What to do if a baby has an allergic reaction
Babies have sensitive skin, which makes them more likely than adults to develop a rash. Even a slight irritation to a baby's skin may be enough to trigger a rash.
Identifying the cause of the allergic reaction or sensitivity can help parents and caregivers to prevent and treat any future reactions.
Babies can have several different types of skin rash, which have a range of causes. Some allergic reactions can also lead to additional symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.
Common types of allergic reactions in infants include the following:
Irritating fabrics, soaps, and heat can lead to eczema outbreaks in babies.
An eczema rash may consist of tiny red bumps, or it may look like scaly, dry skin.
Doctors do not know why some people develop eczema while others do not, but it may be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Common triggers of eczema outbreaks in babies include irritating fabrics, soaps, and heat.
An eczema rash may look slightly different in older infants. According to the National Eczema Association, babies younger than 6 months tend to develop eczema-type rashes on the scalp, face, and forehead.
In babies aged between 6 months and 1 year, the rash often appears on the knees and elbows.
Papular urticaria is a localized allergic reaction to a bug bite. Bites from various insects, including mosquitoes, mites, and bedbugs, can cause the reaction.
Although it usually affects children aged 2–6 years, papular urticaria can also occur in infants.
Papular urticaria resembles small clusters of red bumps or bug bites. Some of the bumps may be fluid-filled. Papular urticaria can last for several days or even weeks.
When the body is allergic to a substance, it releases a chemical called histamine that can lead to the development of hives and other allergy symptoms.
Hives are itchy, raised patches on the skin. They can range in size and shape but are usually pink or red with a thin red border.
Hives can develop anywhere on the body and often appear in clusters.
A baby can develop hives as the result of a food allergy.
Signs of a food allergy can include skin reactions and respiratory or intestinal symptoms, such as:
- blood in the stool
Occasionally, it is even possible for babies to have allergic reactions to foods before they start eating them. This is because they can develop allergies to the foods that the person who is breast-feeding them eats.
The foods that children are most likely to be allergic to are:
- milk and dairy products
Once they start eating solid foods, babies may show signs of additional allergies.
Doctors often recommend that parents and caregivers introduce new foods to a baby one at a time. This way, if an allergy does develop, it is easier to determine which food is responsible for the reaction.
Not all reactions in babies require treatment. For example, a mild rash is likely to fade within a few hours and may not trouble the baby in that time.
However, if the symptoms of a reaction are causing visible discomfort, treatment may be necessary.
The treatment can vary according to the type of rash or reaction. In general, the following treatments may help:
- Avoiding triggers: Soaps, detergents, and scented lotions can often irritate a baby's skin, so it may be best to avoid using chemical cleaners and to choose hypoallergenic products instead.
- Washing with a fragrance-free cleanser: After using a mild, scent-free soap, pat the baby's skin dry and avoid rubbing too hard, as this can irritate the skin.
- Applying a moisturizer: Using a hypoallergenic moisturizer after a baby's bath can help to prevent dry skin. Moisturizers also provide a barrier to protect the skin from irritants.
- Using 1-percent hydrocortisone cream: Hydrocortisone cream can treat skin rashes relating to eczema or other allergic reactions. Although it is usually safe to use for infants for short periods, it is essential to speak to a doctor first.
- Considering scratch mitts: Scratch mitts prevent a baby from scratching a rash with their fingernails. Too much scratching can injure the skin and lead to an infection.
It is not possible to prevent all allergic reactions in babies, but there are steps that parents and caregivers can take to reduce the risk. These include:
- washing the baby's clothes in hypoallergenic detergent
- using fragrance-free shampoo, lotions, and soap
- washing the baby's bedding in hot water every week to reduce the chance of dust mites
- vacuuming frequently
- introducing new foods one at a time
If a baby has an allergic reaction after breast-feeding, it might be beneficial to keep a food diary to try to determine the underlying cause. Dairy is a very common culprit, especially before the infant reaches 1 year in age.
After identifying the allergen, it may help to avoid eating this food while breast-feeding. However, it is best to speak to a doctor before making changes to the diet.
When to see a doctor
Seek medical advice if a rash worsens over time.
People can often treat allergic reactions in babies at home. However, in some cases, it is best to see a doctor.
If the rash spreads or worsens over time, a person should consult a doctor. It is also essential to seek medical advice if the skin shows signs of an infection, such as blistering, bleeding, or seeping fluid.
In some cases, a rash can signify another illness. If a rash appears alongside the symptoms below, people should consult a doctor:
- poor feeding
- excessive crying
Babies who develop allergic reactions that include wheezing, swelling of the lips or tongue, or trouble breathing will require immediate medical attention. They may be having an anaphylactic reaction, which can be severe.
Allergic reactions and sensitivities are common in babies, in part because they have such sensitive skin.
In most cases, these reactions are mild, and parents or caregivers can treat them at home.
Identifying the allergen can help to prevent future reactions. Many babies will grow out of their allergies, but others will develop new allergies as they get older.