What Is Baby Eczema?

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Baby eczema is a fairly common type of skin rash, and most babies outgrow it. The rash can be irritating or uncomfortable. Your child’s pediatrician might recommend using a skin moisturizer or making specific changes in your baby’s diet to help alleviate the problem. 

Dry skin can lead to baby eczema, and some babies are predisposed to the condition. Eczema, including baby eczema, tends to run in families and there is also an association with familial allergies or asthma.

Baby eczema usually improves over time
Getty Images/Tatyana Tomsickova Photography

Baby Eczema Symptoms

Your baby might develop eczema within a few weeks of birth or anytime afterward. Baby eczema typically affects the cheeks and/or the inner creases of the arms, legs, or groin, although it can appear anywhere on the skin. 

The skin may appear pink, with a fine rash. The area may be a bit moist or dry because the skin is sensitive to both dryness and excess moisture. Rarely, you might see pimples, blisters, or an inflamed or infected appearance of the skin. 

Typically, eczema in babies isn’t associated with other symptoms, but when it’s caused by skin irritation or a reaction to food, your baby might be fussy, have trouble sleeping, spit up, or have diarrhea.

When to See a Doctor

Even if the skin issue isn’t very problematic, you should show your pediatrician the affected area when you go in for your baby’s regular medical checkup. If the rash seems to come and go, it’s a good idea to take a photo of it in case your baby’s regular appointment doesn’t coincide with a skin outbreak. 

If the skin reaction lasts for more than a few weeks, call your doctor to ask what you should do about it. 

Call your doctor or take your baby in for an appointment if your baby seems especially fussy, has a fever, isn’t eating as well as usual, loses weight, or has bleeding or inflammation in the skin around the area of eczema.

Causes

Babies can develop eczema due to direct skin irritation or as a result of dietary factors. Essentially, your baby can develop an eczema rash from a process inside the body or from something that comes into contact with the skin itself.

Research shows that babies who develop eczema due to skin sensitivity might also be prone to skin reactions from certain foods. And there is a link between baby eczema and food allergies, which can cause symptoms besides the effects on the skin.

Triggers

Abrasive materials, such as clothes, blankets, or towels may rub the skin, resulting in eczema. Exposure to detergents, soaps, creams, and lotions may cause it too. Extreme temperatures can also cause babies to develop eczema. 

Experts have suggested that intestinal enzymes play a role in eczema, and that this could be related to food. If your baby is breastfed, something in your diet can contribute to your baby’s eczema—common triggers include milk, soy, peanuts, and eggs.

Diagnosis

It’s important that you talk to your baby’s doctor if the skin reaction is severe or persistent. Eczema is typically diagnosed based on its appearance. Your child’s pediatrician will need to examine your baby to determine whether the skin reaction is truly eczema or whether it could be something else—such as an infection, a vitamin deficiency, or a severe allergy. 

To help with the diagnostic process, you can try to observe if there is a pattern when it comes to your baby’s skin outbreaks. Since your baby probably doesn’t eat a wide variety of foods yet, eczema could be a reaction to an ingredient in the formula or baby food. Consider keeping a food diary and also noting the timing of any other potential exposures, such as detergents or soaps.

Diagnostic Tests

If there is a concern that your baby’s skin rash is caused by something besides eczema, your child’s pediatrician might order diagnostic tests to rule out other causes:

  • Complete blood count (CBC): A blood test measures white blood cells (WBCs), and elevated WBCs can signal an infection in the body (not just on the skin). 
  • Blood electrolyte test: For babies who have severe vomiting or diarrhea along with a skin rash, an electrolyte blood test can help diagnose dehydration. This would suggest that your baby has a severe food intolerance or allergy and not just eczema.
  • Skin scraping: If your doctor is concerned that your baby has a skin infection, a gentle scraping of the area may be examined in the laboratory to identify the infectious organism. Skin infections may be fungal, bacterial, or viral. 
  • Allergy testing: Sometimes allergy testing can help identify a food or substance that your baby is allergic to. Allergy testing includes skin tests and blood tests. 
  • Stool sample: If there is a strong concern about the intestinal microbiota (bacteria and enzymes) as the cause of eczema, a stool sample may be tested for evidence of problems with your baby’s gut microbiota.

Treatment

Baby eczema can be treated with a few different approaches, depending on the cause. If you have noticed that your baby tends to have eczema after eating certain foods or after exposure to any particular fabric or cleanser, avoiding it can alleviate the problem. 

Often, there is no obvious trigger, and the recommended treatment is a gentle skin moisturizer. You should also be sure to gently pat dry your baby’s skin after every wash. 

If the problem is persistent, you might be advised to change your baby’s diet by using a different baby formula. And, if you breastfeed your baby, your doctor may suggest that you eliminate certain foods from your diet based on your baby's allergy test. 

Probiotics

Probiotics are yeasts or bacteria that are considered healthy because they change the intestinal environment. They have been used as potential ways to treat persistent or severe eczema if intestinal enzymes seem to be the cause. Sometimes, stool sample testing results are used to determine whether probiotics may be useful in managing severe baby eczema.

A Word From Verywell

Baby eczema can be bothersome for you and your baby, but it isn’t something to be concerned about in terms of your baby’s health. Your child’s pediatrician can diagnose eczema by its appearance. Your child is likely to outgrow the problem, but in the meantime, you might need to make some dietary adjustments or take extra special care of your baby’s skin.

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