Infant and Childhood Eczema
Identifying and Understanding Eczema
Eczema is a common problem of infancy and thousands of mothers have spent many anguished moments dealing with itching, squirming, unhappy infants with uncomfortable skin. The problem often appears on the face as patches of reddish, scaling skin. As the eczema worsens, the skin becomes more itchy, red, thickened, and grooved, and may blister, weep, and crack. It commonly develops at three to six months of age, a time of great stress to the digestive system.
The typical distribution of eczema is on the face, behind the ears, on the fronts of the elbows, the backs of the knees, the hands, neck, and trunk. Night time restlessness, irritability, and crying are common. When the child begins to crawl, the exposed areas especially the extensor aspects of knees are affected. Diaper rash and cradle cap are common associations and may be severe.
So why do some infants have such sensitive skin? The most common cause is a malfunctioning digestive system. Before birth the baby receives all its nourishment from the mother via the umbilical cord, and the digestive system doesn’t have to work. Once the baby is born, one of the greatest challenges it faces is digesting food. Relative to its size, a baby’s food requirement is enormous in order to provide enough nourishment for proper growth and development. The skin is an external expression of our internal condition: a way our body can communicate with us. If our digestive system is not eliminating waste effectively, the skin is a secondary means of doing so. Eczema is often a symptom of this secondary means of waste removal.
Another cause of eczema is environmental sensitivity. The most common culprits are soaps, detergents, shampoos, and creams. All of these wonderful smelling products we love to lather onto our babies contain perfumes and chemicals that can cause irritation to the skin resulting in eczema.
Testing and Diagnosis:
Observation: watching and recording your child’s reaction to food via a diet diary can be a useful tool; however, it does take some detective work to find which foods are causing the problem. For breastfed infants suffering from eczema, the mother’s diet must be monitored and modified. Formula fed infants with eczema are almost always reacting to the cow’s milk protein in the formula, and should instead be breast fed if possible, or switched to a hypoallergenic or soy based formula. (Note: the WHO recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants for the first six months and continuing to breast feed with the introduction of food from six to twelve months). If you suspect that the eczema is being caused by environmental sensitivity, change your baby products to fragrance free, hypoallergenic types.
• Blood testing: this measures the amount of antibodies in the blood in response to specific foods. The antibodies are called immunoglobulins (IgG, IgE), which are small proteins produced by the immune system in response to potentially harmful substances. New techniques offer finger prick tests rather than blood draws for more comfortable and convenient testing with equally reliable results.
• Wait and see approach: diet changes can be very difficult and some people opt for the wait and see approach. Sometimes an infant will outgrow a sensitivity as the digestive system matures; however, this approach can lead to extremely severe digestive malfunctioning and further sensitivities down the road.
1. Diet: it is important to find the foods that are causing your infant or child to react and eliminate them from your (if breastfeeding) or their diet. The most common foods that children have difficulty digesting are dairy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, acidic foods, food additives and some naturally occurring food chemicals such as salicylates.
2. Feeding: small, frequent meals have proven to help relieve the burden on a poorly functioning digestive system, by reducing the work required of it when presented with fewer, but larger meals.
3. Soap: although they smell great, perfumes and fragrances can be extremely irritating. Try using hypoallergenic laundry detergent and fragrance free products to see if it makes a difference.
4. Creams and oils: creams containing herbs such as calendula, plantain, oats, and nettle, as well as any oil that you would ingest (olive oil or grape seed oil for example) can provide relief from the dry, red, itchy symptoms of eczema. Just remember, these are only symptomatic relief and are not reaching the underlying cause of the problem.
5. Baths: Avena sativa (oat seed) baths will also provide symptomatic relief. Simply fill a tea sack or cheese cloth with organic oat tips and allow them to soak in the bathwater. They should release a milky substance that is soothing to the skin.
6. Topical corticosteroids: will provide relief and may even temporarily remove the symptom of eczema; however, treating eczema with steroids suppresses the body’s external expression of an internal problem. When a symptom is suppressed, it tends to show up somewhere else. There is a strong association between infant eczema and childhood asthma.
It is important to note that often a skin condition will get worse before it improves. The reason the condition may worsen is that the body is eliminating all the toxin from the skin which takes a few days after the culprit has been removed. Hold fast to your treatment for a couple of weeks to see if there is any improvement.
Have a great day,
The Vitality Team