Healthy skin helps retain moisture and protects you from bacteria, irritants and allergens. Eczema is related to a gene variation that affects the skin's ability to provide this protection. This allows your skin to be affected by environmental factors, irritants and allergens.
In some children, food allergies may play a role in causing eczema. Doctors aren't really sure what causes eczema. It seems to run in families, so if one of your parents or siblings has it, there may be a stronger chance that you or your child will have it, too.
Kids with it sometimes have someone in the family who has allergies, hay fever, or asthma. Some experts think that makes them more likely to get eczema. About half of kids who get it will also get hay fever or asthma.
Living somewhere that’s often cold or has a lot of pollution may increase your chances of getting it, as well.
Food allergies do not cause atopic dermatitis. However, having atopic dermatitis may indicate an increased risk for food allergies, such as to peanuts for example.
Atopic dermatitis isn't contagious. You can't catch it or give it to someone else.
The primary risk factor for atopic dermatitis is having a personal or family history of eczema, allergies, hay fever or asthma.
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) signs and symptoms vary widely from person to person and include:
Atopic dermatitis most often begins before age 5 and may persist into adolescence and adulthood. For some people, it flares periodically and then clears up for a time, even for several years.
No lab test is needed to identify atopic dermatitis (eczema). Your doctor will likely make a diagnosis by examining your skin and reviewing your medical history. He or she may also use patch testing or other tests to rule out other skin diseases or identify conditions that accompany your eczema.
If you suspect a certain food caused your child's rash, tell the doctor and ask about identifying potential food allergies.
Atopic dermatitis can be persistent. You may need to try various treatments over months or years to control it. And even if treatment is successful, signs and symptoms may return (flare).
It's important to recognize the condition early so that you can start treatment. If regular moisturizing and other self-care steps don't help, your doctor may suggest one or more of the following treatments:
Other creams containing drugs called calcineurin inhibitors — such as tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel) — affect your immune system. They are used by people older than age 2 to help control the skin reaction. Apply it as directed, after you moisturize. Avoid strong sunlight when using these products.
These drugs have a black box warning about a potential risk of cancer. But the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has concluded that the risk-to-benefit ratios of topical pimecrolimus and tacrolimus are similar to those of most other conventional treatments of persistent eczema and that the data don't support the use of the black box warning.
Though effective, long-term light therapy has harmful effects, including premature skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. For these reasons, phototherapy is less commonly used in young children and not given to infants. Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of light therapy.
Treatment for eczema in babies (infantile eczema) includes:
See your baby's doctor if these measures don't improve the rash or if the rash looks infected. Your baby may need a prescription medication to control the rash or to treat an infection. Your doctor may also recommend an oral antihistamine to help lessen the itch and to cause drowsiness, which may be helpful for nighttime itching and discomfort.
The following tips may help prevent bouts of dermatitis (flares) and minimize the drying effects of bathing:
Infants and children may experience flares from eating certain foods, including eggs, milk, soy and wheat. Talk with your child's doctor about identifying potential food allergies.
Soak from the neck down or just the affected areas of skin for about 10 minutes. Do not submerge the head. Take a bleach bath no more than twice a week.