Eczema is an uncomfortable skin condition that causes a dry, red and itchy rash. Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema commonly co-occurs with food allergies although it is not an allergy. Certain foods may trigger outbreaks, but the good news is that most children outgrow eczema or at least will see fewer and less intense outbreaks and rashes as adults.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a type of skin inflammation and the most common type, especially in children is called atopic dermatitis. It is a chronic condition, so it may come and go, with flare ups that produce an itchy and dry, red rash. Exactly what causes eczema isn’t known, but it seems to be related to both genetics and environmental factors. It’s common for children with eczema to also have allergies or asthma. There are medications and creams that can help with eczema, but there is no cure.
Your Child May Outgrow Eczema
For most children, eczema improves as they grow older. For some, the symptoms mostly disappear by the age of three, while for others flare ups won’t start to wane until the teenage years. Many children will continue to have eczema as adults but with far fewer flare ups. Most children with this condition will always have sensitive and dry skin that gets irritated or itchy easily.
Eczema is Not an Allergy
Although it does seem to be related to allergies, eczema itself is not an allergy. There is no allergen that triggers an immune response to cause the skin rash. However, there is some connection. For instance, a child with a food allergy may have a flare up a few days after being exposed to an allergen, even after experiencing an immediate allergic reaction to the food.
This is not an allergy, but most people with eczema find that certain substances trigger or worsen flare ups. Perfumes, laundry detergents, wool or certain substances that are allergens, like dander or a food, may cause flare ups or irritate the skin. Avoiding these triggers can be useful.
Eczema and Diet
If your child is allergic to a specific food, that allergen may trigger or worsen eczema rashes. If you suspect a food is triggering flare ups, but have not had an allergy test, you can request a food challenge or skin prick test in your doctor’s office. Never try a food challenge at home in case your child is allergic and has a serious reaction. If your child does have a food allergy, avoiding that food will reduce allergic reactions but will also likely improve eczema by reducing flare ups.
Otherwise, with eczema, there is no real reason to avoid certain foods, but there may be supplements or foods that help. There is some evidence that eating more omega-3 fatty acids may reduce rashes, and this can be taken as a fish oil supplement or by eating more foods like chia seeds and walnuts, rich in these fats. Foods with quercetin, a natural antihistamine, may also help. These include apples, kale, broccoli, spinach and cherries.
Eczema can be very uncomfortable, but for most children it is a temporary problem. Most will see less irritation as they age. In the meantime, in addition to recommendations from your pediatrician, try to avoid substances and foods that seem to trigger flare ups and include more omega-3 fats and quercetin-rich foods in your child’s diet.