Allergy Induced Eczema?

About two weeks after my son was born, he began to develop a red sandpaper like rash on his face. Our pediatrician said it looked like eczema and suggested moisturizing the area with Aquafor. A week later, his scalp and side-burn areas of his face were secreting a yellow discharge of some sort, along with the persistent rash still on his face. To the doctor’s eye it looked like “cradle cap gone wild” and she suggested an over the counter dandruff shampoo. Sadly, this only seemed to inflame the rash, and things were getting dismal. In the mean time we were trying everything we could find, by research and suggestion, to no avail. Aveeno Baby Eczema lotion, Eucerin Baby Eczema lotion, organic coconut oil (a natural anti-fungal moisturizer,) cotton clothing only, no contact with perfumes or dyes, hypoallergenic all natural baby soaps, etc., no matter what we tried, he was getting progressively worse. (Warning: some of these pictures might be disturbing.)

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Food allergies were ruled out at this time because the affected area was limited to his face and scalp, so if it were allergy related at all, it seemed to be something he was coming into contact with. By eight weeks old he was oozing so profoundly from his head that I was changing his saturated (around the neck) clothing and cloth diapers, we kept under him as a cotton barrier, three times a night. We decided to take him to a pediatric dermatologist. Thankfully, we live not too far from the University of Michigan hospital. We called through Mott’s, the children hospital and set up an appointment.

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I was hopeful as the resident was asking questions about his health. I relayed every bit of information I could think of. “No, he didn’t look like this at birth. Yes, he has been exposed to illness; his siblings are on antibiotics for strep throat. Yes, he did have an antibiotic at about 4 weeks for dark green boogers. Yes, the condition has begun to spread onto his shoulders and leg…” Two more doctors came in, examined him from head to toe and discussed his condition. They decided it was atopic dermatitis (eczema) and sent us home with a topical steroid and an oral antibiotic. It was a 10 day treatment with a follow-up in about 2 weeks.

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Relieved to have expert diagnosis, we started the regimen. To my great relief he started to improve within 24 hours. By two days he looked clear, and we seemed to have gotten through it! Whew, what a nightmare! But by day four into our new routine, his face began to break out. By day seven he looked about the same as when we had brought him in. We were back to constant surveillance, never to be left unattended for his incessant scratching. Well, thankfully, we had this scheduled follow-up appointment.

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Upon our return to the U of M Dermatology department, we were again questioned by a new resident and examined by two new physicians (apparently one of our first doctors was on vacation). They discussed in Latin terms amongst themselves, what they thought was going on. They apologized for any rudeness. Whatever, I mean do your thing. Just help my baby, and I’m good. It was decided that he had two overlapping conditions, the afore mentioned atopic dermatitis and a seborrheic dermatitis (in the family of cradle cap). Ok, just tell me what I need to do. In addition to the topical steroid, they added an anti-fungal lotion and shampoo and sent us home, no follow-up necessary.

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Immediately upon first application of our new products, Noah had a crazy reaction. His redness and irritation was magnified. And that’s when it dawned on me; they don’t know what’s going on with him. They’re just guessing! So, what am I doing to my son? Experimenting? I was completely depleted and very worried. (Disclaimer: I believe the U of M Health Systems is loaded with talented doctors that do much good. This is just my experience as one of their patients.) I decided I should call their office and let them know what happened. The woman who answered the phone said most of the physicians had left for the day, and advised me to stop treatment (the best advice given out of that whole office). She let me know that someone from the Dermatology department would call me the following day. The next day a resident did call me back; I explained what happened and asked him his thoughts. He replied that he had not seen Noah, and couldn’t say. Okay, well certainly he must have our file with the opinions of his colleagues in front of him. So, I continued to say that Noah had been diagnosed with atopic and seborrheic dermatitis and I was wondering if the anti-fungal treatment for the ‘seborriheic,’ however it’s pronounced, could have upset the ‘atopic’ part. I mean, that seems pretty straight forward to me, right? I assume he did go to medical school after all. But nope, he couldn’t answer that either without having seen him. Well then why (I thought to myself) couldn’t one of the two other residents or four residing physicians that had seen him have called me back??? Next, I kid you not, he asked in the most dismissive way “So, what would you like to do? Make an appointment?” I answered that I guessed so, to which he stated “I’ll have the scheduling department give you a call.” By the time they called, I had changed my mind.

