Parenting a baby with eczema can present challenges, from finding the right remedies to the emotional hardship of seeing your child in discomfort. “My poor baby’s rashes look horrible,” one MyEczemaTeam member wrote. “I hate seeing him like this!”
To understand how to care for a baby with eczema, MyEczemaTeam sat down with Dr. Alan Goldsobel. Dr. Goldsobel is an American Board of Allergy and Immunology-certified physician specializing in allergy, asthma, and immunology. He is also an adjunct clinical professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Babies have sensitive skin, and they’re even more prone to inflammation and irritation when they have eczema. Atopic dermatitis (AD) is the most common form of eczema, affecting nearly 10 million children in the U.S. “AD is a chronic condition,” Dr. Goldsobel said. “For many, it's an unrelenting condition. Some children outgrow their eczema, but for many it can be lifelong.” Some parents go through a long process of trial and error in pursuit of effectively managing their child’s eczema.
Parents on MyEczemaTeam have shared their successes and failures with interventions such as diet changes, over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, prescription medications, and even special pajamas. “I've tried so many things, and there have been a lot of tears,” one mother shared on MyEczemaTeam.
The importance of early, consistent, and ongoing treatment for pediatric eczema cannot be overemphasized. This can prevent the skin condition from getting worse, and can reduce the likelihood of needing stronger or prescription medications. It's also important that you closely follow your health care provider’s eczema treatment and management plan.
A trigger is something that irritates the skin, causes new rashes to appear, or makes existing eczema worse. Avoiding triggers is just one part of a successful eczema treatment plan. Step one is identifying your baby’s specific triggers (through observation or medical tests); step two is making a conscious effort to avoid those triggers.
Eczema can’t be cured solely by removing the items that trigger your child’s AD — instead, trigger removal must be combined with flare treatment, bathing strategies, and moisturizing techniques. Eczema triggers are unique to each person with the condition, and may include the following:
“Young infants with moderate to severe eczema are irritable — they’re so uncomfortable,” Dr. Goldsobel said. “That chronic itch can literally drive people crazy sometimes. The best thing you can do is to actively treat their skin and try to make them more comfortable.”
Establishing a regular bathing and moisturizing routine is highly recommended. It can also help keep babies more comfortable.
Baths help hydrate dry skin, slough off dead skin cells, and wash away anything on the skin that may be an irritant. To make bath time a healing experience, use lukewarm water and avoid harsh or scented soaps and bubble baths. Use a gentle cleanser to wash the areas of the baby that are free of eczema, and limit bath time to no longer than 20 minutes. Longer baths pose the risk of further drying out your child’s skin. After bath time, lightly pat your baby’s skin dry and apply moisturizer within three minutes of getting out of the bath.
Learn more about choosing the best baby soap for eczema.
A good moisturizer, cream, or ointment is vital to eczema management, as it acts as an artificial skin barrier. This helps the child retain moisture in the skin, and keeps out bacteria and irritants. If your baby has AD, finding a moisturizer that works well for them is a crucial part of making them as comfortable as possible.
Many parents have tried countless OTC lotions, creams, and ointments. “I encourage them to experiment with different types, find one that they like, and keep using it regularly,” said Dr. Goldsobel. Apply moisturizer liberally, immediately after a bath, to slightly damp skin for best results. For babies with atopic dermatitis, avoid topical antiseptics and antibiotic creams.
“Eczema can be problematic during the day and at night,” said Dr. Goldsobel about the incessant itching. “It makes their sleep very difficult.” When battling itchy skin, some parents on MyEczemaTeam recommend dressing babies in pajamas or sleep sacks with mittens over their hands to prevent or minimize scratching. Helping your child get a good night’s sleep is important for their health, development, and mood.
Eczema is often linked to other health conditions. Specifically, asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and food allergies occur more commonly among young children with AD.
Babies with AD are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections of the skin. Preventing them from scratching their skin and keeping their fingernails short and smooth can help reduce the risk of skin infections. While not commonly recommended for newborns, infants and children with moderate to severe atopic eczema who experience frequent skin infections may benefit from bleach bath therapy, if recommended by your health care provider. Bleach baths two or three times per week can help improve eczema and control a bacteria called staph aureus, which is commonly found on the skin of people with AD.
There is a close link between eczema and allergies to certain foods. “Studies have shown that about 30 percent of children with atopic dermatitis have a food allergy that can be determined by skin or blood tests and food challenges,” Dr. Goldsobel said. ”But false positive tests for food allergies are common, so don’t avoid a food only if a test is positive. Work with your doctor to determine if it is clinically relevant.”
Food allergies aren’t the underlying cause of eczema, but they can trigger eczema flare-ups. “Over the years, milk has always been the most common food allergy in general, now closely followed by peanuts,” said Dr. Goldsobel. “But in children with atopic dermatitis, egg white is the most common food allergy.”
MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 33,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.
Are you caring for a child who has eczema? Have you found strategies that help ease their symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.