Dyshidrotic eczema can be caused by many things; in this blog we ask whether food is one of its many triggers.
What is dyshidrotic eczema?
Dyshidrotic eczema is a variant of eczema that usually appears on the fingers or toes, although it can spread to palms and soles, and in severe cases, cover much of the hands and/or feet.
Also known as pompholyx, dyshidrosis, vesicular hand dermatitis or acute palmoplantar eczema, the condition comes and goes in waves, with months or years between attacks, or one flare cycling round for months at a time. People who are prone to dyshidrosis tend to get repeated flares and can find it very hard to get rid of.
What triggers dyshidrotic eczema?
Although it’s not totally clear what causes some people to get dyshidrosis when others don’t, several things have been identified as potential triggers for the condition, including household chemicals, soap, hand sanitiser, alcohol, stress, damp, fungal infections and excess sweating. As with other kinds of eczema, it seems that metals such as cobalt and nickel are also potentially problematic for people prone to dyshidrosis.
Food and dyshidrosis
As far as food is concerned, many people prone to eczema find that their skin is flared up by certain foods, and their overall well-being is improved by following a better diet. This doesn’t necessarily mean that dyshidrosis is caused by what you eat, or that it’ll totally clear up if you eliminate problem foods, but because eczema is a chronic inflammatory condition any strategy that helps calm inflammation is probably going to help, and that includes avoiding problematic foods.
A significant proportion of eczema sufferers have true food allergies and symptoms may include a flare up of dyshidrosis. Common foods that can trigger an allergic reaction in eczema sufferers include cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, tree nuts (such as cashews or walnuts), wheat, soy and tomatoes.
It also seems that nickel and cobalt are particular problems for dyshidrosis sufferers, both as contact allergies and when they’re present in someone’s diet.
How do you manage dyshidrotic eczema?
Strategies for managing dyshidrosis usually focus on identifying and then avoiding whatever it was that first triggered the flare. If your skin is sensitive to ingredients in hand wash, for example, it’s sensible to find a cleanser that is free from sulphates, perfumes, soap or harsh preservatives; it’s hard to clear up a dyshidrosis flare when the skin is being continually re-irritated by something it can’t tolerate.
If nickel and/or cobalt are a problem for you, then it’s sensible to eliminate them from your food as well as avoiding having contact with them.
What foods contain nickel and cobalt?
Medscape suggests that the following foods could contain nickel and cobalt, and that you could try an elimination diet for four weeks to see if your skin improves.
FOODS CONTAINING NICKEL:
Tinned foods, foods cooked using nickel-plated utensils, herring, oysters, asparagus, beans, mushrooms, onions, corn, spinach, tomatoes, peas, whole grain flour, pears, rhubarb, tea, cocoa, chocolate, baking powder.
FOODS CONTAINING COBALT:
Apricots, beans, beer, beets, cabbage, cloves, cocoa, chocolate, coffee, liver, nuts, scallops, tea, whole grain flour
What diet is recommended for dyshidrotic eczema?
Managing dyshidrosis through your diet would involve avoiding foods that contain cobalt and nickel, as well as other potentially problematic ingredients, and then boosting your diet with skin-friendly nutrients, so it can build up resilience against further attacks.
A skin-boosting diet would include plenty of leafy vegetables, fatty fish, berries, seeds and protein, and would avoid inflammatory ingredients such as sugar, caffeine, alcohol and problematic additives.
It’s worth being aware that an elimination diet isn’t always an easy thing to follow, especially one that eliminates such a lot of commonly used foods and which involves avoiding so many ‘healthy’ things, but it can help pinpoint things that could be affecting your skin. Experts suggest eliminating problematic ingredients and foods for four weeks, then gradually introducing one thing at a time and watching for three days for any reaction.
It’s always sensible to consult your doctor or health care provider before embarking on a strict elimination diet, especially one as strict as this. And of course, even if you eliminate all problematic foods, your dyshidrosis could still be flared by other triggers such as soap or stress, so remember that any diet has to be part of a wider management plan.
However, if you do succeed in pinpointing what your unique triggers are, it could make the world of difference to your hands or feet!
Recommended products for skin prone to dyshidrosis:
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax (for the dry, cracked stages)
Balmonds Cooling Cream
with shea, menthol, aloe vera & lavender (for itchy stage)
Balmonds Natural Shampoo & Body Wash
with calendula & chamomile (to use instead of soap)
Balmonds Scalp Oil
with tea tree, nettle, borage & rosemary (for clean, nourished skin)
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.