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Your FAQs About Childhood Eczema Answered

Gloved hand checking eczema on a child's arm
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes dry skin, itchy skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters and skin infections.

Published on July 6, 2022

Read Time: Five Minutes

You may have heard the phrase, “as smooth as a baby’s bottom,” but what happens when a baby’s skin is not so smooth? If your baby or child develops rashes or turns red often, or you start noticing patches of dry skin, your child may have a skin condition known as eczema.

So, what exactly is eczema? How can eczema be treated? And what should parents do or not do if their child has eczema?

Below are answers to 15 frequently asked questions about childhood eczema.

1. What is eczema?

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes dry skin, itchy skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters and skin infections.

2. What are the different types of eczema in children?

Children generally experience five different types of eczema:

  • Atopic dermatitis refers to rashes that are due to a combination of immune dysregulation, barrier (skin) dysfunction and the environment.
  • Contact dermatitis is an inflammatory reaction of skin due to contact with an irritating substance or item (like snaps on pants or earrings). Babies are susceptible to the irritation of saliva on the face.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema is a type of contact irritation of skin resulting in little blisters due to an irritant, such as soaps or sweat, located between the fingers or toes, affecting hands and feet. 
  • Nummular eczema refers to small circular, scattered patches ond skin (like coins) that are sometimes oozing and irritating.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis is characterized by dry, yellowish scales on the scalp, eyebrows, nose and forehead. This type of eczema is commonly known as “cradle cap” and develops through a combination of factors that cause the skin to produce more oil.

3. How common is eczema? 

Over 31.6 million Americans (or 10% of the population) have some form of eczema. One in 10 individuals will develop eczema during their lifetime, with prevalence peaking in early childhood.

4. What are common causes of eczema in children?

Eczema is caused by a combination of the following:

  • Immune system activation
  • Environmental triggers
  • Stress
  • Genetics (A child is more likely to have eczema if one or more of their parents has a history of eczema.)

5. What are symptoms of childhood eczema?

Each type of eczema presents in a specific way. Symptoms of eczema generally include the following:

  • Rash
  • Inflammation
  • Irritation
  • Itchy feeling (Itchy skin is the most common symptom of eczema.)

6. Where does eczema appear on the body?

Eczema can appear anywhere on the body. In children, eczema is most commonly found on the face, extremities, abdomen and diaper area.

7. Is eczema an allergic reaction?

For the most part, eczema is not caused by an allergy. With contact dermatitis, however, a child may have an allergy to the item or substance that comes in contact with the skin. Instead of an allergen, the item causing the irritation, which turns into a rash is known as a “trigger.” Avoiding these triggers (such as dust, perfumes, soaps and materials) is a key step to decreasing eczema flare-ups.

8. Will my child outgrow eczema?

Most children outgrow eczema. However, eczema is a serious condition for teens and adults who continue to suffer. Adult eczema is a chronic condition that involves inflamed, red, itchy patches of skin that can erupt in oozing flare-ups.

9. Is eczema contagious?

Eczema is not contagious. Eczema is a skin condition, not an infection or illness that can be spread or shared.

10. What treatment options do you recommend for childhood eczema?

Mild cases can be treated with ointments, such as petroleum jelly or creams, to protect the skin barrier and prevent loss of moisture. These ointments should be applied several times per day and especially right after a daily bath. Bathing allows the skin to absorb much needed moisture.  Avoid all perfumed soaps, harsh cleaners and perfumed laundry detergents.

In cases of more moderate to severe eczema, topical steroids and oral antihistamines are often used to control flare-ups. Topical steroid creams or ointments may be used for short periods of time (less than 10 days) and rotated with non-medicated ointments or creams to continue to lock in moisture.

Children with eczema should drink plenty of water and avoid drying out their skin in warm temperatures or dry environments.

11. How often should my children bathe or shower if they have eczema? Should they use special soap?

Children with eczema should bathe daily, in warm water, with limited use of pH balanced (hypoallergenic, or unlikely to cause an allergic reaction) skin cleansers. Skin should be gently patted dry without a rubbing or irritating motion. Immediately following the bath, children should be slathered with cream or ointment (avoid lotions) to “seal in” moisture. This technique is called “soak and smear” and can provide relief from the itching that comes with eczema.

12. How does a child’s diet affect their eczema?

No diet or foods can “cure” eczema, but some foods can be a trigger for a rash. Families can try restricting foods that appear to cause symptoms directly after exposure. Rashes from eczema can be due to an intolerance or sensitivity to certain foods.

13. If my child has eczema, can they go swimming?

Unfortunately, swimming can be difficult for children with eczema. If the child has open sores or severe rashes, the child should avoid swimming. Chlorine also can irritate or dry out the skin. If a child with eczema goes swimming, they should rinse off immediately after swimming and moisturize. Test out an area on the child’s skin with sunscreen before going swimming or to the beach to see if the child will have any reaction to the sunscreen ingredients. Remember to use hypoallergenic products.

14. What advice do you have for children with eczema and having pets?

Animal dander, saliva and fur can all be irritants and cause eczema flare-ups. Children should avoid too much physical contact with the animals and should wash their hands after petting them. If a child has eczema, the pet should not sleep in the child’s bed. Vacuum and damp dust regularly. Pets should be brushed or groomed often to get rid of excess hair, dander and any pollen and irritants on their fur from the outdoors.

15. If my child has eczema, when should I take them to a pediatrician or dermatologist?

If your child has eczema and you have concerns, start by talking to your child’s pediatrician. Your child’s healthcare provider may refer you to a dermatologist or an allergy specialist for help with controlling or alleviating symptoms of eczema.

Have Questions About Childhood Eczema?

Learn more about childhood eczema from the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Found in: Care Child Childhood Eczema Eczema Health