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Baby Eczema

Eczema or atopic dermatitis affects babies and children as well as adults. An estimated 60% of people with eczema develop it as a baby. The causes of baby eczema are complex, and although there is no cure, it is possible to successfully manage the symptoms with treatments and a customized skin care plan.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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What Is Baby Eczema?

Baby eczema is a common condition that manifests similarly to adult eczema with dry, itchy skin that involves redness, scaliness and bumps that come and go. In babies and young children, eczema is commonly found on the head, cheeks, knees and elbows though its location may change as the child matures.

Patches may look less pronounced and more brown, gray or purple or more noticeably red depending on skin tone. These patches are always rough, dry and itchy. It is this itch factor that distinguishes it from other skin conditions.

Although it can be uncomfortable for your baby, it is not contagious.

Baby Eczema Causes

Experts don’t know precisely what causes eczema, though its prevalence in families gives them a reason to believe family history and genetics influences it. Eczema may also be related to how the immune system functions and the condition of the skin barrier that causes it to be sensitive. People with eczema often have allergies, such as hay fever. Experts, therefore, believe the cause to be some combination of genes and environmental triggers.

Most common environmental eczema triggers:
  • Allergens such as dust, animal dander, or pollen
  • Food allergies, with cow's milk and eggs being common triggers
  • Skin contact with irritating substances such as soap or shampoo
  • Perfumes
  • Scratchy clothing such as wool
  • Dry air or temperature extremes

Flare-ups are what happen when eczema becomes worse. Baby eczema may become easier to control if the allergens you have identified or the substances listed above are avoided.

How to Treat Baby Eczema

Although there is no cure for baby eczema, your dermatologist can recommend an eczema treatment based on the severity of your baby’s symptoms, their age and where the rash is presenting.

The itching from eczema varies on a scale from mild, which doesn’t interfere with sleeping or daily activities, to severe, which is itching that cannot be controlled and may be painful. Controlling this itch is a crucial part of the treatment.

The following treatments may ease symptoms:
  • Topical corticosteroids: Hydrocortisone creams and ointments are a popular eczema treatment for babies. When formulated for an infant and applied to the skin after a bath, they reduce inflammation, redness and heat, itch and bacteria on the skin.
  • Barrier repair moisturizers: These pastes, ointments and sprays help maintain the skin's physical barrier, protect it from irritants and prevent it from drying out.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: Tacrolimus ointment and pimecrolimus cream are the two most common types of this anti-inflammatory treatment that alters the immune system.
  • Oral allergy medicine: Benadryl and similar oral allergy medications, can ease itching, prevent destructive scratching and help children fall asleep. Be sure to speak with your pediatrician before giving your baby any new medications.
  • Short baths in lukewarm water: Using a mild, fragrance-free cleanser, follow the bath immediately with moisturizing creams or ointments (such as Vaseline) instead of lotion or oil. Only wash where your baby may be dirty and pat skin dry; don't rub.
  • Dress your baby in loose, cotton clothes: Some parents put mittens or long socks onto their baby's hands to stop them from scratching and irritating the skin further. Ensure your infant's nails are well trimmed and filed.
  • Remove suspected food allergens: Your baby’s pediatrician may recommend eliminating possible allergens from your child's diet for two weeks and then re-introducing them to see if a flare-up occurs. If your baby is experiencing eczema, be sure to discuss the possible exposures that may be causing the episodes with your child’s doctor.

You can manage mild eczema at home, but always talk to your doctor or dermatologist before beginning any symptom management involving the use of a topical substance on your baby’s skin.

What Parents Can Do About Baby Eczema

If your baby’s eczema flare-ups persist or if the rash is painful, develops blisters or is crusty or weepy, take them to the doctor. If your child develops a fever or seems sick, see your doctor so they can evaluate them for infection. Use appropriate skin care, medicines and treatments under the guidance of your pediatrician.

Many children outgrow baby eczema as toddlers or before the time they start school. However, if it continues, families and children can learn additional techniques such as wet-wrap therapy to help keep skin deeply moisturized.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.