Which Came First: Eczema and Food Allergy?

You might have heard that eczema can be a sign of a food allergy or sensitivity in infants. But before we review potential links between food allergies and eczema, let’s go over some basics.

What is eczema?

It is most often characterized by dry, red, extremely itchy patches on the skin. Eczema is sometimes referred to as “the itch that rashes,” since the itch, when scratched, results in the appearance of the rash.

Who is suffering from eczema?

10-20% of babies

What triggers eczema?

Environmental Triggers

  • Wool and other scratchy fabrics
  • Chronic, extremely dry air
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Chemicals in certain soaps and detergents

Allergen Triggers These substances provoke an overreaction of the immune system and cause the skin to become inflamed.The baby won’t stop scratching…what’s a parent to do?

  1. Take your baby to the doctor to determine what is causing the rash. Make sure the pediatrician considers all potential allergens, including common foods allergens like milk, soy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, fish and tree nuts.
  2. Remove the trigger from your baby’s life. This may mean changing detergent, purchasing dust-proof mattress covers or sending the family pet outside. It may also mean changing your baby’s diet. If you are breastfeeding, remove all the allergens from your diet. If you are feeding your baby a cow’s milk- or soy-based formula, you’ll want to switch to a hypoallergenic amino acid-based formula like Neocate.
  3. Heal your baby’s damaged skin. Work with the pediatrician to develop a daily skin care routine that will help heal your baby’s skin, which has been damaged by the allergic reaction and your baby’s scratching. Here are some likely recommendations:
  • Bathe your baby in soothing lukewarm water
  • Use a milk soap or non-soap cleanser
  • Avoid bath oils and perfumed powders
  • Apply an over-the-counter lubricant to her skin (Talk to the doctor for specific brand recommendations)
  • Keep her fingernails filed short so the scratching won’t do as much damage
  • Dress her in soft cotton fabrics to prevent possible fabric irritation
  • Keep her cool and avoid hot, humid environments
  • Try to distract her from the itchiness with fun activities

If the skin becomes infected, call the doctor right away. He or she might prescribe an antibiotic for you to either apply to your baby’s damaged skin or give her by mouth.

The Link Between Food Allergies and Eczema

The link between food allergies and eczema has been known for many years. It is typically assumed that the eczema is a symptom of the underlying food allergy. In other words, the eczema is triggered by the food allergy. However, a new study suggests just the opposite.

An article published in the July issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found evidence that it’s actually eczema which triggers the food allergy, rather than the other way around. The authors suggested that the breakdown of the skin barrier and inflammation in the skin that occurs in eczema could play a key role in triggering food sensitivity in babies. These findings might indicate that immune cells in the skin, rather than the gut, play a major role in the development of food allergies. The authors theorize that the breakdown of the skin barrier seen with eczema exposes immune cells in the skin to environmental allergens – For example, food proteins in this case — which then triggers an allergic reaction to foods.

So what does this mean for individuals with eczema and food allergies? Nothing yet, but these findings may help researchers develop better treatments or prevention tactics for food allergies in the future. If eczema and an exposed skin barrier lead to the development of food allergies, then perhaps repairing the skin barrier can help prevent or resolve food allergies.



King’s College London. “Eczema may play a key role in the development of food allergy in infants, study suggests.” ScienceDaily, 19 Jul. 2013. Web. 5 Nov. 2013

Photo: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8180/8039011474_e475439880.jpg

Published: 11/05/2013
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