Eczema can be caused by a number of medical conditions


Diagnosing the cause of your child’s eczema is essential to ensure that their condition is managed properly. — Positive Parenting

Eczema refers to several skin conditions that cause red, itchy and/or inflamed skin.

It is fairly common during childhood; however, many children outgrow the condition by the time they are five years old.

Atopic dermatitis, which is one of the causes of eczema, is a term that some parents might be familiar with, but there are many other causes for eczema, as well as some conditions that mimic eczema.

For proper treatment and management, it is best to know the exact cause of the skin problem.

With the colloquial phrase “same same but different” in mind, here are some types of skin conditions that cause eczema:

> Atopic dermatitis

This is the most common condition, which is usually present in people who have asthma.

This condition degrades the skin barrier, leading to loss of moisture and allowing microorganisms to enter the body.

While it usually occurs in infancy or childhood, it can start at any age.

> Contact dermatitis

Sometimes eczema develops due to repeated contact with certain substances that damage the skin barrier, e.g. chemicals, frequent handwashing, or certain metals like nickel.

There are two main types of this condition: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

> Seborrhoeic dermatitis

This is the most common condition among newborns and is frequently referred to as cradle cap.

This condition causes thick, yellow and greasy scales on the baby’s scalp.

Some babies may have widespread skin rashes involving the folds of the skin, especially around the diaper region.

> Papular urticaria

This condition is caused by a reaction to insect bites.

It is more common in children than adults as children have yet to be desensitised to insect bites.

It may be caused by mosquitoes, fleas, mites or any other household/garden insects.

> Discoid and nummular eczema

It appears as discrete, thick and itchy skin lesions that occur on the limbs.

While its cause is unknown, it can be triggered by skin damage caused by insects, scrapes/scratches or chemical burns; inflammation (such as atopic dermatitis and/or statis dermatitis) on other parts of the body; dry skin due to poor air humidity (e.g. an air-conditioned environment or winter); and certain metals such as nickel.

> Pompholyx

Also known as dyshidrotic eczema, this condition affects the hands and feet, leaving tiny blisters and causing irritation.

Other skin conditions that are easily mistaken for eczema are:

  • Fungal infections
  • Scabies

    This is a skin infection caused by mites.
  • Lichen simplex chronicus

    This chronic localised itch is caused by repetitive scratching and/or rubbing of the skin.

Treat that itch

To determine the correct cause of your child’s skin condition, do see a paediatric dermatologist.

Finding out the cause involves determining your child’s itch triggers.

Once you know them, avoid exposing your child to these triggers to prevent discomfort and/or possible flare-ups.

The doctor will advise you on what protocols to follow when it comes to bathing and moisturising, as well as other proper treatment and management methods.

The treatment of eczema will differ depending on its severity and type, e.g. treatment for dry skin will be very different from oozing sores.

Also, in the case of eczema-like conditions caused by insect bites, you will need to find and eliminate the cause.

If the cause is bed bugs or dust mites, you will have to thoroughly clean your house and/or replace affected bedding/clothing.

Your choice of moisturiser matters too.

Select products that are fragrance- and perfume-free (avoid unscented ones too as they may still contain ingredients that can irritate the skin), do not contain any dye or colouring, and opt for creams or ointments, instead of lotions.

Clinically-proven moisturisers offer longer lasting moisturisation, which prevents dry skin.

Remember not to jump to any conclusions that your child has atopic dermatitis just because it looks like it.

As many skin conditions look like eczema, it is always best to get an expert’s opinion.

The right diagnosis will ensure that you are giving your child the right treatment.

Dr Sabeera Begum Kader Ibrahim is a consultant paediatric dermatologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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