Up to 20 percent of babies and young children have a skin condition called eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. The eczema rash is scaly, red, itchy, and dry, and may appear during the first few weeks of age. In babies, the rash usually appears on the face, scalp, and on the outer areas of the arms and legs. In older children, it is in the creases of the elbows, knees, and wrists. Most children outgrow eczema, but in some cases, it may recur or persist into adulthood. When a child repeatedly scratches, this can lead to inflamed, rough, thickened skin. Babies and toddlers in particular are more susceptible to skin infection due to the constant scratching. The itchiness caused by eczema can be quite severe, and in some cases can lead to sleep disruption and parental worry.
The exact cause of eczema is not known, but it often occurs with other allergic (atopic) conditions. Usually, there is also a strong family history of atopic conditions, including respiratory and food allergies and /or asthma. Please note that current evidence shows no link between a food allergy and eczema. In other words, eating a certain food does not cause or worsen eczema.
The most important part of the treatment is to keep the skin moist and well hydrated by applying moisturizing creams regularly and by avoiding soaps that tend to dry the skin. In addition, after a bath, do not rub the skin dry with a towel, but rather gently pat it dry. It is also helpful to avoid woolen clothing which can make eczema worse. Cotton clothing is better, preferably white, as the dye in colored clothing may irritate the skin even more.
Depending on the situation, in addition to the above practical approaches, steroid creams or ointments or newer anti-inflammatory creams may be prescribed. In some situations to help alleviate the itchiness and allow a baby or young child to sleep, an antihistamine syrup may be prescribed as well.
Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.