If your child suddenly has a painful rash on the face, torso, or other part of the body, don’t panic – it may be a treatable and fairly common condition known as eczema.
That’s the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed. There are no less than eight different types of eczema. The most common types that affect children are atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis (aka “cradle cap”).
Eczema, especially atopic dermatitis, often appears in the first six months to 5 years of a child’s life. It’s not contagious, meaning your child can’t get it from someone. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand what type of eczema your child may have, their symptoms, and what triggers it, so you can better treat and manage it as your child gets older.
Signs and Symptoms
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The exact cause of eczema is not known. What we do know is that children who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers. When something outside the body “switches on” the immune system response, skin cells don’t behave as they should, causing eczema flare-ups. Also, children with a family history of atopic dermatitis, asthma, or hay fever are more likely to develop eczema.
Eczema manifests itself differently in infants and toddlers than it does in older children. The location and appearance of the flare-ups changes as they grow, so it helps to know what to look for during each stage of your infant or toddler’s life.
- During infancy (first six months), eczema usually appears on the face, cheeks, chin, forehead and scalp. It can also spread to other areas, but usually not in the diaper area, where moisture protects the skin. Your child’s skin at this stage tends to look more red.
- At six to 12 months, eczema often appears on your baby’s elbows and knees. These are places that are easy to scratch or rub as your child crawls and the eczema rash may become infected. If it does, it may form a yellow crust, or very small, “pus bumps” on the skin.
- Atopic dermatitis can appear as red patches with small bumps on the faces of toddlers (two to five years). However, around the age of two, your child’s eczema is more likely to appear in the creases of elbows ad knees, or on their wrists, ankles and hands, as well as around the mouth and eyelids. Your child’s skin may look dry and scaly and become thick with deeper lines.
- By the time your child reaches five years and older, eczema usually appears in the folds of the elbows and/or knees. Or it may only appear on your child’s hands as at least 70 percent of people have had hand eczema at one time or another. You may notice redness and itchy patches behind your child’s ears or on their feet or scalp. This may be a sign of atopic dermatitis or symptoms of another condition, like seborrheic dermatitis.
In any case, there is no cure for eczema, only treatments.
Dealing with Eczema
The best way to manage your child’s eczema is getting to know what triggers it so you can help keep it under control.
Some common eczema triggers include dry skin, irritants, heat and sweating, infection, and allergens such as pet dander, pollen, or dust. However, even your child’s stuffed animals may be a trigger.
Also, your child’s eczema may get worse in the winter when the air is dry. Saliva from drooling can also cause irritation on your child’s cheeks, chin, and neck.
Managing your child’s eczema flare-ups often comes down to basics such as:
- Avoiding exposure to particular triggers
- Daily bathing and moisturizing to protect skin and lock in moisture
- Using over-the-counter medication consistently and as prescribed to curb symptoms
It’s best to consult with a pediatrician whenever a new or unusual rash develops on young children, as the cause of the rash isn’t always evident or what you think it is. With prompt diagnosis and proper treatment, your loved one will be back to normal in no time.
Children’s Health Care of Massachusetts (CHC Mass) was the nation’s first community health center to open its doors in Boston, providing health services for low and moderate-income people in the inner-city areas, and isolated rural communities. Child-centered and family-focused, Child’s Health Care of Massachusetts is your family’s partner in health providing compassionate and personalized care for your whole child.
Contact CHC Mass today for information about how you can partner with CHC to help your child achieve the healthiest childhood possible.