Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Childhood rashes - Eczema

4-minute read

Eczema is a common chronic skin condition in children. Typically, eczema is characterised by an itchy rash that comes and goes. Eczema is not contagious but does tend to run in families and commonly first appears in early childhood.

Treatment involves keeping the skin hydrated and healthy between flare-ups, reducing environmental triggers where possible and treating the inflammation during the flare-ups with creams prescribed by your child's doctor.

There are other treatments available for severe eczema. Your doctor will work with you to devise an ongoing management plan to keep your child's eczema under control.

Does my child have eczema?

Eczema can look different at different ages:

  • Babies usually have a rash on their face and neck which may weep and crust.
  • Children often have a dry rash, characteristically in the creases of knees and elbows, around the mouth, neck, wrists and ankles.
  • From age 12, the it may be more widespread and severe.

When the skin is red, dry and itchy, it is known as a 'flare-up'. It is common for the severity of eczema to change, sometimes it is very mild and other times it gets worse. Between flare-ups, people with eczema tend to have dry sensitive skin.

See your doctor to diagnose your child's rash, as other skin conditions can look similar to eczema. Your doctor will examine the rash, ask you about how and when it began, and ask whether other family members have noticed a similar rash. This is because while not contagious, eczema may have a genetic basis and does tend to run in families. A child with eczema often has one or more relative with eczema or a related condition, such as asthma, hay fever or allergic conjunctivitis.

What triggers eczema?

Each child with eczema has their own set of individual triggers, although sometimes the condition can flare and subside for no apparent reason.

Examples of common exacerbating factors and triggers in children include:

  • Heat — avoid overheating with blankets and long hot showers
  • Irritants — soaps, shampoos, chlorine, chemicals, fragrances, make-up, scratchy clothes and materials
  • Allergens — dust mite, moulds, grasses, plant pollens, pets, soaps and shampoos, foods

What are the complications of eczema?

Affected skin can be very itchy. The itchiness can cause sleep difficulties for your child or infant and scratching can also lead to breaking of the skin.

Broken skin may become infected with bacteria that commonly live on children’s hands. Bacterial infections may cause inflamed blisters which can weep and form crusts.

Warts and herpes (cold sores) can also infect eczema rash. Infection with herpes can cause serious problems and is an emergency which needs to be treated urgently. If someone has a cold sore, make sure to keep a distance from a child with eczema.

How do I prevent my child with eczema having flare-ups?

The goal of treating eczema is to prevent and minimise flare-ups, as well as maintain skin health between flare-ups.

Moisturisers should be used between flare-ups to keep the skin in good condition, reduce the itch associated with dry skin and reduce the chance of infections. It is important to moisturise after showering or bathing once the skin is dry.

People with eczema have sensitive skin so irritants should be avoided. This includes many soaps and moisturisers. Your pharmacist can help you choose products suitable for eczema.

Trying to avoid triggers is worthwhile. Food allergies are not common eczema triggers. It is important not to put your child on a diet without medical advice, as nutrition for children shouldn't be compromised unnecessarily.

What do I do when my child has a flare-up?

Your child’s eczema will improve more quickly if it is treated soon after you first notice the rash. Prompt treatment will also reduce the likelihood of complications, so it’s best to see your doctor or pharmacist at the first sign of a flare-up.

Keep your child’s fingernails short to avoid them scratching as much as possible.

Eczema is often treated using a steroid cream or ointment. You should get advice from your doctor or pharmacist about the best one to use for your specific case as different creams are used depending on the part of the body, the severity and the age of the child.

If your child’s eczema does not improve after two days of regular treatment or if there are signs of infection, weepy, crusted or broken areas, it is important to see a doctor.

There are many treatments that can be used to treat eczema. For many children, eczema is a condition that comes and goes, and changes in intensity over time, so you may need to see your doctor a few times for the same condition.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

Managing Eczema » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Managing Eczema There is no cure for eczema and it can be very uncomfortable

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Eczema » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Eczema Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, affects 1 in 5 children under 2 years of age

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Life with Eczema - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Life with Eczema

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Eczema and Allergy Prevention » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Eczema and Allergy Prevention There has been recent research looking into preventing eczema in babies and also preventing food allergies in babies who develop eczema

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Top Tips for Managing Eczema » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Top Tips for Managing Eczema The following hints and tips will help to manage your child's eczema

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Eczema and Food Allergy » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Eczema and Food Allergy Many infants with moderate or severe eczema will also have a food allergy

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Eczema is a common skin disorder that affects all ages but most commonly babies and children.

Read more on WA Health website

Eczema | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Eczema and dermatitis are terms that refer to an itchy skin rash that often occurs in families

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Eczema Resources » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Eczema Resources Videos Applying moisturisers Using cortisone creams and ointments How to apply wet dressings Bleach baths Factsheets How to use bleach baths [PDF, 804kb] How to use wet dressings [PDF, 779kb] How to use tubular dressings [PDF, 913kb] Top tips for managing eczema [PDF, 314kb]

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.