Tips for treating baby's eczema

Leading Sydney paediatric dermatologist Dr Li-Chuen Wong shares tips on treating skin conditions and eczema in babies and young children.

It is estimated that up to 20% of children suffer from eczema. Eczema usually reveals its troublesome self within the first five years of life. The good news is that the majority of those affected will improve by the time they become teenagers. However, some have ongoing skin sensitivity and may experience eczema outbreaks even as adults.

Signs that a baby has eczema may include red, scaly, oozing or crusted patches of inflamed skin, often found in the skin creases (such as inside the elbows and behind the knees), but eczema may present anywhere. Due to the intense itching, babies with eczema may be unsettled, restless and have broken sleep.

Eczema sufferers usually lack key components of the normal skin barrier, meaning their skin barrier can become disrupted which results in dry skin and the formation of cracks and fissures. These cracks allow irritants, allergens and micro-organisms to penetrate deep into the skin. This can result in inflammation, triggering itching and scratching, and may lead to infection.

Although there is no cure for eczema, the emphasis is on control and this can be accomplished through the following:

 1.  Maintain a good skincare regime, including frequent use of quality skin moisturisers. Soap-free and allergy- tested products which contain soothing natural oat extract are best.

 2.  Dress your child in breathable clothing, such as cotton, and avoid irritating fibres and anything that can prickle, like wool, seams or tags.

3.  Keep your child’s fingernails short to avoid skin damage from scratching. Cotton hand mitts can help too.

4.  Avoid potential triggers such as soap, detergents, chemicals in cleaners (eg preservatives and perfumes) and other environmental factors such as dust mites, as these can trigger flare-ups.

5.  To treat active inflammation, some dermatologists recommend you try a bleach bath (under the direction of your medical professional) and use wet dressings in conjunction with topical steroids. These help provide cooling relief to the skin and stop children from scratching.  

What’s the deal with oatmeal?
Many skincare experts talk about the benefits of colloidal oatmeal in skincare. Colloidal oatmeal contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. The beta glucan within the oatmeal binds to the skin and forms a barrier against external irritants and allergens, and also helps with nourishment and hydration.

Our bodies have a large surface area and it's important to be aware of what topical agents are applied to the skin, as there is the chance of significant systemic absorption. An anti-inflammatory and hydrating moisturiser containing colloidal oatmeal is not only beneficial, but is safe to use on babies. Oats are the natural ingredient I recommend most regularly to my patients for healthy-looking skin – especially my youngest patients, whose skin is the most sensitive. 


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