In most children eczema is caused by a genetic tendency to allergy, although 1 in 5 children who has eczema has not other signs of allergy.
There is a strong inherited tendency, so it is quite likely that other family members are also affected.
For eczema to develop, however, environmental factors are needed as well as susceptibility. It is not always to identify a trigger in particular with babies, but it may be contact with
- house dust
- animal fur
- pollen or all of them
Overheating, dry air, cold weather, coarse cloth, especially wool next to the skin, and possibly hard tap water can make eczema worse and so do teething, colds and other infections. In babies under one certain foods can aggravate eczema.
Ruby was diagnosed with eczema at six weeks old.
Her mum, Daniella, explains how they’ve learned to cope with Ruby’s condition.
At only 10 days old, Ruby developed a rash all over her, a bit like teenage spots with white pimples. Doctors thought it was her sebaceous glands not working properly and said it would go away. It did.
However, as there’s a history of eczema in my husband’s family and mine, and it’s a hereditary condition, I always thought she would develop it.
Doctors tell me not to use any of the commonly marketed baby products, perfumed products, or soap. Now, her treatment involves two baths daily using oil. Before the bath, I also cover her body in aqueous cream. I wash her body with a flannel rather than a sponge because flannels can be washed daily.
She doesn’t sleep with many cuddly toys in her cot as they can carry dust, and I don’t let her near animals as they can irritate and aggravate her skin.
Some foods have had an effect on her skin, too, so I have to make sure she doesn’t eat them and other people don’t give them to her. I also have to be careful with sun lotions and not to let her go in the sun too often.
At its worst, the eczema on her right arm became infected, and her skin went yellow and filled with pus. We quickly took her to the GP and she was put on antibiotics.
I spoke to the nurses at the hospital, who suggested trying a wet wrapping with some support, which is like a sports bandage, but I decided to cover the arm in moisturiser with a dry bandage over the top to try to stop her scratching in the night.
You can’t really stop a baby from scratching. You can distract them where possible and keep them occupied, keep their nails short by trimming them morning and night, and, as a last resort, I keep Ruby in long sleeves and cover her arms in a wet wrap.
Once I was driving home in the evening after Ruby’s normal bath time and she was tired and irritable. I noticed in my rear mirror that she was scratching and scratching, and her arm was bleeding. I was stuck in traffic and still far from home, so the best I could do was to sing songs to try to distract her. That was the hardest incident.
I hope she will grow out of the eczema. I grew out of it and so did other members of my family. However, some of the people on my husband’s side of the family still have it in their old age.”
Having battled against eczema for most of his life
John Fuller has tried just about every treatment option available.
John’s eczema began when he was a baby. “It was always there as far back as I can remember,” he says. “My skin would turn red raw and I would scratch and scratch. We tried everything from creams to salt baths. I have a very strong memory of sitting for ages in a salt bath because our GP suggested it. Luckily, I wasn’t bullied for having eczema like many children seem to be.”
When John was 11, the family went to Barbados for a holiday. While they were there, they discovered the aloe vera plant.
Someone suggested it might help my eczema and we were ready to try anything. Aloe vera is everywhere now, but back then nobody had heard of it. When we got back, we started growing it in our garden. I’d have to rub the plant juice all over me. Amazingly, the eczema cleared up for the next nine years.”
John hoped he’d grown out of the condition. However, his eczema came back when he was finishing university. “The redness and the itching began again,” he says. “Soon it was all over my arms and legs, and it’s been there ever since.”
John says he’s tried every treatment going, including steroid pills and creams, and cyclosporin, a strong drug used mainly to stop transplant patients rejecting their new organs. It works by damping down the immune system.
That was effective for a couple of years but it can damage your internal organs, so you can’t stay on a high dose for too long,” he explains. “I had to have regular blood tests to make sure everything was working properly, and eventually had to go on such a low dose that it wasn’t worth it.
I’ve been in hospital three times. In hospital you get the same treatment that you do at home, but it’s more intensive and it’s also cleaner.”
He has also experimented with complementary therapies. “I went to a Chinese herbalist, who gave me some disgusting-tasting tea to drink every night,” he says. “For a while, it seemed to work. Then the eczema came back. I found a lot of things work for a while but then lose their effectiveness.”
John tries his best to live a normal life, but says it’s not easy. “When the itching is really bad, it’s very hard to concentrate at work,” he says. “Sometimes I have to take time off. Employers don’t like that, and it has an impact on everyone I work with. Sometimes sleeping is just impossible and that affects my daily life as well. I love playing cricket but direct sunlight turns me bright red. I look like a tomato.”
John is resigned to living with his condition, but he still has hope. “Nobody knows why I have eczema and as yet there’s no cure, but you never know. One day I could wake up and the eczema will be gone. Until then, I have to make do with the treatments we have.”