What is baby eczema?

How to look for baby eczema and what you can do about it.

November 18, 2020


What is eczema?

Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis. It's a common rash occurring in people of all ages. It is particularly common in children. Eczema can start early, during the first few months of life. 

The rash of eczema is red, dry and itchy. Some children grow out of it, while others can have sensitive skin and a rash for years. Eczema tends to come and go. It may get worse during certain times of the year, such as the colder, drier winter months.

What causes eczema?

Genetics is the science that looks at traits you inherit or get from your parents at birth, like eye color. Eczema is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. 

Our skin should be a tight barrier that keeps moisture inside the body and the rest of the world outside. We now know that people who have eczema have differences in the proteins that make up the skin barrier that can cause that barrier to leak.

People with eczema lose moisture more easily, which leads to dry skin. Also, people with eczema are more sensitive to triggers in the area around them that can worsen rashes. A trigger is something that causes an allergic reaction or a bad response. 

With eczema, the skin is also more prone to getting infections.

Babies often have rashes on their cheeks caused in part by drool. While saliva is great at breaking down food, it also breaks down the proteins in our skin. This can lead to increased redness and sometimes make it difficult to stop eczema on the cheeks.

What often goes along with eczema?

Eczema is part of a group of conditions called the atopic triad. The atopic triad includes eczema, allergies and asthma. 

We know that people with eczema have a greater chance of also having allergies, including food allergies. People with eczema are also more likely to have asthma.

People with known allergies may notice that their eczema worsens if they are exposed to something they are allergic to, including foods or pollens. Someone's allergy triggers are usually not the main cause of eczema.

Can you get rid of eczema?

Unfortunately, there's no way to make eczema go away entirely. It tends to come and go. Predicting flare-ups can be difficult. Kids do often outgrow some of their eczema, but they may have rashes or sensitive skin for life. 

Our goal as dermatologists (doctors who specialize in skin) is to give you the tools and education to take care of eczema and make it less impactful on the life of your child.

When should I be concerned?

It's a good idea to see your doctor or a dermatologist if your baby still has a rash and itching even after you moisturize the skin. This is the first step in taking care of eczema. 

Sometimes eczema isn't serious and will improve with just moisturizing alone. If a rash stays despite moisturizing, medicines may be needed to help with inflammation (swelling) of the skin. 

Also, if you're concerned your child may have a skin infection or if the itching is causing problems with sleep or daily life, it's time to get a doctor's help.

How do you care for eczema?

The first thing we do when taking care of eczema is to try to help the skin act as a better barrier. We use moisturizers to help create this barrier. All moisturizers should be fragrance-free, since fragranced products can be very irritating to people with eczema. 

The best moisturizers are thick, greasy ointments like petroleum jelly. The next best thing are thicker creams that are scooped out of a tub. The best time to put on moisturizers is right away after a bath which helps seal in the moisture from the water.

It's best to use moisturizers several times a day. For infants, it's a good idea to keep a tub of cream at the diaper changing area and put on moisturizer each time you do a diaper change.

What are common triggers for eczema?

Fragrances are common triggers for those with eczema. Get rid of all fragrances from personal care products. Soaps, detergents and all other products should be fragrance-free. For infants, only use soaps on areas that are clearly dirty. 

How often can I bathe my child?

You can bathe your baby as often as you like. For babies, usually bathing in just water works well. It's important to always moisturize your baby after each bath. 

Infection can also be a trigger for the rash of eczema. We often use tools like weekly diluted bleach baths (which makes the bathtub like a swimming pool) to combat bacterial growth on the skin and stop infection.

What medications are used?

When the skin has a red, itchy rash, we'll often need to use medicines to help lessen the skin inflammation. A doctor’s help can be useful in finding the right strength of medicine. A doctor can also tell you how to use it correctly to stop any side effects.

With all of these tools, we can help your child to have fewer rashes, less itching and fewer serious eczema flares. We're here to help create a personalized plan for your child’s eczema that works for you and your family.

What are the most important points?

With eczema, remember:

  • It’s common.
  • It's important to moisturize.
  • Avoid triggers.
  • Medicine is a useful tool to care for rashes.

Where can I get help with eczema?

To schedule an appointment or to learn more, talk to our dermatology department.

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.