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What is Eczema? Tips for Treating Your Toddler

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What is Eczema? Tips for Treating Your Toddler

Eczema is a genetic condition that affects over ten percent of children, making it the most common skin condition in children aged ten years and younger. Eczema is an umbrella term for conditions that irritate the skin, causing it to appear dry, itchy, and inflamed. It is often referred to as “atopic dermatitis,” the origin of which means “skin inflammation.” 

 

Much like food allergies, there is no cure for eczema, but you can treat the symptoms. Rest assured, the condition is not contagious. Understanding what eczema looks like, the cause, and what eczema treatments are available can be an invaluable start to helping you and your child cope with this condition.

 

What is Eczema?

Eczema is a condition where the skin appears irritated, red, itchy, bumpy, and dry. Often caused by an overactive immune system response, eczema takes the form of a rash area on the skin. Some people with eczema also have asthma and hay fever—all known as “atopic” conditions. These people are susceptible to allergens, and for some, food allergies can make their symptoms worse. The inflammation could be caused by a food allergy or environmental allergens such as pet dander, dust, and pollen.

A child with eczema holding cotton candy

What Does Eczema Look Like?

Eczema can look different as a child ages, so eczema for toddlers may not appear the same as that of an older child.  Eczema for toddlers may appear as a painful, itchy rash on their face, torso, or body. Typically affecting the face, cheeks, chin, and forehead, the rash may also appear on other areas of the body, but not in the diaper area, where moisture serves as a protectant for the skin. As the baby grows, you may see eczema on their elbows and knees that will become irritated by crawling. The red, itchy bumps can also appear in the creases of their elbows, knees, and on their eyelids, wrists, ankles, and hands. If you notice a red, itchy rash on your toddler and are wondering if eczema is what you are looking at, it is best to consult a physician before treating it yourself.

 

What Causes Eczema?

While it is unknown precisely what causes eczema, it is understood to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors. When something triggers the immune system, the cells do not respond as they should, resulting in itchy, inflamed skin.

Common environmental triggers for eczema for toddlers include:

  • dry skin
  • hot temperatures and sweating
  • infection
  • pet dander, dust, and pollen

 

Skin is often irritated by heat, so keeping clothing light and breathable helps keep your child cool. Sweating at night can be alleviated with lightweight sheets and bedspreads and keeping the temperature down, especially in their room.

The good news? It is estimated that two-thirds of children “outgrow” their eczema but may continue to have dry skin issues. Many kids have improved eczema symptoms by the age of five or six. Some outgrow the skin condition entirely. Because there is no cure, an essential part of managing eczema for toddlers is learning their symptoms and triggers and establishing a plan to avoid them. 

 A little boy scratching his eczema

Does Food Trigger Eczema for Toddlers?

About thirty percent of babies with eczema have food allergies, the most common of which is cow’s milk. As you learn your child’s symptoms, you may observe a pattern of breakouts after eating certain foods. The most common foods that contribute to skin inflammation include nuts, milk, and wheat. Typically, you will see a breakout within six to twenty-four hours after eating the food that triggers eczema.

Some common foods that trigger flare-ups include:

  • dairy
  • eggs
  • wheat or gluten
  • some nuts
  • soy
  • tomatoes
  • some spices (cinnamon, vanilla, cloves)

 

If you are unsure if a particular food is triggering eczema for your toddler, you can eliminate it from their diet entirely and then slowly add it back, watching for signs of inflammation and rash. 

While some foods trigger an inflammation response in the body, others are anti-inflammatory, such as:

 

  • fish high in omega-3
  • foods high in probiotics, such as yogurt
  • foods high in anti-inflammatory flavonoids such as fruits and vegetables

 

Adding anti-inflammatory foods while eliminating trigger foods from your child’s diet can help reduce flare-ups and be an effective complement to any other eczema treatment. Lastly, just add water. Drinking water is an easy way to keep the body hydrated which adds moisture to the skin. Though food is not always a trigger for eczema, the time spent ruling out dietary triggers is useful and can give valuable insight into managing the condition better. 

 A sandwich that can nutritionally help eczema

What Eczema Treatments are Available?

While eczema for toddlers can be a nuisance, there are eczema treatments available that can relieve symptoms. The start of treatment for toddlers with eczema is bath time; use gentle cleansers and moisturize the skin thoroughly.  Bathing in warm—not hot—water and keeping the skin moisturized throughout the day is key to reducing dryness and keeping out allergens and common irritants. There is a good selection of over-the-counter treatments available to help prevent and manage eczema for toddlers. Gentle cleansers, moisturizers, corticosteroids, mineral oil, and petroleum jelly are commonly found on the shelves of your local market.

In consultation with a healthcare provider, you can also utilize prescription treatments, such as:

  • topical medications
  • biologics
  • immunosuppressants
  • phototherapy

Eczema for toddlers is a common condition; no parent wants to see their child irritated and uncomfortable from a skin condition. While monitoring diet can be effective, eczema can be more manageable with the right skincare products and experts on your team. Relief from symptoms is the goal of any eczema treatment, and the quality of the products used will make a significant difference in treating eczema for toddlers.

Take care to use unscented and naturally sourced products to reduce the possibility of flare-ups from skincare products. Effective skincare products such as moisturizers, gentle cleansers, and bath soaks offer relief and provide ongoing management of symptoms when used correctly and partnered with a proper diet.