British babies with eczema are taking part in a project to test whether supplements containing probiotic gut bacteria can help to improve their symptoms, reports BBC Online.
The report claims that childhood eczema has increased dramatically over the last 40 years - in the 1960's one in 10 children had eczema, but today it is one in five, according to the report.
The study has been set up by Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester which is seeking to recruit 200 babies aged under six months for the research. Half of these will receive a naturally occurring probiotic bacteria and the others a placebo.
Previous research suggests that probiotic supplements may provide some form of protection against eczema. Probiotic bacteria, otherwise known as "friendly" bacteria, live in the human gut in varying quantities to make up a rich variety of intestinal flora. They are known to guard against harmful bacteria, yeast and viruses and stimulate the function of the entire digestive system.
The Wythenshawe Probiotics in Atopic Dermatitis in Infancy (PADI) programme will be carried out over three months, with the eczema symptoms monitored every four weeks. The participants will receive a final assessment when they reach one year old.
"Something has changed in the last 40 years because eczema has increased so rapidly. It must be something in the environment, but we don't know what it is," paediatrician and study co-ordinator Dr Claudia Gore told the BBC.
"We hope to show that probiotics are a good, natural alternative or additional treatment for eczema," she added.
The report notes a study carried out in Finland found that giving probiotic bacteria to a mother prior to the birth and then to the baby postnatally, halved the rate of eczema in children at risk of developing the condition.
All the study participants had a family history of allergic disease such as eczema or asthma - making their children more likely to develop such illnesses. The study found less cases of eczema among children receiving the bacteria.