Infants and children are at highest risk for developing atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema. This is a skin condition marked by redness, swelling and itching which is caused by a reactive immune system.
Fortunately, there are simple strategies that can help reduce the risk that your child will develop eczema as well as natural treatments to calm existing lesions.
This guide will focus on dietary, environmental and natural medicine recommendations for eczema in the pregnant and pediatric population. It will also reference what the standard conventional medical treatments are for eczema in pregnancy and childhood.
Who’s At Risk For Developing Eczema?
- Children who have a family history that includes the atopic triad of eczema, allergic rhinitis (hayfever) and asthma
- Colonization of certain type of bacteria on the skin, such as Staphylococcus aureus
- Increased risk for babies and children living in a developed country such as the United States, Western Europe or Australia
- Boys have a 50% increased risk of developing eczema as compared to girls
- Children of African or Asian descent have an increased risk
- Wealthier children and those who come from smaller families have higher incidence of eczema
Eczema In Pregnancy: Protecting Both Mother & Baby
When treating eczema during pregnancy, it is beneficial to first try localized therapies to reduce inflammation and irritation as this will minimize exposure to the fetus.
Eye drops, nasal sprays, and topical creams can be used to control the skin lesion and symptoms. Of course not all topical treatments are safe for baby and they may not be enough to resolve the outbreak.
Topical calendula lotion, chamomile creams or soaks, and eczema salves made from chaparral, licorice or aloe vera are considered safe for use on the skin during pregnancy.
It is not recommended to eat Licorice as a supplement or food during pregnancy because a Swedish study found high licorice intake correlated with increased risk for preterm labor.
Probiotic use during pregnancy has been shown to reduce both the incidence and severity of eczema in their children. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that live in the digestive tract and help regulate the immune system.
A diet rich in probiotics such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium has also been demonstrated to decrease the risk of developing food allergies, a condition intricately linked with eczema eruptions.
Intake of essential fatty acids during pregnancy, particularly omega 3 fats, has also been proven to reduce the likelihood of their babies having eczema in infancy. These important fats are also necessary for proper development of baby’s brain and eyes.
Foods rich in omega 3 fats are fish, shellfish, flaxseed, walnuts, omega 3 eggs and free-range meats. When purchasing an omega 3 supplement, make sure the product is filtered and tested for trace heavy metals and contaminants which can be especially deleterious to a fetus.
Conventional Medications For Pregnant And Nursing Women
Currently there are no Level A medications for allergic conditions, including eczema, for use in pregnant women.
Level A designation means that studies have proven no adverse affect on fetal health.
There are Level B drugs approved for eczema. Level B drugs have been shown to be safe in animal studies that evaluated both the pregnant animal and the offspring for birth defects or other adverse reactions.
Oral antihistamines and topical steroids fit in this category and are the first choice of prescribers who are treating a pregnant or nursing woman with eczema.
Eczema After Pregnancy: Preventing And Treating Eczema In Infants And Children
Don’t introduce formula or solid foods too early. Introducing solid food before 1 year of age and introducing formula before 6 months of age was correlated with increased risk of developing eczema according to research published in 2010 in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.
The researchers tested 960 children for food allergies and found that having a food allergy increased the risk of having eczema by 8.4 fold!
Their findings show that exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and delayed solid food introduction to 1 year significantly reduced the risk of developing both food allergy and eczema.
The study did not say which foods introduced early were responsible for the increased risk. A Swedish study of early fish consumption showed protection against developing eczema, read on below.
Researchers in Sweden tracked intake of fish, breast milk and common food allergens among 5000 babies and children in an effort to identify dietary factors in eczema development.
This study found the greatest predictor of developing eczema was having a mother or sibling with the condition.
Their findings, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, showed babies who ate fish before 9 months of age were 24 percent less likely to develop eczema by age 1.
Interestingly, the researchers analyzed by type of fish and did not find any strong correlation with the level of omega 3 fatty acids in the fish. In addition to omega 3 fats, fish also contains healthy protein, selenium, vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and zinc.
Feed your children diets rich in Vitamin E.
A 2010 study of Japanese children found that those who consumed diets rich in Vitamin E were 67 percent less likely to develop eczema than those who had the lowest intakes of Vitamin E.
Foods rich in Vitamin E are peanuts, hazelnuts, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils, bell peppers, spinach and asparagus.
Be cautious with introduction of tree and ground nuts, however, as many children with nut allergies are at high risk for developing eczema.
Probiotic use in children has similar benefits to maternal intake of probiotics during pregnancy.
These good bacteria decrease the risk for developing a food allergy and also help modulate the immune system, calming the hyper reaction characteristic of eczema eruptions.
Foods with beneficial bacteria are those that are cultured such as yogurt, sour cream, sauerkraut and kim chi. There are commercially available liquid, powder, chewable and capsule probiotics formulated for children.
Pharmax makes a high potency probiotic powder with prebiotics (food that the bacteria like to eat) that is apricot-flavored and quite tasty, called HLC High Potency Probiotic Powder.
Protocol makes a professional strength chewable berry flavored probiotic tablet that children enjoy.
Conventional Treatments Of Eczema In Children
Dermatologists and pediatricians will first try topical medicated creams to treat childhood eczema. The active drugs in these topical therapies are either corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitors.
Both of these classes of medication suppress immune cell activity, which can increase the risk for developing an infection. Steroids decrease permeability of the area which will reduce swelling.
Unfortunately, steroidal creams also can cause skin thinning and impaired wound healing.
Calcineurin inhibitors (pimecrolimus and tacrolimus) do not have those side effects but they do increase the risk for developing skin cancer in the area where the cream is applied, especially certain cutaneous lymphomas.
If topical treatments do not control the eczema, oral steroids and anti-histamine are prescribed. Like the topical steroids, the systemic steroids given as a pill work by suppressing the immune system and increase the risk for infection.
Additionally, prolonged use of oral steroids can cause weight gain, muscle weakness, osteoporosis and mood changes. Anti-histamines decrease swelling and the urge to scratch but they also cause daytime drowsiness and fatigue.
Eczema lesions can also become resistant to conventional treatments, requiring higher doses and sometimes stop working altogether.