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Eczema and Food Allergies: Clarifying the Connections

If you have a child with eczema or food allergy or both, chances are you've wondered what causes these two disorders. In fact, there's absolutely a strong connection between the two.


But that connection may not be what you think it is.


What is Eczema?


Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes red, itchy patches. These patches can become infected and can be very difficult to treat. One type of eczema is atopic dermatitis, which is a form of eczema that impacts nearly 1 in 5 children.


What causes eczema?


What causes eczema is thought to be multifactorial. Epigenetics plays a big role. Epigenetics is the way our environments interact with our genetic make-up and, simply stated, caused genes to be turn off and turned on. One gene that plays a strong role in eczema is the filaggrin gene, which contributes to skin integrity. If the filaggrin gene is mutated, then the skin integrity can be diminished, essentially resulting in weaker skin. The microbiome – which is the composition of microbes on the skin – also impacts the skin barrier.


How are eczema and food allergies related?


Many people think that food allergies cause eczema. Actually, eczema predisposes to food allergies. Why eczema does this is unclear but is thought to be due to the impact eczema has on the immune system.


The skin is the largest immune organ.


The immune system within the skin is constantly surveilling the environment above and below the skin. For example, imagine the skin is a fort and immune system within the skin the military. When that fort wall is damaged, the military is immediately activated and wages war. This is similar to what happens with eczema. When the immune system of the skin becomes activated due to eczema, those immune components result in the creation of allergic conditions. The immune machinery that plays a role in keeping our bodies safe from germs that try to attack us through are skin is the same immune machinery involved in allergies, including food allergies.


Can foods flare eczema?


While foods do not cause eczema, some foods can flare eczema in some individuals. This is causes food-induced flaring of atopic dermatitis. While it may seem ideal to simply try to avoid trigger foods, that decision should be made with careful consideration. That's because prolonged avoidance of these foods could increase the likelihood of developing IgE-mediated (anaphylactic) food allergies. Instead of prolonged avoidance of a trigger food, many food allergists recommend initiating and aggressive skincare regimen while temporarily (e.g. maybe for a week) avoiding a food. The aggressive skin care regimen include strategies to both 1) decrease inflammation, and 2) increase hydration.


If your child has eczema and/or food allergies…


Be sure to have a clear plan of management for both these conditions. These plans should be developed with your allergist. Both of these conditions can be very challenging, especially given the significant discomfort and pain that eczema can cause as well as the anxiety that eczema and food allergies can cause. Remember, continue to seek evidence-based information to inform your discussions with your allergist, and your journey will be all the smoother.


Tune in to these episodes to learn all the connections between eczema and food allergies!


And don't miss this post, also about eczema!




Are you in need of an allergist in your area? Check out these allergist finder tools:

AAAAI Allergist Finder: https://allergist.aaaai.org/find/ ACAAI Allergist Finder: https://acaai.org/locate-an-allergist OIT Allergist Finder: https://acaai.org/locate-an-allergist

A note from Dr. Hoyt


I have talked about a non-profit…


Pam and I volunteer with the non-profit The Teal Schoolhouse. Its primary program is Code Ana. Code Ana equips schools for medical emergencies like anaphylaxis.


Code Ana’s Online Epinephrine Training Program helps support that goal. Through this program, you will educate yourself while you support this important mission!


A medical emergency response plan is important for everyone at any school. Code Ana's program Med-E Ready is a comprehensive approach to school-focused medical preparedness. This program guides schools through the process of creating a medical emergency response plan. A response team is also developed! This is one of the most important components of a school's food allergy policy!


Does your kiddo’s school have Code Ana?


 

You've just read our post “Eczema and Food Allergies: Clarifying the Connections.” Remember, Dr. Hoyt is an allergist, but she isn't your allergist, so talk with your allergist about what you've just learned!

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