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Baby Eczema: What It Is and How to Treat It

Christine O'Brien
April 24, 2015

Identifying and treating baby eczema, a common skin condition, can make your little one more comfortable and give you some peace of mind.

Your baby has sensitive skin, which makes it all the more concerning when you notice a rash on your little one. Baby eczema is a common skin condition that can be worrisome, but with correct identification and proper care, the chances are good that eczema will improve.

Here's what you need to know about baby eczema and the best ways to treat it:

Identification and Cause
Eczema, known as atopic dermatitis, shows up as "red, scaly (dry) patches" that occur "in around one out of every six children in the United States," says Dr. Anthony J. Mancini, the head of dermatology at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and a professor of pediatric dermatology at Northwestern University. Most of these are mild to moderate cases.

Although the condition is common in children, the areas of the body affected by eczema do differ according to age. In infants, Dr. Mancini says, "The most common sites of involvement are the cheeks, outer arms and tops of the legs. In toddlers and older children, the involvement of the arms and legs tends to be most commonly in the folds of the elbows and behind the knees."

In addition to red patches, keep an eye out for other eczema features such as "oozing, crusting (scabs) and thickening of the skin," he advises. Because the patches are itchy, your child's specific scratching will probably guide you right to the most bothersome spots.

"Most patients develop eczema in the first year of life, and it is characterized by itchy red areas that are recurrent and usually appear in the skin folds," says Dr. Peter Lio, the director of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Center and a member of the National Eczema Association Scientific Advisory Board. He does note, however, that children and babies in particular are more apt to develop eczema on the face, which sometimes can be confused with baby acne.

The difference is that acne, says Dr. Lio, although also itchy, "presents itself as discreet red pimple-like bumps usually on the face, scalp and chest area" as opposed to in the skin folds, which is a good guideline for determining whether your child has acne or eczema.

As Dr. Mancini notes, "dry climates" and "harsh winter weather" more commonly contribute to eczema flare-ups. The National Eczema Association points out that eczema also may occur more frequently in families where allergies such as hay fever and asthma are common.

Eczema Treatment
Seeing your little one suffer from baby eczema can be very distressing, but both Dr. Mancini and Dr. Lio emphasize the bright side: There are successful treatments. The first step, recommends Dr. Mancini, is "to perform a good dry skin care, which is best accomplished with a daily, short bath (10 minutes or less) with warm water, followed by application of a gentle moisturizer."

These moisturizers can be purchased over the counter and include products such as Cetaphil, Eucerin and Aquaphor. Further treatment such as "anti-inflammatory ointment and (when needed) antihistamines and antibiotics" also work to improve eczema irritation, he adds.

These types of available treatment options, says Dr. Lio, "while not necessarily able to cure eczema, can offer relief to let people get back to living, improve sleep and quality of life and help prevent infections." Meanwhile, events such as the National Eczema Association's Itching for a Cure bring attention to the importance of finding a cure for this disease.

Not sure if it's time to call the doc or not? Dr. Lio says that "anytime a rash is not responding to gentle care, it is worthwhile to talk to your doctor. Some problems do not require anything more than reassurance and time, while others may require further testing and treatments." He adds that it's difficult to establish "easy guidelines" for treating eczema because there are other skin conditions that similarly begin as itchy rashes, which is why it's important to seek medical attention when you aren't getting results from at-home treatment.

"The good news is that the majority of children will outgrow their eczema by the early school-aged years," says Dr. Mancini, "and for those who do not outgrow it, it may become more mild and more manageable with age."

Christine O'Brien is a mother and a writer who's always on the lookout for sensitive skin relief.

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