Many babies and small children are affected by eczema. It may affect up to 20% of babies and at least 70% of people have had hand eczema at some point in their life. Eczema is also called infantile eczema or atopic dermatitis. It shows up as patches of dry, red, leathery, sometimes pimply skin. The skin is almost always tender, itchy and rough.
Eczema usually appears in the first six months to five years of a child’s life and usually starts clearing after the child turns five.
Babies (first six months): Eczema usually appears on the face, cheeks, chin, forehead and scalp. The skin at this stage also tends to look more red and “weepy.”
Babies (six to 12 months): At this stage, eczema often appears on your baby’s elbows and knees, places that are easy to scratch or rub as they’re crawling.
Toddlers (two to five years): Around the age of two, your toddler’s eczema is more likely to appear in the creases of the elbows and knees, or on their wrists, ankles and hands. It may also appear on the skin around your toddler’s mouth and the eyelids. Older children (five years +): Eczema usually appears in the folds of the elbows and/or knees. Or sometimes, it’s only on a child’s hands. You may find red itchy patches behind your child’s ears and on their feet or scalp.
No one really knows what causes eczema. It’s an immune system reaction that can be triggered by certain soaps, creams, allergies and detergents, and may be aggravated by stress, heat and sweat. It may help you to keep a diary to determine the cause or trigger of eczema.
Common eczema triggers to avoid, include:
- Dry skin: This is often caused by low humidity, especially during winter when homes are well heated and the air is dry. Dry skin can make a baby’s eczema worse.
- Saliva where a baby dribbles.
- Irritants: Scratchy wool clothes, perfumes, body soaps, laundry detergents and fabric conditioners can all trigger a baby’s eczema flares.
- Heat and sweat: Both heat and sweating can make the itch of infant eczema worse.
- Some allergens in foods can trigger eczema flare-ups in those who are sensitive to these.
- Dust, pollen, grass, weeds and pet dander.
Whether your child has eczema or simply a tendency towards dry skin, the best way to keep him or her comfortable is to moisturise frequently. Moisturisers are classified based on the amount of oil and water they contain. The more oil in a moisturiser, the better it is usually at treating your baby’s eczema. All moisturisers, especially ointments and creams, should be applied in a thick layer, at least twice a day. Ointments are usually the first choice of treatment for eczema, they have the highest oil content of all, followed by creams and then lotions. Ointments don’t generally burn when applied to sensitive skin and are very good at sealing in moisture. During the summer, you may want to treat your baby’s eczema with a cream instead of an ointment, in order to prevent what’s called miliaria, or “prickly heat.”
Preventing dry skin:
- Limit baths to 10 minutes and use warm, not hot, water. Use mild soap or a soap-free cleanser, sparingly. You may even use an ointment as a cleanser as they are absorbent.
- As soon as your child gets out of the tub or shower, pat him or her dry and apply a moisturizer immediately, within three minutes, to lock in the water that remains on the skin.
- Opt for a product that does not contain alcohol or fragrances, which can irritate the skin. The fewer ingredients the better.
- Avoid extremes of temperature and humidity.
The positive thing with eczema is that it is manageable and can be treated by using safe and correct products. Identify your triggers, avoid them and remember moisturise, moisturise, moisturise.