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Eczema refers to a number of different skin conditions where the skin is red and irritated. The skin is usually dry but if it becomes infected, tiny blisters can form which become moist and ooze. The most common type of eczema is ‘atopic dermatitis’ also known as infantile eczema or baby eczema, although it also occurs in older children.
Baby eczema typically develops in babies between 2 and 6 months old, starting as a red rash on the cheeks which then spreads to the face and trunk either as patches or covering the skin. The chief characteristic of baby eczema is the intense itching which can become unbearable, especially if the eczema becomes infected. Baby eczema typically flares up and then calms down although even between flare-ups skin tends to be dry and flaky.
The causes for baby eczema are unclear but it does tend to run in families. Three-quarters of baby eczema sufferers have parents with atopic conditions such as hay fever, asthma and eczema.
Every case of baby eczema has different triggers, but flare-ups are often the result of:
Identifying and avoiding the triggers for your baby’s eczema is one of the most effective ways of treating them. However, this is easier said than done as each case of baby eczema is unique. Visit our Parenting+Eczema blog for regularly updated information on identifying and managing baby eczema triggers. Parenting+Eczema aims to cover the wider aspects of living with an eczema baby or toddler with articles on great things to teach eczema babies, parenting tools with an eczema twist, allergy recipes especially for kids, and much more.
The intense itching of baby eczema inevitably leads to scratching. Once the skin has been broken, the chances of bacterial infection are greatly increased. The most common type of bacteria to infect eczema is Staphylococcus aureus, which causes increased redness, cracking and oozing of the skin together with a high temperature and will require antibiotics to enable the skin to heal. More serious complications can arise from infection with the herpes simplex virus. These infections can further intensify the itching resulting in even more scratching. Another effect of the itching is disturbed sleep for the whole family, as babies commonly scratch themselves awake.
One way to stop the scratches is to keep fingers nails clean and short, however it may be also be necessary to cover the hands of babies and children who can’t stop themselves from scratching. The unique double-layer mitts of ScratchSleeves minimise the risk of scratches, while the cool silk outer mitts is calming on the skin. The loose-fitting sleeve design ensures that the mitts stay on at the same time as avoiding any irritation of sore areas on hands and wrists that can occur when wearing conventional scratch mitts (or socks over the hands). See more information.
Keeping eczema babies clean is key to keeping infections at bay, but soap and bubble bath can make eczema far worse and they strip the skin of its natural oils as well at the dirt. Hot water can also dissolve the skin’s natural oils and dry it out, so eczema children should be bathed in tepid or warm water. Every child is different and you’ll need to find out what works for yours. Our approach is to avoid soaps and bath products altogether and use a micro-fibre wash mitt from Enjo. When the dirt is just too much, we use gentle, parben-free toiletries.
Eczema treatments aim to improve the moisture levels of the skin using emollient (moisturising) creams and topical corticosteroids (usually hydrocortisone) which are prescribed to reduce swelling and redness during flare-ups.
There are a plethora of emollients and eczema creams available both on prescription and over the counter. Each case of baby eczema will respond slightly differently: what works for one child, may not work for another. In our experience an eczema product has around a 50:50 chance of being effective for each sufferer, so it really is a case of trial and error to find an effective treatment for your baby’s eczema. One thing to note is that moisturisers should be applied generously and smeared over the skin (in the direction of the hair growth) rather than being rubbed in. This ensures that sensitive skin is not pulled and stretched unnecessarily and that sufficient moisture is supplied.