What is eczema?

Eczema is a long-term skin condition that involves red, scaly, itchy patches and sometimes blisters. Eczema isn’t really one thing – it’s actually a number of different skin conditions in which the skin is red and irritated. The most common cause of eczema is atopic dermatitis, sometimes called infantile eczema, although it occurs in older children as well as infants.

Children who get eczema usually are overly sensitive to allergens in their environment such as pollens, molds, dust, animal dander, and certain foods. They often have a family history of allergies. Although eczema may not be caused by allergies, their hypersensitive skin reacts when exposed to an irritant.

The most common place for eczema to first show on an infant is on the cheeks or forehead. From there it may spread to behind the ears and down the neck. The skin can have tiny blisters or look dry and scaly, almost as if there were a salty crust to it. As a baby ages, the most common places to find eczema are creases in the elbows and behind the knees.
Eczema is a chronic disease. You can prevent some types of eczema by avoiding irritants, stress, and the things you are allergic to. Use soap as little as possible because of its drying effect on the skin. Keep bath water warm, not hot. The most important thing to do to help the skin irritation is to apply a plain skin moisturizer (no alcohol, fragrances or dyes) several times a day. Your pharmacist can recommend a good one.

In older babies and children who are eating a variety of solid foods and have severe eczema, a health care provider may want to experiment by eliminating foods and tracking reactions. (You shouldn’t withhold foods on your own, however, without coordinating this first with your child’s provider.) For very rough, raw patches, a mild hydrocortisone cream may be prescribed. Sometimes an antihistamine is helpful in reducing the itchiness.

If you’re having trouble getting your child’s eczema under control, take a look at this interactive Eczema Health Check.

For photos of eczema and more information, click on this link.


  • comment-avatar

    That’s a great summary of eczema for babies. I have had eczema as a baby as well, but luckily the disease went away by itself when I was in my early teens. It did come back later as an adult, but I know now how to control it. The most important thing was eliminating dairy products form my diet. Basically eliminating different foods until you find out what causes the eczema is a good option. Of course you should always consult a doctor first.