How to help eczema in babies and toddlers
Eczema is a common skin problem in children, so we get your questions answered by medical herbalist, Lindsey Miller.
Lindsey has over six years experience within the natural products industry Hopes Relief skincare range.
1. How young can a baby show signs of eczema?
Eczema is a dry, itchy skin condition that affects up to one in five children. It usually appears for the first time before the age of two years old. The good news is that most children who have eczema will grow out of the condition by the time they are teenagers. Eczema can be often be effectively controlled with the right treatments and if you can identify and avoid your triggers.
2. Are children born with the skin condition?
Although you can be born with an inherited tendency to have eczema, in my experience eczema tends to visually appear post birth, as infants are mostly protected in the womb. Most eczema occurs in the first year of life as it is often a reaction to an allergen or irritant in the environment (such as pollen, dust, diet and topical products) that can trigger it.
3. How much does diet affect eczema?
In children with eczema food is the main trigger in only about 10% of cases. However, food may be one of the causes or exacerbating factors in about 30% of children with eczema. In other words - It's rarely diet alone that is the cause- even those who are affected by diet will still need to have a good skincare routine to help recovery.
4. What foods could you look to change if your child suffers with eczema?
I wouldn't eliminate any foods unless absolutely necessary as getting a healthy balanced diet is also crucial, especially in children. However some common foods triggers and ones to look out for are: cows' milk (dairy), eggs, soya, wheat, fish and nuts. Solanceae or deadly nightshade family food groups can also cause problems with some people; these include potatoes, aubergines, cucumbers and peppers. I often find that tomatoes and orange juice can be the hidden and unsuspected culprits!
5. What products could you look to change if your child suffers with eczema?
Topical irritants can be found in the form of detergents and surfactants – which can range from household cleaning agents, laundry detergents and fabric softeners to the products we use to clean our own bodies. I can't stress how essential it is to pick the right skincare products. Choose natural, unperfumed, uncoloured products and those that are soap-free or specifically tailored for sensitive skin or eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis.
6. What natural remedies can help?
In my experience most people don't eat enough Omega 3, especially children. Is it any wonder as some of the richest sources are found in cold water oily fish such as: Mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, salmon and tuna (fresh, not tinned!). Not often top of a child's favourite foods list so I therefore often recommend an Omega 3 fish oil supplement high in EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and therefore good for dry, irritable, sore skin conditions.
7. Do children often grow out of eczema? What sort of age?
The National Eczema Society say that there is no guarantee that a child will grow out of eczema for sure but research has shown that 65% of children will be free of eczema by the time they are 7 years old, and 74% by the time they reach 16 years of age. Only 1 in 12 adults has eczema compared to 1 in 5 children.
8. Are there varying levels of eczema sufferers?
Yes there are a variety of different types of eczema such as: atopic, contact, discoid, gravitational, asteatotic, seborrheic, pompholyx etc, and there are varying degrees of severity. Eczema tends to be very individual and so what makes one persons eczema worse or better may not be the same as the next person.
9. Are you likely to pass on eczema to your children if you suffer?
Yes your children may be more likely to develop eczema if you do. However, most eczema is probably a combination of inherited and environmental causes and triggers. Research suggests that atopic eczema is largely an inherited condition. Studies have shown that 60% of children who have a parent with atopic eczema will also have eczema and 80% if both parents have the condition.
10. What is your advice for a parent who has a child that really suffers?
Seek professional medical advice and help. In my experience there is rarely one single cause for stubborn skin conditions. Making small lifestyle changes in all areas is generally more helpful to keep problems at bay long term. These include: use the right skincare products; identify triggers; have a healthy balanced diet with the right essential fatty acids; sleep well and de-stress as stress can often be a trigger.
A really important note is to wash in moderation! I often find that people with eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis may be over-washing, which can dry the skin (and especially even more so if they are using the wrong products!). Do not have water too hot when you bathe and do not soak in the bath for long periods. Short tepid showers are best and be careful to pat dry and never rub delicate areas. I often recommend only showering once or twice a week and not every day if the skin is bad. If there are any particular bad patches of skin try and keep these out of the water altogether wherever possible.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST - DO NOT SCRATCH!
This may be the biggest challenge of all when your skin is driving you mad but scratching only damages the skin further and can also introduce harmful bacteria into the wound. This causes further inflammation, irritation and possible infection. For young babies and children I recommend cotton body suits and scratch mittens to help them stop scratching the skin, especially at night when scratching is more common.