Atopic dermatitis, commonly called eczema is one of the most common childhood ailments, occurring in 10-20% of babies. This non-contagious rash usually improves when children reach school age and occurs because the skin is lacking natural moisturizing factors and has poor defense against harsh environmental elements such as outdoor low humidity and irritants. We interviewed pediatrician Dr. Angela Lau 劉瑜醫生 to give us the details on baby eczema and natural remedies.
What are the symptoms of atopic dermatitis i.e. baby eczema? What does it look like?
Eczema rash presents as dry, red and thickened skin or small red bumps. It is always itchy, but not painful. Itchiness at night can cause sleep disturbances. The rash will likely come and go.
Where is baby eczema usually located on baby's body?
In young babies, eczema usually shows up in patches on the scalp, cheeks, outer surface of limbs and trunk. In older children, eczema generally appears in creases of skin (behind the knees, elbows etc.) but can spread elsewhere on the body.
What are the causes?
Infant eczema is thought to have genetic causes. If someone in your family suffers from an allergy-related disorder, it's possible your baby can develop eczema. Eczema skin lacks the natural moisturizing factors called filaggrin and ceramide, they are essential components to maintain skin barrier function. Because of poor skin barrier, there is increasing entry of environmental allergens through skin. So eczema is found to link to subsequent development of allergies like asthma and food allergy later in life. In addition, skin immune defense against micro-organisms is low, making it more susceptible to infection. The skin inflammation is considered an immune response to environmental triggers.
How can I prevent it and what are the natural treatments?
So to better control eczema, avoiding environmental factors that can aggravate eczema is the key, such as chemicals, changes in temperature, humidity and even stress. Here are some natural ways to prevent and treat eczema.
- Fragrances and soaps (in particular, bubble bath) should be avoided. Bathing with soap-free emollients is recommended. Regularly applying fragrance-free emollient to prevent the skin from drying out is crucial. This is particularly important for Hong Kong babies who experience dry conditions in the winter and swimming in the summer. Avoid lotion with high water content as it may worsen eczema via evaporation.
- Pat, rather than rub, your baby dry with a towel after a bath.
- Use a gentle, fragrance-free laundry detergent on baby's clothes and bedsheets.
- Try to keep baby at a comfortable temperature and humidity. Sunlight, cold wind and sweat can all inflame eczema.
- Dress the baby in natural materials such as 100% cotton.
- Avoid skin contact with chemicals and irritants.
- Breastfeeding may prevent eczema in some babies.
- Keep a clean house. Dust mites can aggravate eczema.
- Keep baby's nails short to prevent them from scratching their rash and introducing infection.
When should I contact a doctor?
If reducing the environmental factors that aggravate eczema and adequate moisturizer doesn't show result, please consult your doctor to rule out skin infection and get proper treatment for eczema as uncontrolled skin inflammation can cause irreversible skin thickening.
Give your baby a warm bath with mild emollient and moisturize the baby’s skin right after the bath. Use an ointment to help reduce inflammation. Try to keep your baby from scatching the irritated skin and consult a doctor if symptoms do not improve in a week.
Pediatrician Dr. Angela Lau 劉瑜醫生 received her medical training at the University of Hong Kong. After more than 15 years experience in both the public and private health systems in the Hong Kong she started her own practice, Little Angel Paediatric Clinic. Apart from pediatric care, she also provides emergency services in the numerous Hong Kong hospitals and special care baby units. Being a mom of two children, she aims to provide supportive care to both her patients and their families.
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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.