Eczema at any age is an upsetting condition. But it’s especially miserable for the 20% of Australian children under two who don’t understand why their skin is so itchy and prickly. Seeing their child in discomfort can also cause a lot of stress for parents.
Eczema is the name for a group of inflammatory, non-contagious, skin conditions that cause the skin to become intensely itchy and inflamed. If your child has any of these symptoms it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis. Understanding which type of eczema they have is key to how you can manage their condition. Atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is the most common form of baby eczema.
What causes baby eczema?
The exact cause isn’t known but people with eczema tend to have an over-sensitive immune system. When a foreign substance (an allergen) enters the body, the immune system responds by producing chemical messengers which trigger the activity of an army of immune defence cells. In eczema sufferers, the immune system reacts to allergens that don’t cause a reaction in other people, and the immune response can be much stronger.
The allergens that set off the immune response in eczema can be different in different people. Soaps, detergents, stress, and even the weather have all been implicated. Foods are not generally thought to be eczema-causing allergens although food allergies do often co-exist in young children with eczema.
Recent research has also uncovered evidence that the inheritance of certain genes may result in a gene mutation that impairs the production of a protein called filaggrin. Filaggrin plays a critical role in maintaining the skin barrier function by binding with keratin. A lack of filaggrin affects the structure of the skin’s layers, making it vulnerable to allergens and more prone to dehydration.
How can you manage your child’s eczema?
Unfortunately, eczema can’t be ‘cured’ although it often tends to improve significantly or disappear as children grow up. Management of the symptoms is the main option you have for easing their discomfort. Minimising the itch factor is probably the most important thing you can do, as the more they scratch the more they are likely to damage their skin. Once the skin is damaged it can get infected which causes it to get itchy, causing more scratching…the dreaded itch-scratch cycle. Keeping their skin moisturised is very important as this helps to protect the skin barrier function by locking in moisture. Bathing them in tepid water, using natural fibres for towels, bedding, and clothing, and keeping their nails short can all help to reduce itching, scratching and inflammation.
Probiotic supplements may also help
Probiotics, or ‘good bacteria’, are living micro-organisms that exist naturally in our bodies. They are found in the digestive system, on the skin, in the mouth, in the urinary tract…literally everywhere. Collectively they are known as our microbiota. They are vital to our health and wellbeing and certain species play an important role in immune function.
The evolving intestinal microbiota in infants have a significant impact on the developing immune system, and in the development and maintenance of a balanced inflammatory response towards innocuous and potential pathogens. If your baby suffers from mild eczema then a supplement containing specific probiotic strains may help relieve their symptoms.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a clinically studied probiotic strain of bacteria that may help to decrease itchy, prickling skin associated with mild eczema and dermatitis in healthy kids under the age of 2 years by directly affecting the immune system. Lactobacillus rhamnosus supports balance and harmony in the immune cell response by decreasing pro-inflammatory markers and stimulating anti-inflammatory markers [4,5]. Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus salivarius are two other probiotic species that have been isolated from breastmilk and are found in the gut of breastfed infants.
- Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy: www.allergy.org.au/patients/skin-allergy/eczema
- Eczema Association Australasia: https://www.eczema.org.au/dry-skin-and-the-filaggrin-gene and https://dermnetnz.org/topics/causes-of-atopic-dermatitis
- The development of gut immune responses and gut microbiota: effects of probiotics in prevention and treatment of allergic disease. Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 2002 Mar;3(1):15-22
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG-Derived Soluble Mediators Modulate Adaptive Immune Cells. Front Immunol. 2018; 9: 1546
- Effects of probiotics on the prevention of atopic dermatitis. Korean J Pediatr. 2012 Jun; 55(6): 193–201
Article supplied by Caruso's Natural Health