Many children with eczema will also have food allergies, but the foods themselves will not cause eczema. In fact, it’s often the other way around. Children with eczema are 600% more likely to develop a food allergy.
This is known as the atopic march, which describes a pattern where eczema generally appears first, followed by a food allergy, then seasonal allergies and asthma. When your child has eczema, allergens and irritants entering through the skin triggers an immune response in the form of inflammation. This hypersensitivity of the immune system can cause an exaggerated response later on when food allergens are eaten or inhaled.
Though food allergies don't cause eczema, they can trigger a worsening of existing eczema symptoms. These eczema flares can differ by the type of food eaten as well as the child’s immune system response.
Research shows that babies with eczema are at a higher risk of developing a food allergy. However, this does not mean you should avoid introducing the most common food allergens.
In fact, according to the newest USDA Guidelines, "if an infant has severe eczema, egg allergy, or both (conditions that increase the risk of peanut allergy), age-appropriate, peanut-containing foods should be introduced into the diet as early as age 4 to 6 months".
That means introducing common food allergens, like peanut, tree nuts, egg, milk, wheat, soy, and sesame, is very important for children with eczema in order to try and reduce the risk of your little one developing food allergies later in life.
Depending on the severity of their eczema, you may want to first consult a pediatrician before introducing allergens.
Though the specific cause of eczema is not yet known, recent studies show that eczema can be attributed to problems with the skin barrier, dryness, and inflammation. If the protein in the outer layer of the skin isn’t creating a strong barrier against the environment, it will not be able to retain moisture and keep out damaging bacteria and other environmental stressors.
Eczema also tends to run in families and can be passed through genes. When eczema forms, it presents itself as red, dry and itchy skin most commonly around the scalp and face in infants, though it can also be on the arms and legs.
There are many irritants and allergens that can trigger baby eczema. Common triggers of eczema flares include stress, dry climate, environmental irritants, sweat, overheating, hormones, scratching, and dry skin. Other common irritants can include:
If your child is already diagnosed with eczema, food allergies can also trigger an eczema flareup. To confirm if suspected allergies are triggering your child’s eczema flare ups, allergy tests may be recommended by your pediatrician.
Food allergy reactions can range from mild to potentially life-threatening and usually happen a few hours after eating food allergens, like peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, fish, grains, soy and sesame. Some common food allergy symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, hives, swelling, itching and difficulty breathing.
Eczema flare ups occur when your child’s skin is exposed to any number of triggers, which can include food allergens. These can be any of the common baby eczema triggers listed above, as well as common household items like fabrics, fragrances, metals, and foods. Eczema can look like patches of red, dry, and itchy skin on the face, scalp, arms and legs. It can also cause rough patches and bumps that leak fluid.
Food allergies will occur every time your child eats or touches that food, whereas eczema flares can be chronic and lifelong, with symptoms persisting regularly.
Though foods can cause both allergies and eczema flare ups, there are some specific differences between the two. There are many symptoms associated with an allergy that are different from eczema, like vomiting, swelling, and difficulty breathing. Also, the hives of a food allergy look different than the red, itchy skin of eczema.
There is a very good chance your child will outgrow their eczema. For some children, they will outgrow the symptoms of eczema by age 4. For others, they will continue to have dry, sensitive skin as they grow up.
Though it is a small percentage of children who will continue to have persistent eczema past their teenage years, they may have a tendency for sensitive, dry skin.
Though there is no cure for eczema, there are some steps you can take to help manage the condition.
It is important to remember that even after the redness and itchiness has gone away, inflammation still remains under the skin. That means you shouldn’t stop treatment until the skin feels totally smooth, not just when redness subsides. Usually, this can range anywhere from 1-4 weeks depending on the area of the body and thickness of the eczema.