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Noah was now three months old, and no better. I made an appointment with our family dermatologist who it first glance said Noah is allergic to something you are eating. She advised that I stop nursing- to be continued later, and introduce a non-dairy hypoallergenic formula (Nutramigen) into his diet. She recommended that we also add probiotic into his diet, due to the antibiotics he had been given in his short amount of being, and suggested adding a small amount of hemp oil into his bottles to start moisturizing from the inside out. And although I was heart broken about possibly being the source of his problem, I appreciated the less abrasive approach. She asked about his stool, no one had done that before either. Yes, it was a mucous type diarrhea since birth, unlike the ‘mustard curds’ of my previous children. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? She explained that what is going on in the tissue outside of his body was happening on the inside too. That made sense, duh!

To speed things along, I will say that even with the strides made, my son was still in a bad condition. It seemed hopeless. At this point we were struggling to grow skin on his cheeks. His skin tissue was in such disrepair that the slightest wipe from his mitted hands would scrape it off. It was an endless cycle. It was at this time my dear friend, saw an article with a picture of a baby girl, whose face looked just like Noah’s. The doctors at Children’s Hospital in Detroit had diagnosed her with a milk allergy and staph infection. Detroit? That was practically in our back yard! We took him there the next morning.

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Right away, the ER department took a culture of his skin. They were surprised that it hadn’t been done before, and so were we. Sure enough, Noah tested positive for a staph infection. Thankfully it was a common strep, the type that can be found on most normal skin, and easily treatable. It’s just that he had no barrier on his skin. As it turns out (from blood tests, also not previously done) he also had an extremely weak immune system and is highly allergenic.

By doing extensive (heartbreaking) testing, they doctors at Children’s Hospital were able to eliminate life-threatening illnesses (that I don’t even want to mention and am well aware there are many children unfairly suffering from) and less serious conditions, such as a zinc deficiency. We are continuing to work with dermatologists, allergists, etc. and Noah seems to be stabilized. He is by no means out of the woods, so to speak, but he is not getting worse and alas that is progress.

I wish I could describe this happy ending full of great results. Unfortunately, it seems that it is very difficult to determine allergies at his age, and truly is a trial by error situation. So, for the time being he gets a daily bath or more (of just water, no soap, no bleach), and moisturized (by vasoline, which yes, is petroleum based, but is 1 ingredient to simplify things) from head to toe several times a day. He takes allergy medicine around the clock and gets topical steroids and a topical antibiotic as needed. I brush my teeth one handed, vacuum with the Bjorn, and swaddle him to change his brother’s diaper. My four year old daughter holds his hands, while I run to the bathroom and I schedule my showers by visits from grandparents. I cut his fingernails and change bed sheets every three days. I literally sleep holding his hands, and still wake up in a panic that he has scratched his face. (As a side note, related to allergens and sleeping: have you ever seen those blown up pictures of dust mites? Whoa, that’s enough to give a grown woman nightmares! Change your sheets people, just sayin’)

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For what it’s worth, this is my story. We do have some better days than others. I am perplexed that in this day and age, they still don’t have answers or remedies for things like this. And I am resigned to the fact that God has us going through this trial for a reason. So for now, we just keep on keeping on. I have been told that many children are able to grow out of this, and I am remaining optimistic. If anyone can relate, I hope you can find solace in knowing that you are not alone. If anyone has knowledge and experience to share, my ears are wide open!

14 comments

  1. Aww poor baby, sometimes these Doctors have no idea what they are doing which is so frustrating as we are looking to them for answers! Im glad he is feeling much better and I will be following your journey. I have 2 boys and they both suffer from eczema and multiple food allergies, so I know exactly what your going through x

  2. As soon as I read that your other kids were on antibiotics for strep, I was wondering if a culture had been taken of his inflammation. I believe more often than not, stubborn eczematous inflammation is complicated by microbial infection.

    I have found that a topical antibiotic ointment (not a cream) compounded into petroleum jelly, with a smaller-than-usual amount of corticosteroid (also, ointment, not cream) helps far more reliably than any of the three independently.

    You might also test a soy-free formula to see if he might be allergic to soy.

    Challenge tests are the most reliable allergy tests at his age. But, they are also the most time consuming.

    1. Thank you! He is currently on a combination of goat’s milk and Alimentum, which although is dairy based, the protein is supposed to be so broken down it won’t effect someone with a dairy allergy. You are correct, he reacted terribly to a soy based formula. He does currently have a script for Mupirocin, a topical antibiotic, and Desonide, a topical steroid. And we have had good results with the combination. It sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience. I will definitely ask about challenge tests the next time we are at the allergist’s office. Thanks again!

      1. Use a small amount of the mupirocin inside his nostrils, as well, once a day. He may not appreciate the smell, but it will help to control strep and staph that like to colonise the mucosa in the nose. Nasopharyngeal staph and strep can easily migrate to remote sites on the body, especially when eczema is flaring, and re-colonise/infect those remote sites.

