What is eczema?
Eczema is a form of dermatitis - inflammation of the skin. Sufferers generally display cracked, red, dry skin which can be very itchy. One of the most common forms of dermatitis in young children and babies is atopic eczema. This is one of the most common forms of allergy experienced by babies with cows’ milk allergy.
Atopic eczema is triggered by an allergic reaction (atopy is an increased sensitivity to allergens). People with atopy often suffer from eczema, hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and allergic asthma all together.
How does eczema occur?
It is not clear exactly what causes eczema in babies or children, or anyone for that matter. One possibility is that the skin barrier that protects against moisture loss does not function as well, so the skin is more prone to drying out. This can lead to changes in the immune system of the skin, which could cause the immune system to release chemicals which cause irritation, redness and itching.
When eczema is caused by a cows’ milk allergy, it is a result of the body’s allergic reaction to the proteins in the cow’s milk in those infants or children who are atopic.
How can Eczema linked to Cows’ Milk Allergy be managed?
The symptoms of cows’ milk allergy can include eczema which is triggered by an allergic reaction.
Flare-ups of eczema in allergic babies can become quite frequent if they are fed a cows’ milk-based diet. Cows’ milk allergy does not have a cure, so both the allergy and its symptoms (in this case, eczema) must simply be managed or outgrown. In addition you may need to consider a cow’s milk free diet under medical supervision to alleviate flare-ups of eczema.
Where does eczema occur?
You will tend to notice eczema on a baby in the following places:
- behind the knees
How can eczema in babies be managed
Unfortunately, it is not possible to cure eczema in babies or in children. However, there are some things that you can do to help ease the symptoms of baby eczema:
- Dress baby in light, natural fabrics such as cotton to allow the skin to breathe.
- Avoid using fabric softeners which may irritate the skin.
- Use fragrance-free soaps and detergents when washing clothing and bedding, as the chemicals which create the fragrance can also cause irritation.
- Trim baby’s nails short to avoid scratching, which can make eczema worse. Put mittens and socks on for bedtime if baby will tolerate it.
- During eczema flare-ups, apply a cool compress several times a day followed by moisturiser. This can be a relaxing way for parents and children with eczema to deal with the condition.
There are also steps which you can take before flare-ups happen that might help you to soothe the effect on babies with eczema:
- Avoid smoking around your baby, as tobacco smoke can aggravate sensitive skin.
- Heat and cold affect the skin, so avoid extremes of both. Apply moisturiser or emollient to keep the skin hydrated, especially during cold weather.
- Babies with eczema often have other allergies like hayfever, so try to limit their exposure to things which can trigger allergic reactions such as pollen or dust.
- Vacuum regularly, wash bedding at 60°C and groom any pets as often as possible to reduce the amount of dander from their coats.
Eczema can be a difficult condition to deal with, as it can cause upset to babies and young children and therefore to parents as well. As the exact cause of eczema is not known, there is no cure for it – but babies with eczema can often grow out of it by early childhood, and most children grow out of it by the time they reach their teenage years.
Where eczema is linked to cows’ milk allergy, managing the underlying allergy through eliminating cows’ milk protein from your baby’s diet (or from your diet if you are breastfeeding) can help alleviate symptoms associated with atopic eczema.
What to do next
If you suspect that your baby or infant may have eczema, or is showing other symptoms that could be caused by cows’ milk allergy, use our symptoms checker tool for more information or alternatively talk to your GP about any concerns you may have. The National Eczema Society can also provide advice and support to those living with, or caring for people with eczema (www.eczema.org).
Getting a diagnosis
How can you find out for sure if your child is allergic to cows' milk? What will your child's doctor do to confirm the diagnosis?Read More