Does your baby have flaky, irritated, cracked skin? About 1 in 5 kids gets eczema. For some, it’s the first symptom of a lifetime of allergies. Infants who have eczema are more likely to develop hay fever and asthma later. Doctors refer to this type of allergic disease progression as “atopic march.” How you treat your baby’s eczema could make all the difference.
“We believe that cracked skin is the entry point for food allergens, such as peanuts and eggs. Food can get into the skin off the table or off people who eat these foods and then kiss or touch the baby. When the food comes through the skin, it causes an allergic reaction,” says Donald Leung, MD, PhD, head of pediatric allergy and clinical immunology at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Doctors don’t fully understand what causes eczema. They believe genetics and the child’s environment each play a role. But parents can help repair their baby’s broken skin barrier and prevent allergens from getting in. This could stop development of future allergies.
In babies, eczema usually shows up as an itchy, red patch on the cheeks, chin, or scalp and the front of arms and legs. If you see these signs, Leung recommends the “soak and seal” method.
Gently bathe your baby in lukewarm (not hot) water with a gentle cleanser free of soap. Don’t scrub irritated skin. Allow your baby to soak for at least 5 minutes.
Lightly pat your baby’s skin dry. Within 3 minutes, while the skin is still moist and damp, apply a thick moisturizing ointment or cream. Choose a moisturizer with a high oil content. Avoid lotions with alcohol, which can dry the skin. Look for jellies or creams that don’t run. You can repeat this process daily or as needed.
“Soak and seal adds water to the skin and then traps it in,” Leung says. “This creates a barrier so that irritants from the environment can’t invade.”
Ask Your Doctor
If your baby has severely dry, itchy skin, Donald Leung, MD, suggests you ask your pediatrician these questions.
- Should I “soak and seal” my baby’s skin?
- Which skin cream do you recommend?
- When should I introduce solid foods to best prevent food allergies?
- Could products in my household, such as laundry detergents, trigger eczema?
- Donald Leung, MD, PhD, Division Head, Pediatric Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Denver
- National Eczema Association
- Advances in Dermatology and Allergology: “Prevalence of atopic dermatitis in infants during the first six months of life: authors’ observations.”
- Journal of Clinical Cell Immunology: “The Atopic March: Progression from Atopic Dermatitis to Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma.”
- Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research: “Significance of Skin Barrier Dysfunction in Atopic Dermatitis.”