The Link Between Eczema and Food Allergies

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Young children with eczema are more likely to develop food allergies. Studies have shown that approximately one-third of those with eczema have allergies to certain foods, including dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts and some fish. For most children, the eczema shows up first; parents with infants and young children diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, should be on the lookout for signs of a food allergy. But remember, most children with eczema do not have any food allergies.

    What is a food allergy?

    According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a food allergy is “an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs reproducibly on exposure to a given food.” [1] Some of the symptoms of food allergies include:

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    • Skin: Itching, redness, hives, red bumps
    • Eyes: Itching, watering, redness, swelling or puffiness around eyes
    • Respiratory: Congestion, runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, dry cough, tightness of chest, shortness of breath, wheezing
    • Gastrointestinal:  Itching in the mouth, swelling of lips or tongue, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, reflux
    • Cardiovascular: Rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting


    Food allergies can be anywhere from mild to severe (life-threatening) and the severity of symptoms can vary based on how much of the food you consumed. Those children who also have asthma may have more severe reactions.


    Diagnosis of food allergies

    Traditionally, blood and skin tests have been used to test for food allergies. However, according to Dr. Jon Hanifen, professor of dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University, “The only way to diagnose food allergy is with a strong history of reactions or a challenge -- where you feed patients the food indicated by tests and see if they have an immediate reaction to it. This is done in a doctor’s office, using small increments of the food in question and increasing the amount until an allergic reaction occurs or does not occur. Usually a parent can pinpoint if a child has a true food allergy because the allergic reaction will appear so quickly with lip swelling or hives, quite distinct from simply food intolerance.” [2]


    Because food allergies can be severe, testing different foods should be done only under the supervision of a doctor or medical professional.


    Treatment of food allergies

    Obviously, any food causing an allergic reaction, especially a severe one, should be avoided. Parents need to be vigilant in understanding and reading food labels to be sure no allergens are included in the product. The NIAID also recommends follow-up testing. Frequency of reevaluations is based on the specific food, the age of the child and medical history.


    Some research shows that withholding or avoiding foods may contribute to food allergies, according to Dr. Hanifin. Studies in Israel indicate that feeding small amounts of foods in question may help correct food allergies. For example, studies indicate that Israeli children  seldom get peanut allergies, and peanut proteins are used in pacifiers in that country. [2]


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    Food allergies can be a trigger for eczema for infants and those with severe eczema but not for everyone. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, in most people food allergies will not cause an eczema flare up. Working closely with medical professionals, parents can determine which foods should be avoided and, if the list is extensive, working with a nutritionist may ensure your child has a balanced and nutritionally beneficial diet.




    [1] “Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States,” 2011, May, Joshua A. Boyce, M.D. et al, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

    [2] “Dermatologists Caution the Atopic Dermatitis is a Strong Precursor to Food Allergies,” 2011, Feb. 4, American Academy of Dermatology

Published On: April 10, 2013