As many as 10 percent of all infants have some form of eczema, a condition that usually develops between the ages of 2 and 6 months, and almost always before the age of 5 years old. Kids with eczema usually develop itchy, dry, red skin with small bumps on their cheeks, forehead or scalp. The rash may spread to the arms and legs and the trunk, and red, crusted, or open lesions may appear on any area affected.
They also may have circular, slightly raised, itchy, and scaly rashes in the bends of the elbows, behind the knees, or on the backs of the wrists and ankles.
Eczema is not contagious, so there's no need to keep a baby or child who has it away from siblings, other kids, or anyone else.
Antibiotics are often prescribed as a treatment, but a new study says that they are not effective for milder cases in children.
"This is a good example of a common situation in medicine," said Dr. Michael Grosso. "A particular intervention 'makes sense,' becomes common practice -- and often becomes the so-called 'standard of care' -- only to be proved ineffective when the therapy is subjected to scientific investigation."
Eczema is an immunological condition affecting both children and adults.
Dr. Craig Osleeb explained, "Children with eczema have an overabundance of the bacteria normally found on skin." He is a pediatric allergist at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
"The excessive colonization of bacteria can exacerbate symptoms by causing infection and/or triggering inflammation," Osleeb said. So, "antibiotics have often been used to quell eczema exacerbations."
Doctors are concerned that, over time, bacteria can develop a resistance to antibiotics, opening the door for dangerous drug-resistant “superbug” infections. While once a very popular treatment, doctors are now leaning towards reducing the number of antibiotic prescriptions to treat certain cases.
The new study, led by Nick Francis of Cardiff University in Wales, included 113 children with non-severe, infected eczema who were randomly selected to join one of three groups.
The children received either an antibiotic pill plus a "dummy" placebo cream; a placebo pill and an antibiotic cream; or placebo pill plus placebo cream (the "control" group).
After watching outcomes for two weeks, four weeks and then three months, the British team found no significant differences between the three groups in terms of easing of eczema symptoms.
Researchers found that the children with non-severe eczema, given the antibiotics either in a pill or a cream, did not benefit from the treatment. The study authors added that such use might even promote antibiotic resistance or additional skin sensitization.
Francis and his team noted that the study focused only on kids with a milder form of eczema, so the results may not apply to children with more infected eczema.
Osleeb agreed. For children battling milder eczema outbreaks, "corticosteroid creams alone will suffice," he said, but "this study does not eliminate the potential role of antibiotics in more moderate to severe eczema exacerbations."
Diagnosing eczema can be challenging because each child has a unique combination of symptoms, which can vary in severity. Treatments can consist of topical corticosteroid creams, antihistamines and in some instances, ultraviolet light under the supervision of a dermatologist.
Some children will outgrow eczema and some may continue to have symptoms during their teens and into adulthood.
If you suspect your baby or young child may have eczema, have your child seen by your pediatrician for diagnosis and treatment options.