children with eczema are indeed more prone to allergic reactions. In any case, an appropriate diagnosis of the suspected food allergy should be made and the culprit food should be avoided.
- If you think that certain foods may be triggering eczema flare-ups in your baby, it's worth keeping a food diary for a while so you can see if any patterns are emerging, but never eliminate important foods, such as dairy products, wheat or eggs, from your baby’s diet, without talking to your doctor first.
Eczema is a very changeable condition, with flares alternating with quieter periods so it's necessary that symptoms are regularly monitored by your doctor and treatment is adjusted if needed.
- When regular moisturising is not enough to keep eczema under control, the use of steroid creams can stop eczema from getting worse. Topical steroids are safe in young children as long as they're used as directed by your GP or paediatrician.
- Oral antihistamines may be given occasionally if the itchy skin is causing a lot of discomfort in your child, and affecting his or her sleep.
- When symptoms are severe, bandages or wrapping soaked in creams or emollients may be applied to the skin.
- If the skin becomes infected, topical or oral antibiotics should be used to clear the problem up.
The treatment should improve symptoms after a week or so, but if no progress is noted, or symptoms get worse, don't hesitate to re-visit your doctor.
- “Coping with Eczema” by Prof. John Harper (Professor of Paediatric Dermatology)