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3 Painful Babies' Skin Conditions

Soft to the Touch Tips for smooth handling of common skin conditions by Judith Palfrey, M.D., President, American Academy of Pediatrics

Few sensations bring home the sheer wonder of parenthood like running your hand over soft, sweet baby skin. But newborns are prone to their fair share of itchy skin and blotchy rashes -- after all, their brand-new skin is much thinner and more delicate than ours. Read on for a list of conditions typical of babyhood, as well as how to diagnose, prevent and treat them.

Diaper Rash

A common complaint of the diaper-wearing set, diaper rash is caused by irritation from wet or soiled diapers (especially diarrhea), so many babies will experience it at some point in infancy. Left untreated, diaper rash can prompt a yeast infection.

Look for This: Diaper rash appears as red or pink areas on your baby's bottom, upper legs and/or lower belly. Moist, bright-red patches in the folds of skin on the thighs, genitals and tummy are signs of a yeast infection.

An Ounce of Prevention: Keep those (diaper) changes coming! You may think baby can wait for the opportune moment, but it's better to put a hold on your chores or seek out a changing station at the mall than to leave him in a soiled or wet diaper. The more you keep him clean and dry, the less the chance of diaper rash. During every change, clean well with a baby wipe (they're fine for newborns), and dry his skin completely. At home, let him hang out diaperless for 15 to 20 minutes every day.

Make it Better If your baby does develop diaper rash, use a cotton ball soaked in baby oil when cleaning his sore bum. At the end of every diaper change, slather on a barrier cream or ointment with zinc oxide (such as Desitin) or petroleum jelly, like Vaseline. You should see great improvement after a couple of days. If you don't, or if you suspect yeast is the culprit, call the pediatrician, who may recommend treating it with either an over-the-counter or prescription antifungal cream.

Eczema

This chronic condition covers a variety of ailments associated with inflammation or irritation of the skin. The form most often seen in infants is atopic dermatitis, which usually pops up between the ages of 2 and 6 months and is particularly common in tots with a family history of eczema or allergies. Thankfully, eczema is otherwise uncommon, appearing in only about 10 percent of babies. Many children outgrow it by 2 or 3 years of age (though it may persist much longer), but the accompanying dry skin tends to stay for life.

Look for This Eczema typically appears as itchy red patches or bumps, usually on the cheeks, forehead, scalp and arms. Over time, the affected areas can thicken and become rough, dry or scaly.

An Ounce of Prevention If other family members have eczema, a baby is more likely to have it, so while you can't prevent it, you can make your baby more comfortable. Bathe her only in lukewarm water, and afterward apply a mild moisturizing cream, such as Eucerin, Moisturel or Lubriderm, to slightly damp skin to trap moisture. Opt for soft, all-cotton clothing over garments with a rough or coarse texture (such as wool and linen) and try washing her laundry with a perfume- and dye-free detergent.

Make it Better Your doctor may prescribe a cortisone cream, which should bring a noticeable improvement within a few days. If your baby develops a fever, or if the rash spreads or becomes infected (watch for blisters, crusty yellow patches or oozing fluid), call your pediatrician. Untreated eczema may lead to secondary bacterial or viral infections.

Impetigo

This rare infection (only about 4 percent of babies develop it) is caused by common bacteria, mainly Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes, that usually reside harmlessly on the skin. But when older babies and toddlers scratch their faces or pick their noses, it allows the bacteria to penetrate and multiply.

Look for This: Impetigo shows up as red sores and blisters, most often around exposed areas such as the nose, mouth and hands, that quickly break open and develop a yellowish crust.

An Ounce of Prevention Keep baby's fingernails clipped short so he can't accidentally gash his face, and immediately clean and treat any scrapes, rashes, eczema breakouts or bug bites. Impetigo is highly contagious -- touching or scratching the sores can spread the bacteria -- so have your child avoid close contact with other kids, and wash his toys, towels, linens and clothing in hot water every day.

Make it Better You'll need to clean affected areas daily, followed by an application of a prescription antibacterial cream. More severe cases may require oral antibiotics. (To protect yourself, wash your hands after treating your baby and when handling contaminated linens and other items.) If he develops a fever or if the sores don't begin to heal within three days of starting the treatment, call your pediatrician.

Put a Lid on Cradle Cap
To eliminate those greasy, yellowish scales marring the peach fuzz on baby's head, forget the olive oil (no matter what Grandma says). A small amount of ketoconazole shampoo, which is used to treat adult dandruff, is much more effective. Lather (keeping it out of baby's eyes), rinse, and then gently brush out the flakes.

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