Babies with eczema – causes, treatments and triggers

What causes eczema, how to tell if your baby has it, ways to treat it and what can set eczema off

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Eczema is a common childhood illness. In the UK, 1.7 million children have eczema. Your baby can have eczema from birth though it typically starts between 2 and 3 months. But don’t panic just yet – your baby could be one of many that grow out of the condition as they get older.

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Margaret Cox, chief executive of the National Eczema Society, says that eczema “can be confused with a rash or show as red, inflamed, dry patches of skin, usually on cheeks and in the creases of arms, ankles, the backs of ears and the neck. If your baby tries to scratch, it could be eczema, so see your GP. Scratching can cause infections and lead to weeping skin and golden scabs”.

What cause eczema?

Eczema can run in families or be triggered by skin irritation caused by chemicals – such as those found in washing powders – so try products designed for delicate skin where possible.

“I use wash balls as they don’t use any detergent,” says Andrea, 29, mum to Aaron, 3, and Molly, 12 months.

Central heating lowers air humidity, which dries out skin, and this is a major cause of eczema.

Celine, 35, mum to Teresa, 4, recalls how their heating played havoc with Teresa’s eczema: “Her tiny fingernails were filled with blood and her face and arms were red from clawing at her itching skin. The bed sheets would be covered with torn-off scabs and I’d have to physically hold her down to stop her scratching.”

How can eczema be treated?

“Dryness makes symptoms worse, so avoid soap and regularly use an emollient on your baby’s skin,” says Nina Goad from the British Association of Dermatologists. An emollient is a non-cosmetic moisturiser that keeps skin moist and flexible, preventing cracks.

Steroid creams can also help to control flare-ups. “If used properly, steroids are safe – your doctor will advise you on suitable strength and period of use for your baby,” adds Nina.

Keep your baby’s nails short and you can try putting hand mitts on him to stop him scratching – though you might find he can escape from them in minutes!

“I moisturise Toby all over every time he has a nappy change – which can be up to eight times a day – and use emollient instead of soap,” says Gina, 27, mum to Toby, 6 months. 

Does diet or food allergies affect eczema?

“Sometimes eczema is a symptom of a food allergy,” says Dr Helen Stacey from the British Dietetic Association. “Common triggers can be cow’s milk and eggs, but only eliminate foods under the guidance of an expert such as a dietician.

Barbara, 30, saw both her daughters Sara, 3, and Jenny, 6 months, develop eczema after she introduced a cow’s milk-based formula to their breastfeeding routine. “Jenny’s symptoms improved when she was prescribed dairy-free formula milk. I’m reintroducing cow’s milk in cooking and keeping a food diary to watch for flare-ups,” she says.

Do pets affect eczema?

Margaret Cox of the National Eczema Society says that pets with fur and feathers can aggravate eczema and recommends they are kept out of the bedroom.

Erica, 38, mum to Peter, 4 months, says his eczema went away on a break at the coast. “I thought the sun and sea air had helped, but when we got home, it returned with a vengeance and I wondered if our two dogs could be the cause.”

Does dust affect eczema?

“House dust mites aggravate eczema,” says Lindsey McManus from Allergy UK’s Blossom. She recommends using a damp cloth to clean the home and investing in a hepa filter (a ‘high efficiency particulate air’ filter) that traps small particles.

Clarice, 23, mum to Charlie, 2, and Bobby, 10 months, admits to being an ‘Anthea Turner obsessive’ around the house to control Bobby’s eczema. “I dust and hoover twice a day and use a carpet cleaner twice a week. You could eat off our floor!”

Here are some cleaning tips to keep those dust mites at bay:

  • Use a damp cloth to dust.
  • Vacuum sofas, carpets and curtains using a cleaner with a hepa filter (a ‘high efficiency particulate air’ filter) that traps small particles.
  • Soft toys harbor dust so wash them often.
  • Consider swapping carpets for hard flooring.
  • Consider swapping curtains with blinds.

Do clothes make a difference to eczema?

Synthetic fabric and wool can irritate sensitive skin, so choose cotton clothing as
it keeps skin cool. For bedding, choose cotton sheets, or specialist eczema bedlinen.

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Disposable nappies are sometimes recommended if your baby has eczema because they draw the liquid away from your baby’s bottom, stopping it from rubbing and becoming sore. 

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