What causes eczema?

Q: My pediatrician says my baby has eczema on her cheeks, but we can't figure out what's causing it. What should we do?

A: Eczema is a red, rough, itchy rash usually found on an infant's cheeks. It may spread to other parts of the body, such as behind the knees and in the bend of the arm. It is often caused by allergies to foods, but you're right that the culprit is often not apparent. Think about whether your baby ate any new food recently or, if you're breastfeeding, whether you ate anything new. In the meantime, to treat the skin, keep it moist with a gentle cream such as Eucerin. If the inflammation is severe, your doctor can prescribe Elidel, a nonsteroidal cream. (Although many cases of severe eczema are treated with topical steroids, doctors prefer not to use these on the face since they can cause discoloration and a slight thickening of the skin if used for long periods).

Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2004. Updated 2009.

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