Skin Conditions, Infant and Children | March 11, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
Eczema is not one specific condition, but rather a collective term for a group of related skin disorders that cause symptoms such as inflammation, redness, dryness and scaling. A diagnosis of eczema can be used to describe any type of dermatitis or itchy rash.
Approximately twenty percent of babies and children are affected by eczema. Eczema symptoms are all related to inflammation that occurs on the very top layer of the skin. Once the barrier of the skin becomes damaged and dry, due to factors like loss of moisture or allergies that lead to an immune response, sensitivity and irritation can be hard to control.
Eczema, along with related skin conditions like dermatitis and allergies, tends to develop most often among those children that already have very dry, sensitive skin or a rundown immune system.
The medical profession does not know exactly what causes eczema in children. However, for most types of eczema, researchers believe a combination of genetics and a particular ‘trigger’ are involved.
Children with eczema tend to have an over-reactive immune system that when triggered by a substance outside or inside the body, responds by producing inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the red, itchy and painful skin symptoms common to most types of eczema.
Research also shows that some children with eczema have a mutation of the gene responsible for creating filaggrin. Filaggrin is a protein that helps the body to maintain a healthy protective barrier on the very top layer of the skin. Without enough filaggrin to build a strong skin barrier, moisture can escape and bacteria, viruses and more can enter. This is why children with eczema have very dry and infection-prone skin.
When children develop eczema, they’re most likely to have redness and dryness on their cheeks, head (known as cradle cap) or chin, in addition to the backs of their arms and legs, chest, stomach, or parts of the back.
Like in adults, children are susceptible to forming eczema patches of red, sensitive skin on areas of the body that are usually rougher and dryer to begin with.
If symptoms last into the teen years or adulthood, they’re likely to affect the palms, hands, elbows, feet or knees.
Eczema is most likely to develop in babies within the first six months of life but usually clears up on its own as the immune system learns to adapt to and overcome skin inflammation.
Genetic factors. This involves having a mutated gene that results in reduced production of the protein called filaggrin, which normally helps maintain the corneal layer.
Reduced serum (oil) production. This can result in very dry skin. This can also be due to genetics or changes in the immune system.
Chemicals. Can be found in products that children use on their body or those that are used in the home. These include hand and dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, bubble bath and body wash, or surface cleaners and disinfectants.
Low immune function. This can lead to inflammation in response to things like yeasts and bacteria that live on the skin. Low immune function can be due to factors like medications, autoimmune disorders, untreated infections, nutrient deficiencies or poor gut health.
Toxicity. Including smoke or exposure to high amounts of pollution. Over-cleanliness and antibiotic use are other contributors, which negatively affect the immune system.
In children, being formula-fed seems to raise the risk for eczema. Research shows that breastfed babies have increased protection against allergies that can affect the immune system and skin.
Allergies. This can be to certain foods, chemical exposure or contact with other harsh toxins/substances, such as chemical perfumes or soaps. Surprisingly, atopic dermatitis is not linked to things like pet or fur exposure. In fact, the opposite is true: Eczema has been found to be less common in children who have many siblings or dogs or who spend time in day care settings or around other children from a young age. This causes a stronger immune system and built-up protection.
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Emotional stress is considered a trigger for childhood eczema, however the reasons as to why it is a trigger is not fully understood. More on stress-related eczema follows.
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Eczema is considered a psychodermatologic disorder, which means that it is a physical condition tied to emotional health. When a child is stressed at school or overwhelmed by things that may be going on in the home or are feeling anxious about an array of things, the skin can react.
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A study published in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology examined the impact of maternal stress during pregnancy on a child’s likelihood of developing eczema. The researchers found that women who were stressed during pregnancy gave birth to babies who were at an increased risk of developing eczema before their second birthday.
There is a direct link with cortisol, (stress hormone) and its effects on the skin. Cortisol is responsible for triggering many of the necessary responses that the body uses to combat dangers. But one of the effects it has is to suppress the immune system, and that leads to inflammation - especially on the skin. It is possible that this inflammation can actually keep humans safer in some way. However, when a child suffers with anxiety, they are not reacting to danger – instead, reacting to a disorder. Therefore the fight or flight response stays active causing the skin to remain inflamed. For those children without eczema, they would not notice this. But for those children suffering with eczema, they will find that the extra inflammation makes the anxiety considerably worse.
When a child has anxiety, it becomes much harder to ignore negative feelings, like itching and pain.
People say that anxiety makes it harder to focus, but anxiety is actually very good at causing the mind to focus on negative things.
When an eczema sufferer focuses on the itching and discomfort of their eczema, the itching tends to be worse, leading to more scratching and irritation. This then enforces the behaviour and becomes a vicious cycle.
Anxiety can make it much harder to sleep. Studies have shown that sleeplessness seems to have an effect on the skin's ability to heal eczema. So if a child is losing sleep because of their anxiety, they may be more likely to also experience worse eczema as a direct result.
Anxiety and stress can make a child pay more attention to their eczema, and unfortunately one of the effects of that is that occasionally a sufferer may find that their eczema causes more stress, especially at school or with peers. Unfortunately, this can lead to the development of further eczema problems.
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