Children with eczema may eventually get food allergies, hay fever, or asthma. But you can take steps to soothe the itch and possibly cut the risk of allergies.
The Eczema-Allergy Connection
Doctors used to think eczema was just a sign of an allergic reaction -- your body overreacting to a harmless allergen, like pollen or dander. Now most experts think eczema is actually a problem with the outer layer of your skin. Instead of working as a barrier, your skin is "leaky" and lets in germs, irritants, or allergens.
While most experts don't think eczema is purely allergic, it's clearly connected to allergic conditions like food allergies, hay fever, and asthma.
- Up to 80% of kids with eczema get hay fever or asthma later in childhood.
- 35% of adults with asthma or nasal allergies had eczema as kids.
- If a mom has allergies, there's almost a 1 in 3 chance that her baby will have eczema.
- 37% of kids with moderate to severe eczema also have food allergies.
Stopping the Allergic March
For some kids, eczema and allergies develop in a specific order as they get older. It starts with eczema, then food allergies, then asthma, and then hay fever. It's called the allergic march.
But just because your child has eczema doesn't mean they'll get these other conditions. It just means there's a higher risk.
What increases that risk?
When it starts. Kids who get eczema at a young age may be more likely to have allergies or asthma later.
How severe it is. Kids with worse eczema symptoms may be more likely to get allergies or asthma.
You can do some things that might lower your child's chances of worsening eczema, asthma, or allergies. The evidence isn't clear, so talk to your doctor or your child's pediatrician. Depending on the situation, the doctor might recommend:
Breastfeeding your baby. It might lower the risk of eczema, later allergies, or asthma.
Diet changes. If your baby has a high risk of allergic problems, some doctors recommend changes in diet. Breastfeeding for at least 4 months can help protect your child. “Hydrolyzed” formula might help protect formula-fed babies.
Other ways to keep your child's eczema under control include:
Get allergy testing. If you can pin the problem on a specific allergen, you can figure out ways to avoid it.
Use a moisturizer. Go for thick creams and ointments that stop the skin from drying out.
Keep fingernails short. Your child will do less damage to the skin from scratching.
Avoid irritants. Always use unscented soap and laundry detergent. Stay away from cigarette smoke.
Watch for problems. If your child's eczema seems to be getting worse -- or if they get allergy symptoms, like congestion or a runny nose -- see a doctor. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner your child will feel better.