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Does my baby have eczema? Diagnosis, causes and treatment

Baby with eczema flare up on his faceBabies are prone to quite a few different rashes and marks on their skin.

Most are minor and they will either disappear in time or are easily treated.  Some common skin conditions in babies are nappy rash, stork marks, milk pimples, cradle cap, heat rash and of course, eczema …

But what exactly is eczema and who is susceptible?

How do you know if your baby has eczema and how do you treat it?

What is eczema?

Eczema is a recurring, inflammatory skin condition also known as atopic dermatitis. It is NOT contagious. The Eczema Association of Australasia says the condition affects one in three Australians. Children who have a family history of eczema, hay fever or asthma are more likely to have the condition.

How do I know if my baby has eczema?

  • They’ll be itchy. If your baby is scratching then it is very likely the rash is eczema. Most other rashes don’t itch.
  • Onset is from two-to-six months of age. More than half of all eczema sufferers show symptoms before 12 months of age.
  • They have red, dry, cracked, scaly skin that in severe cases may weep, bleed and crust up.
  • The rash is on their face, elbows, knees. In babies and toddlers, the rash commonly appears on the face, elbows and knees.

What causes eczema in babies?

We don’t really know what causes eczema but according to the Eczema Association of Australasia it has been linked to the following factors:

  • A family history of eczema, hay fever or asthma. If both parents have eczema, there’s an 80 per cent chance the child will.
  • Certain foods, including dairy, wheat, citrus, eggs, nuts, seafood, chemical food additive, preservatives, colourings.
  • Stress.
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, weather, overheating, air-conditioning.
  • Allergens such as dust mites, mould, grass, pollen, food, pets, clothing, soap, shampoo, washing powder, cosmetics and toiletries.

How can I treat my baby’s eczema?

If you suspect your baby has eczema you should first see your health care professional for a proper diagnosis.

They might recommend the following treatments:

  • A cortisone-based cream or ointment might be prescribed. They are safe if used exactly as directed.
  • Regular moisturising. Ask your doctor to recommend a good moisturiser. Thick creams and ointments are the most effective on dry skin as the more oil a moisturiser has the more effective it is (check out your own moisturiser, is the first ingredient ‘water’? If so, this won’t do much for someone with very dry skin). Ointments have the greatest oil content and there are some very good ointments available for people with very dry skin. They also won’t sting or burn when applied. Also use bath oils and soap-free body wash instead of soap. Check out parents’ reviews of eczema relief products in the Bub Hub reviews section.
  • Applying a wet dressing. Wet dressings are used to cool the skin during an eczema flare-up. They also help treat infection and protect the skin from scratching. They’ll also help your child to sleep when affected by eczema. Ask your doctor for detailed instructions on how to apply a wet dressing.
  • Controlling your child’s scratching. As adults, we know how hard it is to resist the urge to scratch so it must be even harder to get this message across to young children. You can use wet dressings to reduce scratching but other ideas include: use a soft, wet, cool towel on the area for 5-10 minutes then apply a thick layer of moisturiser; distract your child when they’re itchy; cut fingernails short, regularly moisturise and avoid overheating (ie. don’t go on long car trips etc).
CHAT: Find support and share advice with other parents of children with ezcema

How can I prevent eczema flare ups?

Although some children will grow out of their eczema (usually by six years of age) there unfortunately isn’t a cure for the condition. That is why it is so important to learn what triggers your child’s eczema in order to prevent flare-ups. Here’s are some tips based on information from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

  • Moisturise daily – the best time is within three minutes after a bath, as this ‘locks in’ the moisture.
  • Avoid overheating. Keep children cool especially in the car and in bed.
  • Don’t have hot baths (lukewarm is fine).
  • Dress your child in loose, soft, breathable cotton clothing. Avoid rough, scratchy and tight clothes.
  • Pat skin dry after baths, don’t rub.
  • Keep pets outside.
  • Reduce dust inside the house (avoid stuffed toys and remove carpet and rugs).


Please note: This article is a guide only and is not intended as a replacement for actual medical advice. If you have any concerns about your baby’s skin please consult your health care professional as soon as possible.

Image credit: radist/123RF Stock Photo

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4 comments so far -

  1. Eczema can be very frustrating because even with the best care, sometimes it still flares,
    adding extra water to the air in your home helps. A house humidifier is very helpful esp during the winter months.I personally use ION50 and i have two children with drying skin problems.You can work with essential oils or herbs in your humidifier, it keeps skin soft and hydrated and cuts down on itching, especially at night.Take warm (not hot!) baths on a regular basis and immediately applying moisturizers (aveeno is good) afterward will help keep your skin moist… avoid rapid changes of temperature and activities that make you sweat.

  2. Eczema’s cause isn’t completely known, but triggers may include dry skin, irritants, stress, sweat, and more. Treatments for babies may include moisturizers, lukewarm baths, creams, or light therapy.

  3. As someone who has suffered from eczema for more than 50 years I would offer the following tips.
    Don’t use any moisturizer with Lanolin in it – lanolin is a known irritant for eczema (this also means children with eczema should not be dressed in clothes with wool in them).

    Oranges, bananas, strawberries and tomato are all possible/probable triggers, if your child has eczema and you regularly feed them these foods try eliminating them and see if there is any improvement (for me the first three are triggers, but if I get the juice of any fruit on my face I will react – so I can ear an apple if it is cut up, but can’t bite into one)

    There are many natural remedies around, what works for one will not work for all and some may make your child’s eczema worse

    As well as being itchy, eczema can be excruciatingly painful (tight cracked bleeding skin), please don’t let your child suffer because you are afraid of using steroids on their skin. Finding a cream/creams that brought my eczema under control was a blessed relief. Now with a combination of diet, and appropriate moisturisers I only need to use my steroid cream when I get an unexpected flare up.

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