We often think of a baby’s skin as silky, soft, and perfect. But when that smooth young skin becomes red, irritated, and develops a rash, you might be dealing with a case of baby eczema.
Eczema is a term that describes a number of pediatric skin conditions. The most common types of eczema in children are atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis, or cradle cap. These conditions usually appear between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.
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What Causes Baby Eczema?
Two factors are to blame for children’s eczema symptoms: genetics and environmental triggers. When irritants provoke the immune system, the body overreacts, causing a red, often painful rash that may ooze or appear very dry.
The good news? Baby eczema isn’t contagious. It can’t spread to other family members or friends.
In infants, rashes occur most often on the cheeks, chin, forehead, and scalp. Experts at the National Eczema Association say baby eczema tends to appear on elbows and knees as kids become active and mobile— generally when they’re between 6 and 12 months old. By age 2, the rash more commonly occurs in the creases of the elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles.
You can’t change your baby’s genetic predisposition to this skin problem, but you can avoid many environmental triggers. If eczema runs in the family and you are concerned that your baby is prone to developing it, adopt a great skin care routine early in your baby’s life. Using a bland, unscented emollient on a daily basis can help prevent eczema or decrease its severity.
You can also help manage symptoms using treatments tailored specifically for your child’s type of eczema.
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Treating and Preventing Eczema in Children
More than two-thirds of the population have had eczema at some point, often in infancy. Many children outgrow the condition by age 4, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A few people do experience lifelong recurrences of eczema.
The first step in preventing an outbreak is to identify your child’s particular irritants. Common triggers include:
- Rough or scratchy fabrics
- Heavily scented and abrasive soaps, shampoos, or cleansers
- Long, hot baths
- Harsh laundry detergents and dryer sheets with strong fragrances
- Activities that produce sweat
- Saliva from the baby’s drool
- Allergens like pet dander, dust, and pollen
- Swimming pools and whirlpools
When you know what irritants trigger your child’s eczema, you can avoid them. If you can’t avoid the triggers completely, try to limit exposure by creating physical barriers (like applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly on your baby’s chin or putting a protective T-shirt under a scratchy sweater).
Next, you can help prevent or alleviate your child’s skin reactions with a gentle, customized skin care regimen:
- Moisturize the face and body every day. Choose fragrance-free ointments and creams.
- Gently pat skin dry after short, lukewarm baths. Apply moisturizer while your child’s skin is still damp.
- Dress your child in soft fabrics and use mild, unscented laundry detergents.
- Distract kids from scratching itchy skin. If you can treat irritation before it’s scraped or rubbed, you may be able to prevent a full-blown flare up. Use a game of peek-a-boo, pictures of your child’s favorite relative, or silly sounds to divert attention when itchiness strikes.
- Keep your baby’s fingernails short.
- Help your child stay hydrated. Consider supplementing your child’s beneficial gut bacteria with a children’s probiotic.
- Practice stress reduction techniques specifically for kids, like those recommended by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Most importantly, discuss your child’s condition with your pediatrician, who may recommend over-the-counter treatments, such as topical steroids, itch relief, or oral antihistamines. If those don’t work and you child’s condition doesn’t improve, your pediatrician may prescribe medicine.
To learn more about common skin irritations in children and how to treat them, check out UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s pediatric dermatology services or call 724-933-9190.
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.