Always see a doctor if you're concerned about any aspects of your health or wellbeing while pregnant.

What is it?

Dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition that can cause redness, swelling, itchiness and blisters. It can be caused by an allergic reaction or contact with chemicals that you may be sensitive to. Family history and food sensitivities may also be responsible.

There are different types of dermatitis, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis (or Eczema) is a common skin condition observed in babies, usually beginning before their first birthday. Symptoms include red, dry, scaly and itchy skin. The most commonly affected areas for babies are the face, the scalp, behind the ears and their bodies, arms and legs. For toddlers and older children, the rash can be seen around the knees, elbows and ankles. Eczema improves significantly between 3 and 5 years of age.
  • Contact dermatitis commonly refers to the allergic reaction the skin experiences when it comes in contact with an irritant. Symptoms include itchy skin and a weeping rash usually only at the site of contact. Adults and children of all ages can be affected.
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis commonly occurs as cradle cap in infants where the oil glands on the scalp become inflamed. However, it can also appear on the face and other parts of the body. In children, it usually clears up after a few months.

What causes it?

Atopic dermatitis or Eczema is caused by a mutation in a gene responsible for forming the skin barrier. Disruption to proper skin barrier repair occurs as a result and when exposed to irritants and chemicals, it can trigger the immune system and make the skin inflamed. Certain conditions like illness, heat and stress can aggravate it.

Allergic contact dermatitis can occur when the skin comes in contact with chemicals in cleansers, metals in jewellery or plants such as chrysanthemums. It can last as long as contact with the irritating substance is maintained and a period of 1-2 weeks afterwards.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis in infants occurs due to excess production of a greasy substance called sebum from the oil glands on the skin. These glands remain active until the baby is about three months old.

What are the symptoms?

Eczema and contact dermatitis can present with red, dry, scaly or itchy skin. Eczema can also cause fluid filled blisters which can weep fluid and get infected, particularly if scratched. Allergic contact dermatitis may result in an itchy, weeping rash at the site of contact.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis in infants is usually seen as yellow crusts and scales that form on the scalp and can result in the skin becoming red and greasy.

How is it diagnosed?

If Eczema is suspected, a doctor or specialist will perform a complete skin examination, taking into account medical history and look for the tell-tale signs such as a chronic rash and itching.

Allergic contact dermatitis can be diagnosed by a doctor after visual examination. Sometimes, they may recommend patch testing which can tell whether a child is allergic to certain substances. The process involves application of patches which contain small amounts of different diluted chemicals on the skin. After 48 hours, if any allergic reactions are observed on the skin, this can show that contact dermatitis may result if exposed to these irritants.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis can be diagnosed by a doctor after visual examination of the skin.

What are the treatment options?

Good quality moisturisers and doctor prescribed cortisone-based creams are very effective in controlling Eczema. Wet dressings can be applied to affected areas of the body and this helps soothes the skin and reduces inflammation. If the skin starts weeping or if scabs form, it is recommended to remove them as soon as possible. If the scabs become infected, antibiotics may be needed to treat the secondary infection.

The symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis can be relieved by using emollient based creams and taking antihistamines to reduce the itch.

To treat seborrhoeic dermatitis on babies’ heads, loosening the crusts that form on the scalp with baby oil and washing with baby shampoo can make the scalp look clearer if done on a daily basis. If the crusts become infected, doctors may prescribe antibiotics.  

Sources:

Better Health Channel

Royal Children’s Hospital Factsheet on Cradle Cap

Royal Children’s Hospital Factsheet on Eczema

Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy on Eczema

Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy factsheet on Contact Dermatitis

ABC Health & Wellbeing