If you suffer from atopic dermatitis, more often called eczema, you likely already know that what you eat can impact your risk for flareups. In fact, when you work with a Dermatologist, one of the first things you’ll discuss is how dietary change may improve skin health. Dr. Bryan Selkin of Center for Dermatology in Plano, TX., says, “What surprises some eczema sufferers and parents who bring children in for eczema treatment is that food allergies may actually be playing a role in flareups. We’re paying closer attention to this now and helping to guide people to the right dietary choices that may help improve their skin condition and avoid flareups.” Keep reading to learn a little more about how food allergies and eczema are related and how your Dermatologist can help.
Food Allergies & Eczema
If you or a family member struggle with food allergies, you know that every trip to a restaurant or meal with friends involves questions. Did you cook this in peanut oil? Did you use the same utensils for the shellfish and the vegetables? Does this sauce have egg in it? It’s a hassle, but it’s necessary to protect your health. Our adverse allergic responses to foods range from hives to blocked airways and risk of death. For many food allergy sufferers, chronic eczema is just one more “perk” they get to deal with. About 30% of eczema sufferers also have food allergies. In the past, it was assumed that certain foods, especially allergens, lead to skin irritation, but research into children with eczema suggests the condition may actually be an early warning sign that the child will develop food allergies.
According to Dr. Selkin, “Dermatologists have always recognized that eczema flareups in some people are linked to diet, but research suggests that the connection may go deeper than that. All the way to the molecular level! We may even be heading towards having the ability to prevent food allergies thanks to early interventions made possible through eczema diagnosis and treatment.”
You are What You Eat
A recent study from the National Institutes of Health revealed that children who have both eczema and food allergies have skin that is structurally different at the molecular level compared with the skin of those who only have eczema. The study found that skin affected by an eczema flareup was exactly the same across both groups, but the healthy skin differed. This discovery may lead to an easier method of determining whether or not very young children are likely to develop food allergies, and in time, it could even make it possible for us to stop food allergies before they develop.
Common Food Triggers
Every patient is different, but some of the most common food triggers for eczema include:
- Citrus fruits
- Gluten (wheat)
- Vanilla, cloves, and cinnamon
If you struggle with dyshidrotic eczema that usually impacts the hands and feet, you should avoid foods that contain nickel, including:
- Black tea
- Canned meat
Foods that Benefit Skin Health for Eczema Sufferers
If what you eat impacts eczema flareups, it should come as no surprise that diet can also help to soothe skin. Some of the foods that are commonly attributed as advantageous for eczema sufferers include:
- Probiotics – yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and other foods that contain probiotics may aid in digestion and reduce eczema flareups.
- L-Theanine – better known as tea, some research suggests that green tea, oolong, and other types of tea high in L-theanine can help prevent flareups and relieve eczema symptoms.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – these are the good, rich fats found in seafood, walnuts, brussels sprouts, and soybeans. Studies indicate omega-3s fight inflammation, which could aid in decreasing eczema flareups.
Pinpointing Dietary Triggers to Prevent Eczema Flareups
We typically encourage eczema sufferers to pay close attention to their skin and keep a journal describing their condition daily for several months. In this journal, patients should include information about the foods they eat, daily activity, skin care products, and other factors that might influence skin health. If any foods seem to be linked closely to flareups, we encourage people to cut them out and track how skin improves.
Eczema Treatment Options
While making dietary changes can improve skin health and reduce flareups, there are a range of at-home and professional care options to relieve discomfort associated with eczema and help your skin look and feel better.
For patients with chronic eczema, Dr. Selkin recommends, “Keep skin moisturized. Apply a cream, deep moisturizing lotion, or skin oil at least twice a day, concentrating on the affected areas, but make sure you’re using gentle products made for sensitive skin.” Other at-home care steps include:
- Don’t scratch – we know it’s hard. Use anti-itch creams with at least 1% hydrocortisone on irritated skin. You can also take oral allergy medications. Some people find relief using ice packs when the itching becomes severe. Cover the affected areas, if necessary, to avoid scratching. This may be especially beneficial for children.
- Have a soak – sprinkle baking soda or uncooked oatmeal into a bathtub filled with warm but not overly hot water. Soak for about ten to twenty minutes. Then, pat skin dry and apply your moisturizer.
- Pick the right products – chemicals in products for skin and hair care and some makeup can be extremely irritating. Choose gentle products and consult your dermatologist if you’re ever in doubt.
In addition to taking care of your skin at home, Dermatologists and medical professionals can also help with severe flareups or constant irritation. We can offer prescription-strength creams for itching and skin restoration in order to get control of the cycle. Over-the-counter products offer enough relief for many people, but there are stronger options available when necessary. For some, oral and topical medications for infection or inflammation may also be prescribed. Natural products may be recommended. Allergy testing can identify products in daily life that may be causing flares. Those patients whose eczema seems linked to stresses or specific behaviors may also work with a professional to make some lifestyle changes. This can be especially significant for people who cannot control scratching or who scratch habitually even when they are not experiencing eczema flareups.
Visit the U.S. Dermatology Partners
If you need help managing your chronic eczema, Dr. Selkin and the team at Center for Dermatology in Plano, TX., are happy to work with you. For patients in other areas, U.S. Dermatology Partners has offices located throughout the country. To find the most convenient U.S. Dermatology Partners location, take just a few moments to complete our online appointment request. One of our experienced team members will be in touch soon to help schedule your visit.
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