You take your baby to the doctor because her baby acne hasn’t quite cleared up and she has been scratching. The doctor tells you that it is eczema and you freeze. What is eczema? You’ve never heard of it: is it contagious, will it go away? The doctor calmly explains that eczema is a skin condition that with proper care is hardly noticeable.
Infant eczema or atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammation of the outer layers of skin. It can be triggered by certain soaps, detergents, allergies or even stress. It causes the skin to become red, dry, itchy and crusting. It is commonly confused with cradle cap and diaper rash. It appears mostly on the cheeks, arms and legs. Eczema is not contagious or an infection but it can become infected if it is not taken care of properly. It shows up within the first few months and almost 20% of infants have it every year. Children generally grow out of it or it could go into remission with only dry skin lingering.
There is not a test to definitively check for eczema. The doctor can tell by looking and asking pertinent questions like has your baby eaten any new foods or have you recently changed laundry detergents. It is hard to tell what actually triggers an eczema flare up but the most common ones are: dry skin, allergens, irritants, heat and stress. All of these are easily combatable with simple changes you can do at home. For dry skin a lukewarm bath with an unscented soap, like Dove, helps. Put on a moisturizer right after the bath when the skin is still wet. A good baby moisturizer is Aveeno Eczema Therapy because it is unscented and has an oatmeal base to help with the itching. A mild laundry detergent, like Dreft, will also help keep the eczema in check. Different foods can also cause flare ups. Introducing new foods slowly will help you to discover which ones will cause a reaction. Above all else keeping your baby’s nails trimmed is the best thing you can do because you never know what will trigger an eczema flare up and make them scratch.
To help keep the eczema under control a doctor can prescribe a topical steroid, like hydrocortisone. The doctor will give you directions to follow when using this medicine because over exposure can cause the skin to thin or lighten in color. If the skin gets infected an antibiotic will be prescribed. The affected areas can easily become infected so it is important to keep the skin clean. To help with the itchy feeling an over the counter antihistamine can be used. Ask the doctor for proper dosage instructions. If you are not comfortable using the medicines prescribed there are natural remedies you can use. Chamomile and lavender are said to help but coconut oil is growing in popularity. Coconut oil has many great properties. It is antibacterial so when used with traditional medicines it helps heal and moisturize at the same time. Another reason coconut oil helps is because it absorbs slowly into the skin so you do not have to reapply all day.
Knowing what causes your baby’s eczema to flare up and how to fix it will go a long way toward putting your mind at ease.