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Baby Health A-Z: Eczema

Eczema looks pretty painful and can lead to a grouchy baby. But there are ways to tackle this skin condition

What is it?

Eczema is a condition where the skin lacks the right fats and oils to provide an effective barrier, allowing allergens – products that cause an allergic reaction – to penetrate the surface of the skin and irritate and dry it out. Luckily, around 65 % of children who suffer with eczema will grow out of it by the time they’re seven.

What are the symptoms?

If your baby develops red, dry patches of skin, it could be eczema. ‘Skin will be itchy and sometimes scaly or flaky,’ says Dr Mary Glover a paediatric dermatologist from Great Ormond Street Hospital. ‘You may notice your baby is extra wriggly, stops sleeping or is more irritable due to the discomfort.’

What causes it?

Many babies inherit a tendency to develop the skin condition eczema so check your family history. However, your baby’s diet and the environment can trigger the condition too. ‘In some babies, exposure to foods such as milk, eggs and wheat will trigger the allergic reaction, causing eczema symptoms,’ says Professor Simon Murch from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Other eczema triggers include toiletries and washing powders that contain perfumes, sulphates – which make products foam – and preservatives, as well as dust and pet fur.

What can you do?

Mild eczema can be treated with over-the-counter emollient creams, which will provide a barrier against dryness. ‘Steroid creams help by reducing inflammation, but are only available on prescription and should be used under guidance from your GP or dermatologist,’ says Professor Murch.

When bathing your baby, avoid soaps and bubble baths (even the unperfumed varieties) and cut down on the number of baths your baby has. ‘Use non-biological washing powders and avoid fabric conditioners as they are also irritants,’ says Mary. You’ll also need to limit problems associated with scratching, so get some baby mittens.

See your GP if…

The eczema spreads or gets worse. ‘The longer you leave eczema, the harder it is to treat, so talk to your doctor as soon as it appears,’ says Mary. ‘If your baby isn’t responding to treatment, you should also take him for another check-up.’

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