To us, eczema was more than just an itch. Eczema disrupted good sleep habits, restricted my diet, changed our wardrobe, and broke my heart over and over again. My baby started developing eczema at around 5 months. He is now 16 months old and his skin is clear most of the time but it has been a frustrating journey to get to this point. I had read that eczema patients often have “flare-ups” at which point their eczema becomes active; well my son’s eczema was continuously “flared-up” with me having to apply the prescribed steroids almost every day. Although the steroids would eventually clear up the redness in his skin, it would never completely relieve the itching associated with eczema. The best advice I can give to fellow parents of eczema sufferers, based on my experience, is to be alert to what triggers your baby’s eczema off and try and eliminate or control these triggers. Be aware however, that your child’s allergy triggers and the associated symptoms will change as he/she grows.
This article documents my investigation into what triggers my son’s eczema, as well as measures we put in place to eliminate or reduce the reaction to triggers. Take note that eczema triggers vary from baby to baby, so conduct your own investigation for your little one and take the appropriate associated steps to relieve your loved ones eczema.
Trigger 1: Laundry Detergents
My son’s eczema first started showing when we changed his laundry detergent. We had run out of our usual baby detergent and so we used a different brand of baby detergent. Our cutie’s skin was rough to the touch on all the areas of skin exposed to the clothes. When we changed back to the previous baby detergent, his skin showed improvement.
As he became more sensitive, we noticed that when we held him against our own clothes, whilst carrying him or putting him to sleep, it caused his cheeks to light up bright red. We then started washing all our laundry with his baby detergent. Our clothes are none the worse for the change in detergent and it helped reduce his flare ups.
Lesson Learnt: Not all detergents, even those marketed as baby detergent’s, may be compatible with your baby’s skin.
Trigger 2: Wool
We had put a woollen jersey onto our son after a long time and within an hour he was all shades of red on the areas that the jersey collar was in contact with his face… he is allergic to wool! To eliminate this trigger we use only cotton clothes, blankets (with exception of baby sleep sacks which do not come into contact with his skin) and duvets on the baby. We have also removed woollen rugs from his play areas and replaced with rubber mats (much like yoga mats) which also serve as a great non-slip protective cushion on which to learn how to crawl and walk.
Trigger 3: Lanolin
After realising that my son was allergic to wool, I stumbled upon an article that stated that if you are allergic to wool then you are likely to have a hypersensitivity to lanolin. This made a lot of sense to me when I realised that the bum cream that previously caused him a red bum had contained lanolin. Lanolin is a by-product of wool, or more accurately stated, it is a wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep or other wool bearing animals. Several cosmetic products contain lanolin including baby moisturisers, nipple creams, sun-blocks and bum creams, as well as many moisturisers and aquaphors recommended for eczema.
We had then changed to a far cheaper, lanolin free bum cream and he has not suffered with a diaper rash since. We also stay away from products containing lanolin. By 11 months, our son seemed to be over his wool and lanolin allergy.
Trigger 4: Cow’s Milk Allergy
Cow’s milk was my son’s main eczema trigger and the reason that he was suffering from almost continuous eczema. My son has been exclusively breast fed so I was not aware that he was allergic to cow’s milk till I fed him cereal that contained cow’s milk. He broke out into hives around his face and neck about a minute into the feed. By the time we had got to the doctor’s rooms, he had mostly cleared up but began vomiting violently. Yes, my boy is truly a bundle of allergies…. Cow’s milk protein, specifically casein is the culprit here. After reading that casein does pass through into breast milk in trace amounts, I stopped consuming dairy – this made all the difference to his eczema. I had previously tried to stop consuming dairy for a week to see if this was related to my boy’s eczema, but his eczema had only become worse in this period. The problem was that I had not tried long enough. This time it took me more than 2 weeks of going without dairy before I had started seeing an improvement; his eczema again had become worse before it became better. His eczema is now almost completely clear with only occasional minor flare-ups due to temperature changes. Most notably, he no longer develops eczema in his ears, and when he does flare- up it is minor and limited to his cheeks and elbows.
At 13 months I reintroduced dairy into my diet whilst still breastfeeding with no noticeable change in his eczema profile, despite blood tests showing that he is still highly allergic to cow’s milk. This may be because his allergy symptoms have changed.
Trigger 5: Dry Air Conditions
Dry air gives you dry skin which increases susceptibility to eczema. The following tips help us prevent and relieve dry skin in our baby:
- Bath with Epimax or aqueous cream instead of soap;
- Moisturise twice in a day with coconut oil and Epimax after bath or wipe down;
- Moisturise face often since it is always exposed to the air and wash several times a day after meals;
- Apply an extra barrier layer of unscented petroleum jelly on the face if the air is particularly dry;
- Keep a humidifier on to increase air moisture content. The humidifier is especially necessary if you are using a heater at home. If you do not own a humidifier then place a shallow dish of water (out of reach of your child) in the room in which the heater is in use.
There are several other triggers that could set off your baby’s eczema. Keep alert to identify those things that are causing your precious baby to itch.
Trigger 6: Drastic Temperature Changes
This is a tricky trigger to control because it is almost impossible to control the temperature of every environment to which we expose our babies. My son’s first major eczema flare-up on the face was due to the sudden and drastic increase in ambient temperature conditions due to change of season. His face was red, peeling and so itchy he could not sleep soundly. We tried to cool him down with air-conditioning but the problem was that we only had air-conditioning in our bed room and so he was exposed to drastic changes in temperature when he moved in and out of the room which only worsened the eczema.
Also, sweat build-up in the folds of his skin aggravated his condition.
Steps we have taken to guard against eczema triggers due to sudden temperature changes:
- limit exposure to air- conditioning
- If we do use air- conditioning we do not change the ambient temperature too drastically, so that there isn’t a big temperature difference experienced when location is changed. We also keep a humidifier on, to guard against drying out of the air which will ultimately lead to drying of his skin.
Eventually my son acclimatises to the new temperature and his eczema heals. We take control measures listed below to reduce the symptoms of a breakout.
Daily Skin Maintenance
As thorough as you may be in the effort to keeping your little one away from his/her eczema triggers, flare-up’s do happen. This is my daily routine to prevent and control those incidents:
In the morning I give my baby a “top to toe”. I wipe each part of him with a soft face cloth and warm water. I apply coconut oil or almond oil followed by baby moisturiser whilst that part of the body is still wet; the wet skin enables better absorption of the oil and moisturiser. If he is drooling excessively or if the air is particularly dry, I follow up with some Vaseline on his chin and cheeks.
In the evening we bath him with aqueous cream or Epimax Junior followed by another massage with coconut oil and moisturiser while his skin is still warm.
When my baby’s eczema was very severe, I would re-apply moisturiser every hour on his face. I would also use the prescribed steroid ointment if needed and as often as recommended.