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A Parent’s Guide To Baby Eczema: Answering Your FAQs

September 15, 2021 4 min read

  • Can food allergies cause eczema?
  • Can I give food allergens to my child with eczema?
  • What causes baby eczema?
  • What will trigger a flareup of baby eczema?
  • What’s the difference between eczema flare ups and food allergy reactions?
  • Will my child grow out of eczema?
  • How to treat baby eczema? 

  • Can food allergies cause eczema?

    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.

    Can I give food allergens to my child with eczema?

    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. 

    What causes baby eczema?

    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.

    What will trigger a flareup of baby eczema?

    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:

    • Common metals, like nickel
    • Fragrances in perfume and skincare
    • Households soaps or cleaning products
    • Cigarette smoke
    • Certain fabrics worn against the skin, like wool or synthetics
    • Environmental allergens, like pet fur, dust mites or pollen

    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.

    What’s the difference between eczema flare ups and food allergy reactions?

    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. 

    Will my child grow out 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. 

    How to treat baby eczema?

    Though there is no cure for eczema, there are some steps you can take to help manage the condition.  

    1. First, identify and eliminate triggers. Figure out what triggers and everyday culprits cause flare-ups in your child’s eczema. Once identified, try to find ways to eliminate or avoid them. 
    2. Second, create a regular bathing routine. Bathing helps to eliminate common triggers such as dirt, fur, pollen and other irritants. Use lukewarm water and a mild, fragrance-free cleanser. Avoid any harsh scrubbing and baths longer than 10 minutes. Once dried, by sure to immediately apply a fragrance-free moisturizer, cream or ointment. Continue to apply as needed throughout the day to provide relief and help your baby's skin retain its natural moisture. 
    3. Third, consider topical corticosteroids. Commonly used to treat eczema, topical corticosteroids help reduce inflammation and other symptoms, like itching. These come in forms such as ointments, creams, sprays and lotions. Since babies are more sensitive than adults, speak to your pediatrician when it comes to the amount and frequency this treatment should be used. 

    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.