The Link Between Eczema and Food Allergies

Common foods can cause or worsen eczema, including eggs, milk and wheat

Eczema close-up. Credit: Jiblet / Getty Images

Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is a type of skin rash that's characterized by itchiness, redness, and scaliness. Although there are several possible causes, some common foods -- including eggs, milk, wheat, peanuts and soy -- can trigger eczema or make it worse in people who are prone to it.

The rash most commonly appears on the knees, elbows, cheeks, arms and legs, although it can be seen on other parts of the body, as well.

Eczema occurs most commonly in children. Worldwide, some 10% to 20% of children develop eczema, with about half of those being diagnosed before they're one year old.

Fortunately, most children with eczema will either completely outgrow their symptoms or find that their symptoms improve significantly by the time they reach adulthood. About 10% of eczema cases occur for the first time in adolescents or adults.

Eczema, Food Allergies, Other Allergies, and Asthma

Eczema is associated with a variety of so-called allergic conditions, including asthma, respiratory allergies, and allergic rhinitis. Eczema has a genetic component; children born into families with a history of asthma, hay fever, eczema, or other allergic disorders are more likely to develop eczema.

About one-third of eczema patients develop the rash in response to food triggers. In fact, eczema can make allergy testing difficult -- it can make skin testing almost impossible.

(In these cases, blood tests for allergies may be helpful.)

In addition, food allergens can sometimes cause eczema to worsen or "flare up." In people with eczema and food allergies, strictly avoiding food allergens may help reduce or, occasionally, eliminate symptoms.

Eggs Most Common Eczema Food Trigger

The most common food triggers for eczema are eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, and wheat.

Among these, eggs are probably associated the most strongly with eczema. Because of the high number of eczema patients who have food allergies, studies recommend that food allergy screening be a part of testing anyone newly diagnosed with eczema, especially children who are newly diagnosed.

There are a variety of possible non-food triggers for eczema, as well. In addition to food allergens, eczema can be exacerbated by stress, physical irritants (like excess dryness in the air or itchy clothing), airborne allergens like dust and pollen, and some infections.

Eczema Treatment: Reducing Inflammation

Eczema treatment consists of avoiding any known triggers or skin irritants (whether they're allergenic, emotional, or physical), treating skin dryness, and reducing inflammation.

Your doctor may treat skin dryness with special lotions or with wet dressings. Drugs that are used to control inflammation include topical corticosteroids like Cultivate (fluticasone) and Dermatop (prednicarbate). Occasionally, doctors prescribe shorter courses of oral steroids like prednisone to treat severe eczema, but these drugs are generally not used for long periods of time.

Breastfeeding May Help Prevent Eczema

Studies have examined whether late introduction of solid foods, breastfeeding, or supplements of probiotics (helpful bacteria that live in the small intestines) can help prevent eczema in high-risk children.

While studies have not found a compelling reason for parents to delay introducing solid foods beyond the current AAP recommendation of four months, exclusive breastfeeding for four to six months does seem to help. Several studies have shown that probiotic supplements in infants might help prevent eczema or reduce its effects, but this research is not considered conclusive. Talk to your doctor before giving your infant probiotics.

Coping with Eczema and Food Allergies

Eczema is a major "quality-of-life" disorder for families dealing with it — the skin condition can be quite painful and can be distressing for both children and parents.

Allergy testing to determine whether food allergies are a trigger for eczema can be useful in helping ease symptoms of eczema. If you or your child have eczema and are found through testing to be allergic to a food, strictly avoiding that food may help you reduce eczema symptoms.

Families may be disappointed, though, to find that a food allergen-free diet isn't a "magic bullet." Not everyone with food allergies and eczema finds that abstaining from food triggers eliminates or even substantially reduces their eczema (although many see some success with this strategy).

Your allergist can give you guidance about what to expect after your allergy testing and can help you relieve symptoms of eczema through medication and home treatment.

In addition, your doctor needs to know if an eczema rash becomes painful, unusually swollen, or accompanied by a fever, since these are all signs of bacterial infection. Keep in mind that eczema tends to be most severe in children under the age of five, and that many families will find that children's symptoms are, if not completely outgrown, far less severe as they grow older.


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Filipiak, Birgit, et al. "Solid Food Introduction in Relation to Eczema: Results from a Four-Year Prospective Birth Cohort Study." Journal of Pediatrics. Oct. 2007. 151(4): 331-33.

Hill, David J., et al. "IgE Food Sensitization in Infants with Eczema Attending a Dermatology Department." Journal of Pediatrics. Oct. 2007. 151(4): 359-63.

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