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Newborn eczema

Red, crusty eczema patches can be common on a baby's skin.

The look of the skin can be a great concern for parents. However, symptoms can be treated and many babies do outgrow their newborn eczema.

What does baby eczema look like?

Many babies and small children have eczema (also called infantile eczema or atopic dermatitis). It shows up as patches of dry, red, leathery, sometimes pimply skin. The skin is almost always tender, itchy and rough.

While it may appear just about anywhere on a baby's body, eczema most often occurs on a baby's cheeks, forehead and scalp, and at the joints of their arms and legs.

Infant eczema can be easily confused with cradle cap, another red, scaly rash of infancy. Cradle cap generally clears up by eight months, and usually appears on the scalp, sides of the nose, eyelids, eyebrows and behind the ears.

Why do babies get eczema?

No one really knows what causes a tendency to eczema. It's an immune system reaction that can be triggered by certain soaps, creams, allergies and detergents, and may be aggravated by stress, heat and sweat.

Heredity is a big factor in whether or not an infant gets eczema. If mum or dad have eczema, their baby is a lot more likely to develop it, too. If both parents have eczema, the likelihood that their infant will have it too is about 50%.

Does eczema in infants go away by itself?

Fortunately, most children outgrow the itchy irritation of eczema before school age. A small number of children will have eczema into adulthood. Remissions do occur and can last for years, although the tendency to have dry skin often lingers.

What triggers eczema in children?

What triggers eczema in one infant won't necessarily trigger it in another. However, there are some common eczema triggers to avoid, including:

  • Saliva where a baby dribbles
  • Dry skin. This is often caused by low humidity, especially during winter when homes are well heated and the air is dry. Dry skin can make a baby's eczema worse.
  • Irritants. Scratchy wool clothes, perfumes, body soaps, laundry detergents and fabric conditioners can all trigger a baby's eczema flares.
  • Stress. Children with baby eczema may react to stress by flushing, which can lead to itchy, irritated skin - and an increase in eczema symptoms.
  • Heat and sweat. Both heat and sweating can make the itch of infant eczema worse.
  • Allergens. Some allergens in foods can trigger eczema flare-ups in those who are sensitive to these. When this is the case avoiding the identified allergen can help lessen the likelihood of an eczema flare-up.
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