Is your little one’s normally baby smooth skin looking red, dry, and scaly? It could just be dry skin, or it could be eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is particularly common in infants. It’s estimated that nearly 10 to 20 percent of children have this noncontagious skin disorder.
Most often the rash occurs on the scalp, knees, elbows, and cheeks in infants and children. You may notice your child scratching or rubbing at the area to relieve the itch. The itch can be severe enough to interrupt their sleep—making one fussy baby.
While eczema is treatable and preventable, your little one may be at a greater risk of developing other health conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis (commonly known as hay fever) and food allergies. Doctors often refer to this as the atopic (allergic) march.
What is The Atopic March?
The atopic march involves the diagnosis of eczema, food allergy, hay fever, and asthma later in childhood—usually occurring in a sequence with age.
“The good news is that not every child who has eczema will develop allergic rhinitis and asthma,” said William Culver, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at the Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, Colorado. “But the likelihood of developing these conditions does increase if there is a parent or close blood relative who has allergies and asthma, or if the child’s eczema is moderate or severe.”
What Causes Eczema?
While the exact cause is not known, eczema is thought to be due to a “leaky” skin barrier. Our skin plays an important role as a protective barrier to germs and other things that can harm us. However, when eczema develops, our skin’s ability to block these things diminishes. This, in turn, causes the skin to lose water—leading to dry, itchy skin.
How Can You Lower Your Child’s Chances of Worsening Eczema, Allergies and Asthma?
Dr. Culver shared the following tips to help prevent and reduce your little one’s chances:
- Treat at the first sign of symptoms. If older siblings or one or both of the parents have allergic disorders, watch the child for the development of similar symptoms and treat earlier rather than later. If symptoms seem to worsen, see their doctor immediately.
- Make note of triggers. Keep note of any foods, pets or environmental factors as a potential cause and effect of symptoms and let your child’s pediatrician and allergist know.
- Breastfeed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants who are breastfed have a reduced risk of chronic conditions such as asthma.
- Feed potentially allergic foods starting around 4 months of age. According to the National Institutes of Health, food elimination doesn’t prevent the development of food allergies. If your child is not of high risk, you can start with things like soy, eggs, milk, and peanuts. However, if you have a family history of food allergies or your child is high risk, speak with your child’s doctor first before starting.
- Avoid irritating soaps. This includes both bath and detergent soaps.
- Observe skin for dryness and treat with moisturizers. Look for thicker skin creams or ointments to stop skin from drying out and itching. The National Eczema Association also has a list of accepted products.
Do you suspect your child has eczema? Schedule an appointment with a Banner Health allergist today.