What is eczema?

Eczema is a dry, itchy skin condition that's commonly found behind the knees and on the arms, hands, neck and face. It will often improve over time (or even disappear) as your child grows, but some adults have eczema too. 

Eczema is not contagious – your child can’give eczema to someone else and can’t catch it from another person. 

What causes eczema? 

Several factors can contribute to eczema including:

  • skin sensitivities
  • family history of eczema
  • asthma or hay fever.

Kids with food allergies are more likely to have eczema.

Managing eczema

How to care for eczema in three easy steps (KidsHealth)

You may need to work with your doctor or nurse to create a skin care plan to help your child's eczema heal.

Some doctor's offices or hospitals have special eczema nurses and they can be really helpful, and even visit you at home. Check with your Plunket nurse, or Well Child or Tamariki Ora health provider to see if there's one in your area. PlunketLine can also provide advice and support. 

While there is no ‘cure’ for eczema, you can help your child manage their eczema daily by: 

  • maintaining good hygiene by bathing them daily (or every other day) in warm water, using a moisturising body wash (not soap)   
  • avoiding things which irritate your child's skin, especially soap and bubble bath
  • using lots of moisturiser straight after every bath
  • using moisturiser several times throughout the day on you baby’s body and face  
  • using steroids when your child's skin has active eczema (your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone)
  • giving your child a bleach bath - see below for more information
  • dressing your child in cotton with the fabric next to the skin to prevent irritation, instead of wool or synthetics (wool can be worn over the cotton)  
  • reduce sleep disturbance for your child by using bandages or cotton mittens to stop scratching at night 
  • avoiding them getting too hot or too cold.

Giving your baby antiseptic baths

Giving your baby an antiseptic bath twice a week can help improve eczema, decrease bacteria, and prevent skin infections. The best antiseptic to use is bleach. However, you need to dilute the bleach with water first. Bleaches come in different strengths and how much water you use depends on the strength of the bleach you are using.

Bleach is sold at the supermarket and will be in the cleaning aisle. You need bleach that has no added detergent or fragrance. 

Always store the bleach where your baby or young children can’t reach it.

How to give your baby an antiseptic bath

You should only give your baby an antiseptic bath when they have ‘active eczema’. This is when their skin is infected or very itchy, dry, and red.  

Antiseptic baths are perfectly safe when prepared and carried out the correct way. To do this: 

  • fill your bath or tub with enough warm water - please read our Bathing page for how to do this safely.
  • add bleach and mix well, following these ratios:
    • for bleach that is 4.2% strength add 1 ml for every litre of water
    • for bleach that is 3.1% strength add 1.3 ml for every litre of water
    • for bleach that is 2.1% strength add 2 ml for every litre of water
  • soak in the bath for between 10 - 15 minutes, always keeping one hand on your baby
  • wash with non-soap cream
  • rinse off with tap water
  • pat skin dry with a towel (remember not to share towels)
  • apply a steroid cream and/or moisturizer straight afterwards. 

Taking care of you

It can be stressful when your little one has eczema, and hard to see them uncomfortable and itchy. It can be helpful to reach out to whānau or friends if you're feeling overwhelmed or need support. 

You can try:

  • talking to whānau, friends or someone who may have a similar experience with their own child
  • calling PlunketLine.

When to visit a doctor

Visit your family doctor as soon as possible if your child's eczema doesn't improve after treatment or becomes infected. If you’re not sure what to do, or your worried about your child’s eczema, call PlunketLine. 

Eczema tips from Allergy New Zealand

Allergy New Zealand

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Information, education, and support for New Zealanders living with allergies.