Eczema and Food Allergies

Eczema and Food AllergiesFood Allergies

affect 6% of the children and 3-4% of the adults in the United States of America. It is extremely common to be allergic to one or more food items. A wide range of reactions appear following an allergic response of the body to a food allergen. Eruptions and skin rashes are the primary manifestations of such allergies along with breathing problems, facial inflammation, digestive distress etc. In this article, we are going to discuss in details one such skin condition, namely, Eczema. It is also known as Allergic Contact Dermatitis. It is beyond doubt that eczema and food allergies go hand in hand.

The condition is characterized by an inflammation of the outer layer of the skin. Studies show that one-third of eczema patients have food allergies which act as triggers for the said condition. The top eight food allergens which can bring about this skin condition are milk or dairy products, eggs, peanuts, sea food, shell fish, soy and wheat.

Why does food allergies cause eczema?

Food Allergies are caused when the immune system reacts adversely to the proteins in the food. It is essentially an auto immune condition. The otherwise harmless proteins pose a threat to the immune system. The immune system reacts by producing an army of antibodies namely, IgE. These antibodies react and bind with the protein and activate the mast cells in the body. The mast cells respond by releasing histamine in excess quantities. Histamine is a chemical which irritates the nerves under the skin and dilates the blood vessels. Hence, one experiences swelling and itchy rashes in eczema.

How does eczema look?

Eczema caused by allergies to various food groups causes the skin to develop the following features:

  • Dry, scaly and leathery patches of thickened skin.
  • Inflamed beds of skin which are red in color.
  • Blisters oozing with liquid and surrounded by discolored and crusty patches of skin.
  • Healing may cause scar tissue to appear. Scratching open a scar tissue will result in enlargement of the lesion.

Some of the

common traits of eczema

are as follows:

  • It occurs as a recurrent skin condition.
  • Typically, the outbreak is seen on the face, neck, behind ears, inner folds of elbows, back of the knee, hands etc. The non allergic causes of the development of this condition are external irritants like dust mites, infections (likes of staphylococci), injuries and emotional stress.
  • The condition affects mostly children and babies. About 20% of children worldwide develop this skin condition. The condition generally appears before the age of one and is completely cured by adulthood. This disease has a heredity component. Children born from parents who have been suffering from allergic contact dermatitis have a greater chance of developing them. However, the challenge remains to link eczema and food allergies together.

Allergy Testing

Allergy testing plays an important role in linking the two together. It is of extreme importance to detect the allergen causing the reactions. Because of cross reactivities (allergy experienced from similar food groups) food related allergies are tested with great difficulties. The four popular allergy tests used are as follows:

1. Skin Prick Test:

The allergen is introduced in the body through pricks made on the skin. If reactions appear on the skin then, the allergy is confirmed.

2. Skin Patch Test:

The suspected allergen is placed in a patch and stuck to the body for a period of at least 72 hours. The emergence of skin conditions confirms the connection with food allergens.

3. Blood Test:

Blood Tests like that of the RAST testing and ELISA testing is done to look for the allergy specific antibodies.

4. Food Challenge Test:

A pill containing the allergen is given to the patient. The allergen is directly administered into the body. Symptoms are watched out for and once they appear the allergy is confirmed. This test needs to be conducted under medical supervision.

Treatment of Eczema caused by Food Allergies

  • The first step would be eliminating the allergens from one’s diet. If the triggers causing the condition are known from allergy testing, it becomes easy to avoid them. Sometimes cooking and processing food allergens can bring down the potency. Eating raw or minimally processed food can increase the chances of allergic reactions.
  • Corticosteroids are prescribed orally to control the swelling. Milder steroids like Hydrocortisone or the more potent ones like Clobetasol propionate are used depending on the severity of the condition.
  • Steroid ointments are also first tried before moving on to the oral or injectable forms of steroid. However, steroids are not meant for long term use. Long term use comes with several side effects.
  • Immunosuppressants are used to calm down the overactive immune system. The drugs belonging to this category and used in eczema go by the names of ciclosporin, azathioprine and methotrexate.
  • Antihistamines can negate the effects of the excess histamine in the body and bring relief from the intense itching. Over the counter antihistamines like Benadryl, Claritin have a sedating effect which goes a long way in relieving itchiness.
  • Deep nourishing moisturizers are used to bring back the moisture of the skin. Dry and scaly patches of skin are treated with over the counter moisturizers.
  • Eczema is often successfully treated with light therapy. Ultra Violet Light, like that of UVA, UVB and narrow band UVB are used.
  • Last but not the least, personal hygiene plays an important part in treating eczema. It is of utmost importance to properly tend to the affected and infected patches of skin to bring about a speedy recovery.

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