The connection between eczema and food allergies is often misunderstood. Eczema sufferers — and, in the case of children, their parents — often mistakenly believe that food allergies are the cause of eczema. This is likely because many people experience both eczema and food allergies. It is believed that eczema sufferers are born with a tendency toward the condition and that the condition may be exacerbated, or triggered, by food allergies. Allergies, however, are not the actual cause of eczema, and avoiding foods to which the person is not truly allergic can be challenging, expensive, and ultimately, unnecessary.
Eczema is a term for an often-chronic inflammation of the skin that also is known as atopic dermatitis. Simply put, eczema is a skin allergy or sensitivity that normally presents an itchy, red rash, often accompanied by swelling, cracking, and weeping. Eczema affects nearly 20 percent of the general population, including people of all ages, but infants and young children are the most common sufferers. Its exact cause isn't known.
Some health practitioners, patients and caregivers believe in the connection between eczema and food allergies, and embark on a treatment plan that includes an elimination diet. The elimination diet involves removing certain foods, thought to trigger or worsen eczema symptoms, from the diet altogether. These trigger foods include eggs, milk and other dairy products, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts. The elimination of such foods does often alleviate the skin rash somewhat, furthering the notion that eczema and food allergies are related.
The perceived connection between eczema and food allergies makes it is easy to misdiagnose food allergies. A 2009 study by pediatric allergist and immunologist David Fleischer and National Jewish Health determined that, among 125 children with eczema, less than half of the foods to which they were believed to be allergic proved to cause true allergies. A heavy reliance on simple allergy tests, such as blood tests, had led to significant quantities of healthful foods being eliminated from these children's diets. Maintaining a lifestyle that foregoes entire categories of common foods, such as wheat and dairy, can be both costly and difficult for families.
The exact causes of eczema are unknown, and triggers vary from person to person. More extensive food allergy testing is recommended for those who suspect a connection between their eczema and their allergies. A complete range of skin and blood tests, coupled with a study of a patient's medical history and reactions to common trigger foods, will help to determine whether a person can correlate eczema and food allergies for himself and possibly avoid unnecessarily eliminating non-allergenic foods from the diet.