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Foods and Atopic Eczema

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

A common worry of a sufferer of any condition is "am I doing something to cause the condition and can I avoid it?" The obvious target for this kind of worry is food.

However there are only a few skin conditions that can genuinely be said to be caused by diet and eczema is NOT one of them. The link is fairly obvious in the case of a food allergy - when the food that causes an allergy is eaten the symptoms that are far more likely are vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, tingling of the mouth, dizziness or collapse in severe cases. A skin reaction can be seen in food allergy when it appears as an itchy rash with wheals over the body and tongue and facial swelling.

What is noticed with atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis), however, is that sufferers are more likely to develop allergies to foods and other things and this can give rise to confusion. It is not the allergies causing the eczema, but it is the genes that make the person more likely to develop eczema and allergies.

Wheals on the skin that can be caused by a food allergy

Small children in infancy, after weaning, can develop allergies to foodstuffs which they usually grow out of.

  • These allergies are usually to nuts
  • eggs
  • dairy products

If these are eaten, a wheal will develop around the mouth or on the rest of the body (as seen left), but it is a different rash to that of eczema.

The child will usually grow out of the allergies, dairy first, then egg and then nuts, but the nut allergy can often persist into adulthood.

What foods are safe to eat with eczema?

Through scientific research from medical staff and dieticians throughout the world over a number of years, there has not been any obvious link found between eczema and any particular food in the diet.

Some sufferers do find that some foods can make their eczema worse though this cannot be applied to all sufferers of eczema.

Various foods are commented on below:

There is no evidence of a link between vegetables and eczema and vegetables make up an important part of a well balanced diet. In fact vegetables and fruit, especially citrus fruits, are an important source of vitamin C which helps to keep skin healthy. Lack of vitamin C can cause changes in the skin, which includes broken hairs and small bruises around the hair follicles.

Through scientific research from medical staff and dieticians throughout the world over a number of years there has not been any clear- cut link found between eczema and eggs in the diet.

Some individuals, however, may find excluding eggs of benefit, though this cannot be applied to everyone.

Young children can develop a wheal and flare around their mouth within minutes of eating eggs, but the link between this and eczema is not clear. Children usually grow out of this.

If a link is suspected then you should document this clearly and consult your doctor.

Dairy products - A lot of anxiety about these
A true allergy to these is rare. If someone does not have the enzyme lactose it can mean that they are unable to break down milk causing diarrhoea and problems with absorbing food. However it is possible that milk can cause an allergy. Soya milk can be used but this itself can cause an allergy. Goats milk can also cause an allergy. A clear link should be made between any food and eczema.

Can cause urticaria in children and go on to cause a serious allergy - anaphylaxis.

  • No known problems with eczema. Choosing to be vegetarian is a personal choice Gluten and wheat - no evidence of any clear link
  • Alcohol - not food! no evidence of any link with eczema

Remember it is crucially important to have a healthy balanced diet at all times.

How do I know if I have a food problem and what should I do?

A great deal is written about diet and diseases and as a consequence a lot of anxiety can arise over whether or not someone has a food allergy or food intolerance. A brief overview is given below:

Food allergy

A true food allergy will have an immune response. This means when your body is exposed to a food that you are allergic to you will have specific symptoms every time, usually diarrhoea and vomiting, though a skin rash can occur.

Tingling of the mouth can also be a symptom. This may be caused by antibodies to the food and, though not always, the antibodies may be detectable through a blood test.

Food intolerance

Intolerance is when your body cannot process the food in the normal way and the body rejects the food. Intolerances are important to deal with. Consult your doctor if you feel you need help. The symptoms may appear like indigestion, however the symptoms may overlap with those of a food allergy so it is important to address the issue of a food intolerance.

What do you do if you think the skin rash is caused by a food that you are allergic to?

If you think you have a problem food, keep a record of your symptoms. Consult with your doctor about the findings before you do anything else and if it is felt that there is a relationship between the two, your doctor will decide on the best plan of action.

  • Each time you have the skin rash record what you were eating the 24 hours before.
  • Avoiding the problem food should completely clear the rash if it was causing the rash in the first place.
  • If you are clear of the skin rash while avoiding the problem food, eating the food should again cause the skin rash to return.
  • To test the link to a "problem food" can be eaten deliberately as a food challenge - this should be under expert supervision if the reaction is severe enough to be life threatening.
  • EVERY time the problem food is taken the rash should appear, if there is a true link.

If your skin does not improve when you remove the food, it is an indication that the food is unlikely to be causing the skin problem.

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