If your infant’s eczema causes him to scratch and rub, the fact that he might outgrow his condition is only mildly comforting. Eczema appears on the skin as dry, red, scaly patches that can “weep” and crust over. It is a chronic, recurring condition that often develops in the folds of a baby's neck where irritants tend to settle. Eczema can’t be cured, but good daily skin care can help you manage your baby’s condition. The key is to keep your baby's neck clean, dry and well-moisturized.
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Eczema generally appears within the first five years – and often within the first six months -- of life. It’s fairly common among infants, affecting one in every five or six babies, according to Chicago-based pediatric dermatologist Anthony Mancini. Although some cases of infant eczema are linked to food allergies, environmental causes, such as pollution, are often to blame. Your baby might experience periods of relative calm when her eczema is barely noticeable, followed by serious flair-ups. Although chances are good your baby won’t have issues with eczema when she’s older, some people continue to suffer as adults.
In infants, eczema commonly appears on the cheeks, forehead, scalp and neck. Eczema that develops in these areas tends to worsen when the affected skin comes in contact with irritants such as harsh soaps, infant formula, saliva and sweat. When your baby nurses, drinks from a bottle or cup, spits up or eats from a spoon, some amount of her meal is likely to travel down her chin and settle in the folds of her neck, especially if she is too young to hold her head up independently. You’ll need to be aware and vigilant, drying off your child’s neck during and after meals, following a bath, when she sweats and at all other times that her neck appears damp.
Keeping the Neck Dry
Dressing your baby in a bib or tucking a small wash cloth under her chin can help with absorption of milk and drool during mealtimes. When moisture does accumulate in the folds of her neck, promptly dry the area, taking care to pat rather than rub. Rubbing can further aggravate her condition, causing her eczema to bleed. Applying a coat of petroleum jelly or additive-free moisturizing cream to her clean, dry neck seals in the skin’s natural oils and establishes a barrier, preventing saliva, spit-up and sweat from penetrating her skin. Allowing your baby to play on her tummy with her neck extended helps prevent a build-up of spit up and saliva.
Caring for your baby’s condition might require some experimentation with the many treatment options. Your doctor will recommend skin-care products to use, as well as the use of steroids and antihistamines. Keep in mind that other skin conditions that occur in infants require different treatments. If it's not clear that what you’re seeing is eczema, or if your baby’s skin condition worsens, consult with her doctor to determine the best course of action.