Atopic eczema (sometimes called dermatitis) is a common dry skin condition experienced by a fifth of babies and children. It is non-contagious, and symptoms vary from dry patches, scaly skin and itching, to weeping sores, bleeding and crusting.
Eczema is more prevalent amongst families with a history of asthma, eczema and hayfever (or the Atopic Triad), and it is more common in Asian, black African and black Caribbean children.
Eczema commonly develops when babies are 8-16 weeks old and typically presents as red, itchy and sore patches in the creases of the skin. Eczema is different from cradle cap, which will appear on a babies' head and have a more yellow toned colour with greasy, scaly, patches.
The most common symptom of eczema is skin dryness. Your child may have general dry skin all the time, or they may experience flare-ups during which time the skin is particularly dry, cracked, sore or angry.
Alongside skin dryness, eczema can often make the skin itchy, and this can keep your child (and the rest of the household!) awake through the night. Scratching the skin can cause damage, and often make the skin bleed, which leads to further inflammation and itching. This can lead to the itch-scratch cycle, which can be hard to break.
If your child has eczema, they may not be producing enough of the fats and oils needed to lubricate the skin, retain water and maintain plumpness. This is when gaps may appear between the skin cells, allowing germs, bacteria and allergens to penetrate and cause irritation.
Irritation can be exacerbated by using harsh chemicals, such as astringent toiletry products, on the skin. These can strip the skin of its natural oils and cause further aggravation and sensitivity.
Many babies experience eczema symptoms when they begin teething. As the teeth start to push through, babies tend to dribble more, which can, in turn, irritate the skin around the mouth and chin, causing eczema.
Other periods during which eczema may start to develop are when your child starts to eat different foods or spends time in new environments. Pollen, animals, household chemicals, heat and new foods can all be possible triggers of eczema. Stress can make eczema worse, so starting a new school or being anxious about something may cause a flare-up in the condition.
If you think your baby or child has eczema, always seek medical advice in the first instance. Either visit your GP or talk to your healthcare advisor. They will discuss the symptoms with you and do a visual examination of your child’s skin. Once you have established that your child does have eczema you may like to research the various methods available for alleviating their symptoms.
You may like to keep a simple diary of the severity of your child’s symptoms to see if you can identify anything that might be triggering their eczema. Once you have identified this it is then advised to remove the trigger and treat the eczema using natural solutions so as not to further irritate the skin.