What is eczema?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, affects 1 in 5 children under 2 years of age. It can also occur in older children and adults, but usually improves with age.

The skin in people with eczema is different to the skin in people who do not have eczema.

In people with eczema the skin barrier does not work as well and moisture is easily lost from the skin causing it to be dry and itchy.


Dry, itchy skin is really uncomfortable, and it is important that eczema is treated properly.

Take your baby to see your doctor if you think they have eczema. Your doctor, nurse practitioner and child health nurse will be able to help you to manage your baby’s eczema properly.

Using moisturisers twice a day is important to improve and maintain the condition of the skin when someone has eczema. Moisturisers fill the gaps between the skin cells which reduce water loss from the skin to stop it being dry and itchy. Moisturisers containing common allergy causing foods such as cow’s milk, goat products, coconut oil and nut oils are not recommended as these may increase the chance of your child developing an allergy to those foods.


Before applying a moisturiser or any treatments to your baby’s skin, it is important that you wash your hands thoroughly. This will make sure you have removed any potential allergens and bacteria from your hands.

Eczema causes redness, itchiness, oozing and over time, a rough hardened thickened skin may occur if the eczema is not managed well. When eczema worsens, this is called an eczema flare.

What can trigger eczema?

Known eczema triggers (things that can make eczema flare) in some people include:

  • Dry skin
  • Scratching (night gloves and clipped fingernails may be needed in young children)
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Swimming in chlorinated swimming pools
  • Playing in sand and particularly sandpits
  • Sitting directly on carpets or grass
  • House dust mites
  • Pollen allergy (eczema symptoms often worse in spring/summer)
  • Irritants such as perfumes, soap, chemicals, woollen or synthetic fabrics
  • Temperature changes, such as heat, or overly heated rooms
  • Stress can make it worse, but eczema is not a psychological condition

These triggers may be relevant for some people; however, it is not routinely recommended that everyone should avoid all of these potential triggers.

Most young children like to play in sandpits and swim in chlorinated swimming pools, so it is important that they can do these things, without making the eczema worse.

Simple things like wearing long pants when playing in a sandpit can help your child to enjoy the activity without causing a problem for their eczema.

Talk to your doctor, nurse practitioner or child health nurse for more help about how to manage your baby’s eczema.