What is eczema?

April 12, 2017

If your baby has eczema it’s highly likely that it’s a form of dermatitis known as Atopic Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis. This is the most common type of eczema and according to the NHS it affects one in five children in the UK. It may occur because of a defect in the skin barrier, which allows irritants and allergens to pass into the body, but no exact cause has been determined.

The word ‘atopic’ means sensitivity to allergens and covers a number of conditions including hay fever, asthma and eczema. In fact, many sufferers of eczema may be more susceptible to hay fever and asthma because they share a common ‘allergen’ link.

Atopic conditions are hereditary, which means they can be passed on through families. However, they aren’t infectious so they can’t be passed on through close contact.

What does it look like?

The main symptom of atopic eczema is itchy skin. Redness, inflammation and soreness of the skin are some of the other symptoms that occur when sufferers scratch to relieve the intense itch. Eczema can also cause the skin to become crusty, thickened, cracked and painful. During a flare up (when the urge to itch becomes intense) weeping blisters can appear. This itchy pain can make it hard for babies and children to sleep at night, leaving them feeling fussy, tired and irritable in the day.

This type of eczema predominantly affects the face and scalp in babies.

Triggers

As mentioned earlier, there isn’t a determined cause of atopic eczema but it is linked in some way to allergies. This means allergens/irritants like chemical fragrances, synthetic soaps, shampoos, washing up liquid, detergents and perfumes can trigger a flare up. Even certain foods can exacerbate atopic eczema, like peanuts, soya and cow’s milk.

Other triggers include synthetic fabrics, wool, pet fur, pollen, mites and moulds. In some cases, changes in the weather can make atopic eczema worse too – very cold weather can remove moisture from the skin, making it feel drier and itchier.

Treatment

Self-care is usually the first port of call for most atopic eczema sufferers.  This involves avoiding triggers like bubble bath and soaps, keeping a strict moisturising routine and steering clear of potential food allergies. It’s also advisable to avoid stressful situations that can cause a flare up.

Emollients (in the form of moisturising lotions, ointments and gels) that are to be applied regularly to the skin to soothe and protect are often prescribed by doctors.

If the eczema persists then steroid creams, which reduce inflammation and relieve itching, are advised because they have a stronger effect. Often these creams are used alongside emollients.

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