If your child has itchy eczema, could diet be to blame? It's possible. Up to one out of three kids with eczema has a food allergy that could be making symptoms worse. Avoiding some foods could make a big difference.
But since finding food triggers is tricky -- and eczema can have lots of other causes -- don't jump to conclusions. Be methodical, and work closely with an allergist.
What Foods May Trigger Eczema?
When you have a food allergy, your body reacts to a harmless food as if it's a dangerous germ and attacks. Allergy symptoms, like swelling, are side effects of your body's defenses.
Eczema doesn't seem to be an allergic condition, but food allergies can make it worse in some kids. Babies and young children are more likely to have food triggers for eczema than older kids.
Some foods are more likely to trigger symptoms than others. These foods cause 90% of all food allergies:
- Tree nuts
While trigger foods can make eczema worse, experts don't think foods are really the original cause of the eczema. Instead, eczema seems to result from a "leakiness" in the outer layer of skin that allows in irritants, germs, and allergens.
How to Find a Food Trigger
Some food allergies are obvious. If your child eats lobster for the first time and breaks out in hives 15 minutes later, the link might be clear.
But with food triggers and eczema, it's often not so obvious. The symptoms may not show up for days after eating a food. While stopping a trigger food may help, it may not make the eczema disappear. And remember that two out of three kids with eczema don't have a food allergy at all.
That's why working with a doctor is so important. He or she can guide you toward the real cause. Your child's doctor might recommend tests like:
Elimination diets. If a doctor suspects a food, he or she may recommend cutting it out for 10 to 14 days. Watch to see if it makes a difference.
Food challenges. After you've taken a food out of your child's diet, your pediatrician might want you to add a small amount back in to see if it causes symptoms. Your doctor may want to do a food challenge in the office, in case your child has a reaction.
Skin testing. A doctor can take an extract of the food and use it to scratch the skin lightly. If the area swells up, it's a sign of an allergic reaction. However, it's not always accurate.
Blood tests. RAST -- radioallergosorbent test -- can check for special cells in the blood that are signs of specific food allergies. Again, it's not always accurate. Other lab tests can check for cells that trigger swelling.