Skin ailments, whether caused by heat, moisture or an infection, are usually not very serious. Still, it’s important to treat problems early so that your child isn’t irritable or restless for too long. Some skin problems are also infectious, so you need to know if it’s safe for your child to socialise when he has a specific skin condition.
- “The most common skin disorder in newborns is called ‘urticaria of the newborn’ (or toxic erythema), which affects about half of all full-term newborn babies.
- What you’d see are scattered pink or red marks, often with small bumps or pustules and wheals, scattered over the face and rest of the body,” explains Dr Robert Weiss, a dermatologist based in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
- Characteristically, this condition doesn’t affect the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. Weiss says if a baby has urticaria, there are no other symptoms that accompany it. The good news is that it gets better spontaneously within a few days.
- Miliaria, another condition which only affects newborn babies, is a type of heat rash that’s especially common in preemies. This rash appears because a premature baby’s sweat pores aren’t yet open properly, and so are unable to function effectively.
- “This is a superficial blockage of the pores, which means that sweat collects very close to the surface and causes tiny, clear blisters,” Weiss explains. “In some cases,” he adds, “there may be mild inflammation accompanied by pustules and redness. Miliaria appears mainly on the head and neck areas in the first few weeks and clears up by itself if the baby doesn’t get overheated.”
Milia are tiny white spots usually found on the face and nose. They appear because the baby’s pores are blocked. “This condition is very common and there’s no need to be concerned, as milia usually disappear within a few weeks on their own,” Weiss says.
- “Cradle cap, which is a form of eczema called seborrhoeic dermatitis, is common in newborns. It can also cause a red rash in body folds, such as the nappy area,” Weiss says.
- Cradle cap is asymptomatic, which means there are no other symptoms, and the rash usually gets better without treatment at around three to four months of age. “If you’re concerned about it, remember that it can be treated with a plain ointment or lotion, and if severe, mild anti-inflammatory creams can be used, but always consult a dermatologist or paediatrician if you’re worried about your baby’s condition,” he advises.
Your child could also suffer from irritant contact dermatitis caused by sensitivity to soap, shampoo or washing powder. This type of skin condition will result in red, swollen, itchy skin. Allergic contact dermatitis, on the other hand, is caused by contact with a specific allergen, like grass.
- This occurs on the skin surfaces covered by a nappy and is uncomfortable, but rarely serious. Nappy rash usually clears up quickly, but if it persists, get it seen to before a secondary skin condition or infection sets in.
- Treat nappy rash by keeping your baby’s skin clean and dry, and exposing affected skin to the air as much as you can. A soothing, protective cream will also help skin to heal.
- Atopic eczema is an inherited tendency to develop an occasional inflammation of the skin. In young babies, it usually appears on convex areas of the body like the cheeks. However, in later childhood, the eczema slowly moves onto other skin areas like inside the elbows and behind the knees. When eczema is chronic, it causes dry, thick and itchy skin, which can be upsetting and very uncomfortable. “It’s important to treat eczema as soon as possible, as it can be distressing for a child,” Weiss recommends.
- Even though there’s no formal cure for eczema, you can treat it with soothing ointments, moisturising baths and anti-inflammatory creams that don’t contain steroids. You can also use medication to control the itch and prevent secondary infections from setting in. Most children eventually outgrow this condition, but if parents are concerned that the eczema may be related to an allergy, they can take their children to be tested for allergies.
- Eczema is also common in babies older than six months. “This condition often occurs if there’s a family history of hay fever or asthma. “To treat eczema, you usually use creams like topical cortisone ointments. Part of the treatment is preventing the child from scratching the affected skin, but once you apply cortisone cream, the itch will diminish,” says Weiss.
- It’s essential to treat the eczema if the skin is inflamed, red and weepy. “The problem with an acute case of eczema is that if the child continuously scratches the affected skin, it will tear, which can allow bacteria to get in and cause secondary infections,” Weiss cautions. If infected, the eczema will “weep” and form crusts.
- “Sandpits are often blamed for skin conditions, but aren’t usually sources of infection. At worst, friction with the sand will aggravate some forms of eczema, but won’t cause skin infections,” says Robert.