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How Parents Can Safely Treat Eczema In Infants
Eczema is a common skin condition in infants, affecting up to 20% of babies worldwide. The most common type of eczema that affects children is atopic dermatitis, appearing as rashes on the cheeks, chest, and head.
Children’s skin is more sensitive than adults, and they are often less compliant when it comes to treatments too. However, there are a few ways that parents can safely treat eczema in infants — here are a few that parents should know.
Use an emollient ointment
There are a number of treatments to control symptoms* of eczema, spanning creams, ointments, lotions, moisturisers, corticosteroids, and so on, each with its own pros and cons.
However, evidence suggests that emollient ointments* (that is, ointments that moisturise) are better for treating eczema because they take longer to absorb, keeping moisture locked into the skin for longer.
These ointments are quite greasy and can be uncomfortable for your child when compared to softer moisturising creams, so it is better to apply them at night to let them sink in while your infant sleeps.
It is important to choose an ointment that is naturally-formulated. Children can be sensitive to ointments with perfumes or preservative chemicals, and these can only irritate their skin further.
A simple over-the-counter ointment will suffice — speak to your pharmacist for a personalised recommendation.
Bathe in warm water with a moisturiser
One of the safest and most effective ways of treating eczema in your child is with a short but warm bath.
Bathe your child daily in lukewarm water for between 5-10 minutes and no more. Follow this up by gently patting your infant dry with a soft towel, while leaving some moisture on them.
As with the aforementioned emollient ointments, it is important that you avoid artificial or perfumed soaps as these can irritate the skin further. Instead, opt for natural or organic alternatives — speak to your doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation.
While the above process is a good rule of thumb for treating eczema, each infant is different. Take heed to how your child’s skin reacts to each bath — you may find that fewer baths offer better results, for instance, or that different soaps help their eczema clear up quicker.
Consider wet wrapping for intense flare-ups
Eczema flare-ups vary in intensity and discomfort. While less intense bouts of eczema can be treated with the tips above, more itchy and painful episodes may require a more concerted form of treatment — wet wrapping.
Wet wrapping is an eczema treatment that involves gently bathing your infant and applying a soothing moisturiser. The affected area is then covered with wet cotton pyjamas, previously soaked in warm, clean water but squeezed dry.
This layer is then covered with a layer of soft, dry clothing. After 20-30 minutes, each layer is removed. The skin is then patted dry and a moisturiser applied. This process can be tapered off as your child’s eczema improves. You should continue to apply moisturiser 3-4 times a day to keep skin moist and prevent itchiness.
Wrapping the skin in this way helps keep treatments moist, expediting absorption into the skin as a result. If you are considering resorting to wet wrapping, speak to your doctor first.
Soothe itching with oral antihistamines
Any parent can tell you that one of the most difficult things about treating eczema in children is the itching. Even the most patient child can find it hard not to itch painful flare-ups of eczema.
However, this can only exacerbate their eczema, creating open wounds that increase the risk of infection.
Thankfully, there are ways to treat this. Start by ensuring your child’s skin is covered with loose, light cotton clothing to help keep the skin cool.
Antihistamines are also useful in this case. Rather than using creams (which can make your child’s eczema worse), consider an oral antihistamine* instead.
While it might seem counterintuitive, parents should opt for drowsiness-inducing oral antihistamines, as non-drowsy tablets typically do not help reduce itching. As such, these are best given to your child before bed.
Remember, antihistamines are not suitable for children under the age of two. Always speak to your doctor first before giving your child an oral antihistamine.
Spot your child’s eczema triggers
Everyone has different things that trigger eczema. It may be certain soaps or shampoos, or some perfumes or excess sweat — each child has unique triggers and reactions to them.
A few things that can trigger your child’s eczema include:
- Soaps and laundry powders
- Coarse or thick, non-breathable fabrics
- Excessive sweat
- Treatments with fragrances or preservatives
These are the most common triggers for infants. However, in some rare cases, some types of mould or pollen can trigger eczema. Just as rare but also possible are psychosomatic — stress or anxiety, for instance.
You know your child better than anyone — identify how they react to certain triggers and take steps to ensure these are avoided wherever possible.
*Product availability varies depending on your country of residence. Speak to your pharmacist to find the right product for you or available alternatives where appropriate.
Treating eczema in children requires a careful, more considered approach than when treating it in adults. The above methods are effective at helping soothe symptoms of eczema in infants, keeping moisture locked in and helping reduce pain and itchiness in your child’s skin.
This Information Sheet is provided as a service by the Eczema Association of Australasia Inc to give up-to-date, practical help on certain types of eczema or a particular aspect of its treatment. These Information Sheets are part of our membership package.
It is not the policy of the Eczema Association of Australasia Inc to recommend or endorse any product or treatment. It is part of the role of the Association to provide information on a wide range of products and treatments to keep those involved with eczema as fully informed as possible as to all options available. For medical advice, consult your health professional.