Babyhood eczema is so common that most people know a baby with the condition. But the root cause of an eczema flare can be very hard to pinpoint. In this article we look at whether eczema in babies could be related to food allergies.
It’s a good question, but the simple answer is no, not usually!
For most babies, it’s more likely to be the other way round: food allergies tend to develop after a baby already has eczema, and far fewer babies are allergic to foods than are prone to eczema. In fact, fewer than 2 out of 10 children with eczema go on to develop a food allergy.
So for most (but not all) babies with eczema, their dry, itchy skin is not a symptom of any specific food allergy, it’s just eczema.
What can eczema be a sign of?
Of course, eczema is a response to something, even if it’s not food! Identifying then avoiding triggers is part and parcel of any eczema management plan. Eczema flares happen for many reasons, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell what’s set a flare off: it could be your new washing powder, the nice baby shampoo you’ve been given, the clothes next to your baby’s skin, the family cat, dust mites, pollen, the sofa, or the central heating.
However, the more severely a baby has eczema, the more likely it is to develop a food allergy as well, and for those minority of babies who suffer from both eczema and food allergies, their flares can indeed be in response to something they - or their mother (if they’re breastfeeding) - ate.
What is a food allergy?
It helps to be able to distinguish between food allergies and other reactions, in order to understand what might be going on with your baby’s eczema. A genuine allergy to something in the food a baby eats happens when the body reacts to something in food by creating an antibody called IgE, which triggers an allergic reaction. This can cause almost immediate hives, wheezing, rashes, diarrhoea or vomiting, but not eczema.
Sometimes an allergic reaction can be delayed, and can indeed trigger an eczema flare 24-48 hours after eating the problem food, but these are less easy to spot and can’t be tested for, because they don’t involve the IgE antibodies. The best way of identifying these foods is with an elimination diet, although it’s not certain if avoiding the food completely is actually helpful; studies showed that avoiding peanuts completely led to more frequent and more severe cases of peanut allergy,
What foods can cause an eczema flare?
Sometimes food can trigger eczema in babies, even if the baby isn’t allergic to it. That’s because eczema-prone skin is ‘leaky’ and can let in substances that irritate the skin. A baby with eczema might react to eating an orange with a patch of eczema on their face, but this isn’t likely to be an allergy to citrus; instead, it’s the acidic juice permeating the fragile skin barrier and causing inflammation.
The best way of dealing with that situation is to keep your baby’s face clean, dry and moisturised as well as possible. A layer of ointment like Skin Salvation to protect their face when eating can really help.
In conclusion, food can trigger eczema flares in babies, although not always in a straightforward way. Food allergies are more likely to show up with immediate signs of a reaction: wheezing, hives, etc., but can trigger an eczema flare later that day or the next.
On a positive note, it’s also worth knowing that allergies and intolerances can shift: what a baby might not be able to tolerate at one year old may end up being fine for them at five.
Recommended products for babies prone to eczema:
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream
with shea butter and calendula
Bath & Body Oil
with lavender, hemp and olive
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.