Baby eczema symptoms - What causes atopic dermatitis in babies?
If you have to deal with an infant with skin eczema you know how frustrating it can be to try to figure out what triggers these baby eczema symptoms.
What causes baby eczema and why it occurs remains unknown.
There are studies that show that atopic dermatitis in infants appears to be the result of interactions between environment, skin barrier defects, family history and the immune system.
We also know that babies with very dry and sensitive skin are prone to eczema.
factors that play a role in developing baby eczema
- Family history. Parents that suffer from atopic dermatitis or other allergic conditions (asthma or hay fever) are at an increased risk having a child with eczema.
- The infant's immune system. There are several studies that suggest that an overactive response of the immune system causes baby eczema symptoms.
- Skin barrier defects. In eczema the irritant causes changes in the structure and function of the layers of the skin. As a result the normal barrier of the outer skin layer is partly lost. Harmful substances can penetrate the skin and bacteria can cause infections of the skin. Water loss causes the skin to become very dry and flaky. Scratching of the skin also destroys the natural barrier function of the skin.
- Environmental factors. Many factors in the environment can trigger a flare up baby skin eczema. For example house dust mite protein, animal dander, moulds and weed spores can come into the lungs and set off the immune system there, resulting in reactions in the skin. But also fur, dander (dried skin), urine and saliva of pets can cause eczema flare ups in young children.
Baby eczema symptoms
Diagramatic cross section of skin showing the
effects of eczema.Image by: Legger | Dreamstime.com
The first baby eczema symptoms begin with itchy red patches on the face, fore head, cheeks and behind the ears. Often we see that the rash spreads to the elbows, back of the knees and baby's trunk.
The itching is sometimes so bad that babies scratch or rub until the skin starts to bleed.
At this stage the skin will become raw and crusty and fluid may come oozing out of these patches. This is what we call wet or weeping baby eczema.
At this point hygiene is very important because the fluid is contagious and it is possible the baby skin eczema spreads to other parts of the body.
food allergy and Baby eczema symptoms
A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests that infants with eczema may also be at a greater risk of developing food allergies.
They found that babies with eczema are 6 times more likely to be sensitive to foods like cow’s milk, eggs and peanuts. They observed that the more severe the baby eczema symptoms are, the more obvious the connection to food allergies.
They came to the conclusion that food allergies may not be triggered in the gut as they originally believed but through the compromised skin barrier of baby eczema.
Baby eczema and sun exposure
Another research from Australia, suggests that there may be a link between eczema and sun exposure.
They found that children living in areas that have less sunlight are at a larger risk of eczema than kids living in areas with more sunlight.
On the other hand parents should be aware of the fact, that too much sun exposure will also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Baby eczema and breast milk
Breastfeeding your baby has many benefits as it boosts baby's immune system. Breast milk contains antibodies that will help a baby fight diseases during the first months of his life. But can it also prevent eczema in babies?
Some studies confirm that breastfeeding can protect babies from atopic dermatitis. However, more recent studies question the effects of breastfeeding on atopic dermatitis. Definitely more research is necessary on this topic to be able to give parents the right advice.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers with a family history of eczema to avoid foods that are commonly know to trigger atopic dermatitis, such as cow's milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish.
But again, recent studies show no evidence that dietary allergens in mother's milk increases the risk of babies developing eczema.
Nevertheless, breast milk can be helpful if it is applied directly on the affected skin.
In a randomized clinical trial they compared the use of hydrocortisone 1% ointment and breastmilk on baby eczema. Amazingly applying hydrocortisone gave the same results as the application of breastmilk at 7, 14 and 21 days of this trial.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does advice parents not to introduce solid foods before 4 to 6 months of age as this can affect the development of eczema. For the same reason, they also recommend that full cow's milk should not be introduced before the age of one.
baby Eczema statistics
The occurrence of baby eczema is rapidly growing around the globe with no less than 20% of all infants under one year of age suffering from this itchy skin condition.
Often baby eczema symptoms will just disappear on their own. However there are also children that have serious and chronic eczema. The results of a health survey shows food and skin allergies are increasing in children under 18.
Source: CDC/NCHS, Health Data Interactive, National Health Survey
As you can see, the number of children, aged 0 to 17 with food and skin allergies increased in the period 1997–2011.