Eczema affects up to 20% of the U.S. population. Eczema is aka Atopic Dermatitis and is one of the conditions that make up the Atopic Triad (eczema, hay fever, asthma). Eczema typically appears as red, scaly patches that are commonly pruritic. Different parts of the body are affected based on age. For babies and toddlers less than 2 years old, the face and extensor/outer sides of the arms and legs are involved. For toddlers 2 to 5 years old, the flexural areas of the arms (antecubitals) and legs (popliteal) are typically involved. For older children and adults, all parts of the body can be affected.
When your baby is afflicted with eczema, you may be finding yourself trying to figure out what caused your baby to get eczema. There is always the question of what causes or triggers eczema. Eczema is not so simple, however, and eczema is rather complex because individuals with eczema have a different immune system that is sensitive to certain triggers and exposures.
One of those possible triggers and exposures is food. What triggers what first? Does having eczema increase the chances to developing a food allergy or does a food allergy increase the chances of eczema to occur? What is the link between food allergies and eczema? It appears the first suggestion is true- having eczema increases the risk of developing a food allergy. The most common food allergies in a child with eczema are egg, milk, soy, and wheat.
Let’s learn more about food allergies. Food allergies affect up to 15 million people in the U.S. and specifically up to 4 million children in the U.S. That figure means 1 in every 13 children will have a food allergy. Peanut is the most common allergen followed by milk and then shellfish. That statistic means that up to 2 kids in a single school classroom of 25 to 30 kids may be affected by a food allergy. Between the years of 1997 and 2011, the percentage of children with a food allergy has increased by 50%. Remember, it is not just peanuts that cause a food allergy. The most common causes of food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean, shellfish.
Food allergy affects up to 8% of children up to 3 years old, and peanut allergy, specifically, affects up to 3% children in Western countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Peanut allergies have doubled over the past decade. Back in 2000, clinical practice guidelines in the U.S. and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended to parents the avoidance of peanut and allergenic products in high risk infants by excluding allergenic foods from infants’ diet as well as excluding these foods from a mother’s diet during pregnancy and lactation. Clinical practice guidelines in the U.K. recommended the same at that time. These guidelines recommended peanut avoidance before the age of 3 years old. It was thought that these recommendations could help prevent a peanut allergy in a child. However, both the U.S. and the U.K. saw the opposite effect. Peanut allergy rates have doubled over the past 10 to 15 years.
As peanut allergy rates increased, the clinical practice guidelines of early peanut avoidance in the U.S. were lifted in 2008. Recent research in the 2015 and 2016 Peanut and Allergy (LEAP) trials have shown that early consumption of peanut products in high-risk infants with severe eczema, egg allergy or both, reduced the risk of developing a peanut allergy by 80% by 5 years of age. The persistence of oral tolerance to peanuts (LEAP-On) trial published in March 2016 showed that the absence of peanut reactivity is maintained even without continued exposure to peanut products.
If your child currently has a food allergy, use this one helpful link as a resource to help guide you through food labels and the latest recall on a food item. This site reviews how to read a food label correctly to avoid exposure to common causes of food allergies.
Now, to keep it simple, know that when your baby has eczema, your baby is at a higher risk of developing a food allergy. Recent studies recommend early exposure to allergy-prone foods such as peanuts and eggs. Stay tuned as more research and understanding of food allergy becomes known.