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Eczema (babies and children)

Eczema causes the skin to become red, itchy, dry and cracked. The most common type of eczema is 'atopic eczema', which mainly affects babies and children.

Eczema is when skin becomes inflamed, itchy, dry, red and cracked.

Symptoms

The main symptom is itching. A severe itch can also cause disturbed sleep and irritability.

Your child's skin may look red, dry, cracked and sore. They may also have scratch marks and bleeding. Their skin may appear wet if it's very irritated or infected.

Eczema is most commonly found on the face and in the creases of necks, elbow joints and the backs of knees. But any area of your child's skin can be affected.

A baby with eczema

Treatment

Take your child to the GP if you think they have eczema.

Your GP can diagnose eczema by looking at the skin. Blood and skin tests are not usually needed. Your GP may dab your child's skin with a swab (like a cotton bud) to see if the eczema is infected. This should not cause your child any pain.

Your GP may prescribe:

  • lotions, creams or ointments to moisturise your child’s skin - children who have eczema need their skin moisturised at least 2 to 3 times every day
  • steroid creams - to help reduce itching and redness
  • antihistamines - to reduce itchiness so that your child can sleep
  • cotton bandages - to stop creams rubbing off and prevent your child from scratching
  • antibiotics – if your child's eczema becomes infected

Around 6 out of 10 children with eczema will grow out of it by the time they're teenagers.

What you can do

You can help reduce your child's discomfort by:

  • keeping their fingernails short to reduce the damage to their skin from scratching
  • washing them with aqueous cream instead of soap - ask your pharmacist about aqueous creams and always follow the
  • instructions on the product
  • using non-biological detergent and a double rinse cycle when washing their clothes or bedding
  • avoiding herbal, 'natural' or alternative creams - these can make eczema worse, as they may contain bacteria or high doses of
  • steroids
  • rinsing and drying them well after swimming
  • dressing them in cool, breathable fabrics like cotton
  • keeping them away from anyone with a cold sore - as the cold sore virus can cause eczema to become infected
  • using extra moisturiser on areas your child scratches a lot
  • avoiding anything you know that causes your child’s eczema to get worse

Causes

The most common type of eczema is 'atopic eczema'. People with atopic conditions are sensitive to things that cause allergies. Eczema can also be linked to other atopic conditions like asthma, hay fever and food allergies. There's no cure for atopic eczema, but it can be treated.

Eczema can also be caused by a problem with how the skin works. The skin has a barrier that keeps moisture in and germs out. If someone has eczema, their skin barrier does not work very well. This means their skin can become dry and bacteria can get in.

Eczema triggers

Some things can cause your child's eczema to get worse, or 'flare up'. These include:

  • being too hot
  • wearing wool
  • pets
  • strong or scented soaps and detergents
  • teething
  • getting a virus
  • stress
  • dust

Very rarely, food allergies can trigger eczema. Ask your GP to refer you to an allergy specialist if you think your child has a food allergy. Keep a food diary to see if there's an obvious link between specific foods and eczema getting worse.

There's no benefit to avoiding foods associated with allergies if your child is not allergic to them. Milk, eggs, fish, peanuts and other nuts should be introduced into your child's diet along with other solid foods at 6 months old.

Related topics

Food allergies

Page last reviewed: 14/11/2018
Next review due: 14/11/2021