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My Itchy Baby: How to diagnose and treat baby eczema

ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExpertsParentingPost Category - ParentingParenting - Post Category - BabyBabyHealth & WellnessPost Category - Health & WellnessHealth & Wellness - Post Category - WellnessWellness

Are you noticing red rashes or excessive baby acne on your little babe? It could very well be Atopic Dermatitis, or Baby Eczema, which is an itchy skin condition characterised by dry, rough skin on the scalp, chest, abdomen and limbs. It is usually an indication of a misguided, sensitive immune system overreacting to certain triggers in the food and environment. Incidences of baby eczema have jumped five fold in the last 60 years, but it often goes undiagnosed.

When treated appropriately, the atopic skin will heal, but if not, the condition can progress to full blown eczema and respiratory allergies. In addition to skin lesions, atopic babies experience dietary discomfort and a mum will find herself with a very unhappy itchy bub on her hands. Here, respected homeopath Dr. Sonal Hattangdi-Haridas answers all your questions for itchy baby relief! 

My 3 week old has red rashes on the face and body. Could it simply be baby acne or something more serious?
Some infants do have mild facial acne due to mummy’s hormones. If the rashes are extensive and accompanied by fussiness, feeding difficulties, explosive diarrhea or constipation, it may be the first sign the baby is reacting to something. This could be the beginning of atopic dermatitis.

If the rash is only on areas normally covered by clothing, it may be a heat rash. Many caregivers wrap the baby too warm for comfort. Always check under the baby’s clothes for warmth and perspiration.

How can I check for early signs of sensitivities to environment and food?
‘Smooth as babies skin’ is just that – your babe’s skin should be ‘smooth’ to the touch. Hong Kong humidity is wonderful at keeping skin moist with only a few dry months from November to early Jan. Routinely check baby’s tummy, forearms, cheeks, scalp and bends of joints for any roughness. Be especially vigilant when introducing formula or any new foods.  From my experience, patches of rough skin are one of the first indicators of an immune response.

My baby has been diagnosed with atopic dry skin. What can I apply to the skin to make it less itchy and dry?
Keeping the skin moist and using emollients to protect the skin barrier are an integral part of healing. Moist skin is less itchy so it prevents further excoriation through scratching. A variety of emollients in the form of creams, ointments and lotions are available for sensitive dry skin. It is best to spot test any applications on baby’s skin for a few days before general applications. Though natural products are always preferred, some atopic children may have certain allergies (such as nut oils) so be careful to always check labels before applying.

What are the common methods of treatment for eczema?
Conventional GPs and dermatologists help reduce the rashes locally by introducing mild steroid creams. The steroid creams quickly reduce inflammation. The relief is usually temporary and the creams need to be reapplied often. Antihistamines are also commonly given to reduce the itching and help the baby sleep. Parents must educate themselves on positive and negative implications of long-term steroid treatment and make informed choices under the guidance of their physician.

Alternatively, natural therapies gauge eczema as a systemic issue and treat them holistically. Since atopic dermatitis is a body’s immune reaction to environmental and food based allergens, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy help to address the root of the problem by balancing the body’s immune system. Homeopathy options include plant-based remedies such as Bryonia and Pulsatilla, which are wonderful in balancing the body and healing the skin.

Is it true that if I let the eczema continue my child will become asthmatic?
Children with atopic dermatitis or eczema have a tendency to nasal and chest allergies as the immune system is hyper reactive. Creams that suppress the eczema help at skin-level, but the immune sensitivities within the body remain. Therefore, the tendency for nasal and chest issues continues. Holistic treatments balance from within and thus help mitigate the overall allergic tendency.

I have been told to stop breastfeeding and put the baby on formula as the baby’s skin seems to be reacting to my breast milk.
Breast milk is the best most natural food we can give our children. The reality is, the best substitute for breast milk does not exist. If the child’s body is reacting to the breast milk, the reaction would be to something that mummy is eating. As most formulas are derivatives of dairy and soy, there is a fair chance that the child is sensitive to casein in cow’s milk or soy protein; in this case, it’s worth the time and effort to scrutinise mummy’s eating habits and first eliminate possible allergens from the diet.

If you do decide to experiment with formulas, please remember to pump and keep up the milk supply so you’re not at a loss if you need to switch back. A year of persistence and time given in breastfeeding and in some cases dietary restrictions for Mum will translate to much less time spent in the pediatrician’s waiting room over the next few years.

I have read that atopic dermatitis is a chronic disease. How long will treatments last?
Depending on the severity of the case, you can expect to see clearance of the symptoms within 1-2 weeks for topical treatments, i.e. creams, lotions, etc. More severe cases may require application for several more weeks. If homeopathic remedies are used, treatment generally lasts a few weeks to a few months, depending on the complexity. Flare-ups, if any, tend to be less recurrent and slowly dissipate over time.

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