Wintertime is the worst time of the year for dry, itchy skin. The cold air outside and indoor heating suck all the moisture out of the air and out of your baby’s skin. Winter is when eczema tends to rear its ugly scales.
If your child is itching and scratching all the time and has patches of scaly skin then he or she may have eczema. All the scratching is truly heartbreaking when your little one can’t seem to stop even when it leads to bloody fingers and sores. Fortunately there are several eczema treatments that can offer relief for your baby.
A lot of people think that bathing a baby every day will actually cause the baby’s skin to be drier, but the opposite is true. Baths add moisture to dry skin and get rid of surface bacteria that can cause skin infections.
“It can be fun for baby, and it's good for bonding with the parents,” says Amy S. Paller, MD, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “It's a wonderful way to get hydration into the skin.”
The type of soap you use is important. Make sure that it is fragrance-free, mild or try a soap-less cleanser for sensitive skin. Bathe your baby for five to 10 minutes in tepid water, pat her dry to retain some moisture on her skin, then apply moisturizer.
Moisturize your baby’s skin as least twice a day. Dry skin can make eczema worse and bring out more inflammation, says Lawrence F. Eichenfield, MD, professor of pediatrics and dermatology at the University of California, San Diego. Moisturizing often helps break what he calls “the itch-scratch cycle.”
Creams and ointments are thicker than lotions and work better on your baby’s skin. If your doctor has prescribed an anti-itch cream, apply it before the moisturizer.
Different seasons require different types of moisturizers as well. A lighter cream is best in the summer and petroleum based ointments work best in the winter. Use caution when considering “natural” or organic products. Many of these products contain oil extracts and fragrance of flowers that some babies may be sensitive to. Check with your doctor about well-proven products that have been tested for sensitivities.
One particular bath that may sound too harsh but is actually very effective in treating eczema is the diluted-bleach bath. Nanette Silverberg, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, suggests diluted bleach baths for babies over 6 months who have moderate or severe eczema. They’re especially helpful if your baby has crusting on the skin. Bleach helps remove staph bacteria -- a known eczema trigger -- without resorting to antibiotics. Talk to your pediatrician before giving your baby a bleach bath.
Use 1 teaspoon of bleach per 1 gallon of water or ¼ cup per full bathtub.
Many parents whose children have eczema put anti-scratch mittens on them, They can be very helpful in keeping babies from scratching, but not so much so for older babies and toddlers who can take them off. To reduce irritation, keep your child’s fingernails cut short and filed with an emery board, so they’re not sharp. If you notice your child scratching more than usual, take her to the doctor, who can prescribe anti-itch medicine.
Dress your baby in layers of soft, loose-fitting, breathable cotton to keep her skin comfortable. At night, however, it may help to swaddle your infant in a cotton blanket. Swaddling helps many babies sleep better.
Avoiding eczema triggers is key to helping your baby stay comfortable.
- Fragrances. Products with fragrance can cause reactions. Use unscented products whenever possible.
- Detergents. Ask your pediatric dermatologist to recommend a gentle, fragrance-free laundry detergent.
- Rough fabrics. Consider your wardrobe, too -- change out of a wool sweater before cuddling your baby.
- Saliva. Babies who drool when eating or sleeping can get rashes on their faces, because saliva can irritate sensitive skin. Put Vaseline on her cheeks before mealtime or naptime to create a barrier between the saliva and her skin.
The good news is that many children will grow out of their eczema when they reach their teens. At this time, eczema isn’t curable, but it can be managed and your baby can be more comfortable.