february 2024

Eczema in babies

Most children affected by atopic eczema will see improvement as they get older, with 60% being clear of it by their teens. Many, however, may continue to have dry skin and will therefore benefit from lifelong avoidance of irritants such as soaps, detergents, and bubble baths. The best way to keep eczema under control is to establish a daily skincare regime and stick with it.

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Eczema in babies

What is eczema?

Eczema is a common, noncontagious inflammatory skin condition that causes patches of dry, scaly and itchy skin and is sometimes accompanied by blisters or infections of the skin, caused by excessive scratching.

There are several types of eczema, with atopic eczema being one of the most common. ‘Atopic’ means that it runs in families or affects those who already have other types of allergies such as asthma, hay fever or a food allergy.

Eczema affects people of all ages but most commonly affects babies and children - approximately 1 in 5 in the UK. Approximately one third of children with atopic eczema will also develop asthma and/or hay fever.

How to recognise eczema (signs and symptoms)

In babies, eczema can develop just after birth or, more commonly, between 3 and 6 months of age.

In these early stages, eczema usually affects the face, neck, body, arms and legs but, as the child grows older, it is often more visible in the flexural creases around the neck, knees, wrists, elbows and ankles. Occasionally, affecting the whole body.

In people with lighter skin, eczema usually appears as red and inflamed skin, whereas for people with darker skin it may feel ‘bumpy’ with small, raised papules and is often observed to look brown, purple, dark red, grey or ashen in colour.

The itch can be severe enough to interfere with sleep, causing tiredness and irritability. 

Eczema’s presentation can vary from small flaky patches to big flare-ups that are open and sore.

The main symptoms of eczema are:
1. Dry skin
2. Rash
3. Intense itch
4. Inflammation
5. Redness

If the condition of your baby’s skin worsens and you become concerned, seek the advice of your GP or healthcare professional.

Causes of eczema on babies

  • Family - If you or your family have a history of eczema, then your baby may be more prone to it.
  • Allergies or sensitivities - to food, laundry detergent, fabric, or other skin irritants are the most likely cause of eczema in newborn babies.
  • Fragile skin - People with eczema tend to have a weak skin barrier that allows moisture to escape and irritants to enter, leading to dryness and inflammation.
  • Immune system - Eczema is an immune-driven condition that has been associated to overreactions on the part of the immune system.
  • Foods? - It is a common misunderstanding that food allergy causes eczema, this is not true. However, having a food allergy may cause a sudden eczema flare or worsen the condition over time.

Where eczema develops in the first few months of life there is an increased likelihood of developing a food allergy.

If you feel your baby’s milk or a food is causing their eczema to worsen, please seek medical advice.

What makes atopic eczema flare-up in babies?

  • Environmental irritants such as soaps, detergents and other chemicals, heat, dust, woollen clothing, and pets
  • Allowing the skin to dry out