What is Dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a common, overall term for skin irritation. 1 There are a number of causes and symptoms of dermatitis. Let’s explore two of the most common types of dermatitis in babies: atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis.

What is Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is another term for eczema. 2 Eczema can affect any area of the body, but is commonly found in patches on the feet or hands, ankles or wrists, elbows or knees, chest, or neck. Your littlest loves might even have eczema on their face. Symptoms may be different from person to person, but can include:2

  • Itchiness
  • Dryness
  • Discoloured patches
  • Changes in skin texture such as thickness, scaliness, or flakiness
  • Bumps, which may ooze or crust if scratched

Atopic dermatitis isn’t contagious and will usually first appear between ages 3 months and 6 months.2

What is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a rash caused by your skin touching an irritant or allergen.3 Symptoms are similar to those of atopic dermatitis, but not identical: 3

  • Itchiness, which may become severe
  • A burning sensation
  • Swelling or tenderness
  • Dry, cracked, scaly, or flaky skin
  • A prominent red rash
  • Bumps or blisters, which may or may not ooze and crust

These symptoms occur wherever the skin came into contact with the irritant or allergen and can develop within minutes but may take hours to show up. The resulting rash can last for up to four weeks, even if contact with the irritant was stopped.3

Preventing & Treating Dermatitis in Children

Like lots of childhood ailments, prevention reduces the need for treatment. Prevention for atopic and contact dermatitis require different approaches:

Atopic dermatitis symptom prevention 2

  • Avoid known triggers, which can range from becoming hot and sweaty to certain soaps and detergents
  • Choose mild soaps for baby’s sensitive skin, ones without artificial colours and fragrances
  • Bath in lukewarm water. After bathing pat dry skin leaving skin damp, apply fragrance-free moisturizer immediately after. This will lock in moisture.

Contact dermatitis symptom prevention3

  • Avoid known allergens and irritants
  • Protect and cover skin when allergens and irritants can’t be avoided effectively
  • Use barrier creams and moisturizers to keep skin healthy and protected

When prevention is impossible or incomplete, then it’s time for treatment. Choosing how to treat your little love’s dermatitis can depend on the type they have, but there are also treatments that are appropriate for both atopic and contact dermatitis:45

  • Cool, wet compresses
  • Regularly moisturizing with fragrance-free doctor recommended moisturizers
  • Breaking the urge to indulge in habitual scratching

Additionally, there are treatments that are most appropriate for one type of dermatitis than the other:

Atopic dermatitis treatment4

  • Medications. Depending on severity, your pediatrician may prescribe a medicated cream or an oral medication for inflammation or to prevent infection.
  • Light therapy such as phototherapy

Contact dermatitis treatment5

  • Washing the area. Sometimes cleansing the affected area soon after contact can reduce irritation.
  • Anti-itch creams, lotions, or oral medicines.
  • Cool bath soaks. Plain water should be plenty but baking soda or dry oatmeal-based products are also options for soothing skin.

Dermatitis is uncomfortable, but not impossible to treat. Please see your care provider if you have concerns about your little one’s skin.