  3. I am so sorry your son suffers so, I hope things are better. I am doing some personal research into skin conditions as my family suffers from this as well, however not to the extent that your pictures show. As you said doctors don’t know all the answers and seem to be coming up short on how to help my family with both eczema and flare ups of skin problems. Two things that I have found are:

    1. The only thing so far that offers relief (in our situation) is by gently removing that very top layer of skin that has been affected. Then apply a true moisturizer such as an oil like coconut oil or apricot oil or a butter such as shea or kokum. To do this we apply a light abrasion (depending on the severity) from either wiping the area with a cloth up to a sugar scrub. Then apply an oil that sinks into the skin and then a butter that moisturizes the surface area. Just doing an oil or a butter will work but I found this combination works the best. This is more of a maintenance then a cure as our bodies are reacting for a reason that still needs t/b resolved.

    I believe that God has designed our bodies to communicate to us and I wondered why there was this need to scratch. Hence the idea came that maybe it is to remove that top layer to pull away the ‘poison’. And then add a layer of moisture to sooth the affected area. Now I have had no experience that your son had with no skin but have read that vaseline offers a barrier. But just in case you don’t know vaseline does not moisturize only offers a barrier – kinda like a second skin.

    And as well I would suggest not to use store bought creams. From several years of studying creams we purchase I have found so far that they are made up of mostly water and a small amount of moisturizer. The amount of moisturizer is so small to be of no real benefit. That is why I wrote to use a true moisturizer.

    2. The second thing I would suggest (and maybe you have) is the long term affect of using steriod cream. Maybe this is just ‘fear and mongering’ but has my family scared off of using steriod cream ever. And this was the first suggestion offered by the doctors.

    So like I said (and hope) that since July 2015 this has been resolved for you and all is fine. But just in case I wanted to offer you what has helped us.

    1. While looking for another comment, this comment was found! I apologize for not responding sooner. Thank you for the information, if this post is found by someone in need they might find your comment useful in the future.

      Noah’s “flare ups” are far less extreme than they used to be. The patches of irritated skin are mostly limited to two areas on the front of his cheeks. Sometimes for reasons we can’t always determine, he does still ooze, itch, etc., but even then the duration and severity seems to be decreasing. It’s been a long process. In our case we have found that eliminating dairy in all forms from his diet has helped a lot. A coworker told my husband that he had some similar issues and switched his (now adult) son to goat’s milk when he was an infant, because of a suggestion by a doctor. We were desperate, so after some research we felt like we had nothing to lose. It has been the best decision we have made. Also, we have found that he reacts poorly when coming in contact with polyester. We are careful to keep him in 100% cotton, and can’t even let anyone hold him (to this day) if he is going to brush his face against them without it. We use “Seventh Generation Free & Clear” laundry detergent. As far as topical applications, I understand not wanting to use steroids. We try to limit any products to as few as possible, and thankfully we haven’t had to use many these days. He still baths with only water. I like sunflower oil for a moisturizer, it seems to have a neutral/beneficial effect. It certainly doesn’t make him react in any negative way, and it seems to nourish the dry skin (but it doesn’t make anything miraculously clear up either). Occasionally, I still use Mupirocin (topical antibiotic) when skin is open/oozing. Otherwise on rare instances I still use Vasoline to create a barrier and moisturize over scabbed areas. I don’t love that it is petroleum based, but as one doctor explained (we have seen so many), it’s only 1 ingredient; which eliminates the guess work out of what he might be reacting to from all of the other suggested creams/lotions/ointments/etc. If he really seems to be itchy and suffering we give him Children’s Benadryl on demand. I am grateful that at this point he doesn’t need to take it every six hours.

      Noah seems to be getting stronger every day. People told us all along he might out-grow it, which doesn’t help while you’re dealing with it… but gave us something to look forward to. It seems to be true for him. He is almost 1 1/2 years old now, and we are all finally sleeping a little more.

      Thanks again,
      Sadie

  4. I came across this post googling eczema and staph infections on babies. My daughter has had a mystery rash for two months now (she is 4 months) and it has the doctors stumped. It looks EXACTLY like your Noah’s rash. I am going to bring it up and ask them to test for staph. This post gave me so much hope and brought me to tears, I’m praying this may be our answer too!

    1. I’m so sorry, I understand, and I hope it is! It’s been a long process, but so far we found out he has a dairy allergy, and reacts poorly to polyester. There is more information in the comments section. If you ever have questions about our experience feel free to contact me. God bless!

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