The exact cause of eczema is unknown. Researchers do know that children who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers. When something outside the body “switches on” the immune system, skin cells don’t behave as they should, causing flare ups.
Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed.
There are several types of eczema. Atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema and seborrheic dermatitis, also known as “cradle cap” in infants, are the most common types that affect children. Eczema, especially atopic dermatitis, often appears in the first six months to five years of a child’s life.
We also know that children who come from families with a history of atopic dermatitis, asthma or hay fever (known as the atopic triad) are more likely to develop atopic dermatitis.
Eczema looks and acts differently in infants and toddlers than it does in older children. The location and appearance of eczema changes as they grow, so it’s important to know what to look for during every stage of your infant or toddler’s life.
Infants (first 6 months)
Eczema usually appears on the face, cheeks, chin, forehead and scalp. It can also spread to other areas of the body, but not usually in the diaper area, where moisture protects the skin. The skin at this stage also tends to look more red and “weepy.”
Babies (6-12 months)
At this stage, eczema often appears on your baby’s elbows and knees — places that are easy to scratch or rub as they’re crawling. If the eczema rash becomes infected, it may form a yellow crust, or very small “pus bumps” on the skin.
Toddlers (2-5 years)
Atopic dermatitis frequently affects the face in children. It can appear as red patches with small bumps.
Around the age of two, your toddler’s eczema is more likely to appear in the creases of the elbows and knees, or on their wrists, ankles and hands. It may also appear on the skin around your toddler’s mouth and the eyelids. Your toddler’s skin may start to look dry and scaly at this stage and become thick with deeper lines — this is called “lichenification.”
Children (5 years+)
Eczema usually appears in the folds of the elbows and knees. Sometimes, it’s only on a child’s hands. At least 70 percent of people have had hand eczema at some time in their life. Redness and itchy patches behind your child’s ears, on their feet or scalp may also be a sign of atopic dermatitis. But these could also be symptoms of another condition, like seborrheic dermatitis, which can exist with eczema.
What triggers my child’s eczema or causes it to get worse?
Some of the most common eczema triggers include dry skin, irritants, heat and sweating, infection, and allergens such as pet dander, pollen or dust. Even your baby’s stuffed animals may be a trigger for eczema.
Your child’s eczema may be worse in the winter when the air is dry. Saliva from drooling can also cause irritation on your baby’s cheeks, chin and neck. The best way to manage your child’s eczema is by getting to know their symptoms and triggers so that you can help keep it under control.
Republished with permission by the National Eczema Foundation.