Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a condition that causes uncomfortable, itchy rashes for many toddlers. Read on to learn more about this common skin condition, its causes, and solutions.

Eczema is a general term for any type of ‘dermatitis’, or skin inflammation that affects up to 13% of children in the United States. It causes an itch-scratch cycle, meaning the inflammation leads to itching, and scratching the itch leads to the release of chemicals that leads to more inflammation.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms associated with eczema may wax and wane, be mild, moderate, or severe, and may affect different parts of the body. Typically, children with eczema will have itchy, dry and sensitive skin. In some, the skin may appear scaly, rough, red or darkened, and inflamed. If severe, it may ooze, crack, or even bleed.

Eczema may appear anywhere on the body, however, it most commonly affects the face, neck, wrists, ankles, and bends of the elbows and knees in children.

What are the causes?

The precise causes of eczema are unknown and flare-ups can be triggered by a variety of factors. There may be a familial tendency towards eczema, and it may be related to conditions such as allergies, asthma or food sensitivity.

In some children, contact irritants can aggravate the skin. This can include soaps, shampoos, detergents, or even chlorine. For others, environmental allergens may be a trigger; these can include dust mites, pollen, mold and dander (from house pets). Some parents notice that hot or cold temperatures can exacerbate their child’s eczema.

Foods that have been implicated in the development of eczema include cow milk products, wheat, eggs, soy, and even nuts and seeds.

Treating and preventing flare-ups

Adopting some of the following healthy habits may reduce the frequency and intensity of your child’s eczema flare-ups:

  • Bathe children in warm water using mild, non-irritating soaps
  • Pat skin dry rather than rubbing with a towel
  • Moisturize skin daily, particularly after bathing
  • Choose soft, cotton-based fabrics to prevent irritation
  • Keep nails short to minimize the impact of scratching (some children may benefit from scratch mitts, especially overnight)
  • In severe cases, protecting the skin with a barrier cream, such as a zinc oxide based product
  • In severe cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe a topical, low potency steroid cream to decrease inflammation
  • Using a home air purifier, vacuuming more frequently or removing household carpets if environmental irritants are a suspected cause
  • Find alternatives for potential trigger foods – consider goat milk for children with cow milk sensitivity, and grains such as rice, quinoa, millet, or buckwheat for children
    with gluten sensitivity

Eczema can be triggered by a long list of factors – and the ideal solution is finding and addressing the root cause. By keeping a close eye on the factors that might be setting off your little one’s eczema flare-ups, you can help break the itch/scratch cycle and make everyone feel much better.