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Diet and Eczema: Can Certain Foods Trigger Eczema Flares in Children?

Eczema is frustrating enough to deal with yourself. Scaling, extreme itchiness, swelling, and oozing are symptoms that demand your attention, whether you’re trying to work, enjoy time with your family, or sleep. 


The frustration takes on an entirely different facet when your child is the one suffering, though. The pain and discomfort are puzzling and distressing for children. They do not understand why they cannot scratch skin that itches so badly. 


Parents naturally want to explore every solution when their child suffers from eczema. Diet is often one of the first factors parents address, and there is no shortage of opinions on the topic. An internet search will inevitably yield contradictory and confusing advice.


One blogger tells you to cut out seemingly everything other than water, rice, and broth made from the bones of grass-fed livestock. Another tells you that your child’s eczema is a sign that their liver needs a detox. Some will tell you to put your child on a vegan diet; others will tell you to put them on a high-fat, high-protein diet. 


What is a concerned parent to do? 



diet and eczema

Diet And Eczema: Watch Out For Bad Information


It’s pretty nervy for a blog writer to tell you to back away from the internet. When you’re trying to make important decisions for your child’s health, however, an overabundance of contradictory information (and misinformation) can be harmful–if not to your child then to your own equanimity. 


Look to professionals first and foremost. Your child’s healthcare team, including their pediatrician, nurse, and allergist, should be your first stop for information. When searching for information online, look for qualified medical professionals (Harlanmd.com is a veritable wealth of information, brought to bear by Dr. Steve Harlan’s long and successful medical career). 


Consider the Source


Humans are social creatures. It is in our nature to consult with our peers for solutions to our problems, and looking at blogs is one way we do that in the information age. 


It pays to remember, though, that no one has to pass a test to have a health or diet blog. There’s no certification process for advice-givers. Sometimes, the only authority a blogger has is experience (and the biases that come along with it). 


Your child’s diet is not a high school science experiment. It is a foundational part of their well-being, and it needs to be taken seriously.  Take the advice of laypeople with a grain of salt (if not an entire salt cellar). Their previous experience as a veterinarian-tech-in-training might qualify them (in some limited way) to speak about the treatment of canine eczema; it in no way makes them an authority on your child’s health. A person trained in selling supplements is qualified to do one thing–sell supplements. They are not an authority on pediatric nutrition. 



Authoritative sources will reference valid, peer-reviewed studies in medical journals. They will not make extreme claims. They will not tell you, for example, that you can cure eczema (you can’t). They won’t give you extreme advice, and they will not advise you to completely eliminate certain foods indefinitely. They won’t blame eczema on chemicals; water and air are both chemicals! They will acknowledge that eczema is a complex disorder. They will not discuss foods as “clean” or “unclean.” 


Reject Cleanses and Detoxes


There are those who believe that allergies, asthma, eczema, and other health issues are caused by a buildup of toxins in the body. Before eczema flares can heal, these toxins need to be flushed out, they reason. These cleanses or detoxes can range from the silly (“Avoid all non-local, out-of-season foods!” is not a viable solution for most people) to the outright dangerous. Detoxes that rely upon extreme dietary restrictions and/or laxative “flushes” endanger your child–and they do not work


Atopic disorders like eczema aren’t the result of impure or unclean lifestyles. They’re nothing more than the intersection of genetic predisposition with environmental triggers, and they can happen to anyone. You should not trust anyone who tells you otherwise. 


Does Diet Play a Role In Eczema?


So, does diet really trigger eczema? The answer is a hard maybe. Certain foods can trigger eczema flares in some people, but these foods vary from person to person. There is no one on the internet who can tell you definitively whether your child’s eczema is triggered by diet. 


Eczema is the outward manifestation of an oversensitive immune response–the same is true of allergies. The symptoms–itching, redness, swelling, and scaling–are hallmarks of inflammation. This inflammation can be triggered by any number of things (cat dander, for example), including diet.


There are some foods that are more likely to trigger this immune response than others. This includes: 



  •    Dairy, including milk, cheese, ice cream, and yoghurt
  •     Eggs
  •     Peanuts
  •     Tree nuts
  •     Wheat** 
  •     Fish
  •     Shellfish
  •     Soy



There are those who advise parents of children with eczema to eliminate each of these foods from their child’s diet permanently. This is not advisable; the items on the list represent significant sources of protein and other nutrients that should not be removed from your child’s diet without careful consideration. 


A more balanced approach is to do an allergy elimination diet with the guidance of your child’s pediatrician and/or a registered dietitian. Elimination diets can be approached in a few different ways; you can simply subtract the frequent offenders one or two at a time for a few weeks to see if eczema improves. 


Another approach involves cutting out all the frequent offenders temporarily (this cannot be stressed enough; an elimination diet should not be permanent)--two to four weeks is usually an adequate time to reduce inflammation to a baseline. You can then start adding one food at a time into your child’s diet every two to three days; watch carefully for eczema or signs of an impending flare, recording your observations in a journal. 


If the eczema persists in spite of these changes, discuss allergy testing with your child’s doctor.


If you discover multiple food sensitivities, you should discuss your child’s diet with a registered dietitian. It’s very easy to miss out on important nutrients when several different foods must be avoided; this can cause severe health problems, some of them lifelong.


*Note that some non-food items, such as playdough, contain wheat and should be eliminated for the course of the diet, as well.


*If you find that wheat is an eczema trigger, you might want to investigate your child’s reaction to other grains that contain gluten, such as rye, spelt, and barley. Gluten is the best-known trigger for eczema and allergy in wheat, but it’s not the only one, and other gluten-containing grains may not be triggers. 



peanuts can cause eczema flares

Are There Foods You Should Be Giving Your Child? 



There is no dietary “silver bullet” against eczema; however, eczema is the product of both compromised barrier function and inflammation, and there are foods that have benefits on one or both of those fronts. 



  •  Fatty Fish - The omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, albacore tuna, and mackerel are real multitaskers when it comes to your skin’s health. Studies suggest that a diet rich in omega-3s supports the skin’s barrier function in combating inflammation–two major factors in eczema flares. Even better? These fatty acids appear to help prevent acne and fight ultraviolet radiation (UV) damage. 


  •  Foods rich in flavonoids, such as apples, blueberries, cherries, broccoli, spinach,    and kale. Flavonoids are chemical compounds found in plants. They appear to have anti-inflammatory properties. 


  • Potassium-rich foods,  such as bananas, avocados, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, white beans, and salmon. 
  • Foods high in vitamins E, A, and C, such as citrus (vitamin C), orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots (vitamin A), and sunflower seeds, lentils, and beans (vitamin E) stimulate the skin’s production of proteins like collagen. This helps maintain the skin’s elasticity, healing, and barrier function. 


  •  Probiotic foods such as yoghurt, sourdough bread, kimchi, miso soup, soft cheeses like Gouda, and other foods that contain live bacteria (don’t worry, these are the good kind). These bacteria are thought to bolster the health of the gut microbiome. A microbiome is like a community of microbial species somewhere in the body; when there is an imbalance in the microbiome (dysbiosis), disease-causing microbes can get a foothold. 



There’s no solid proof that probiotics benefit the skin. However, they do offer well-documented benefits to the gut microbiome, which can’t be a bad thing. Anecdotally, some report that adding probiotics to their diets helps prevent eczema flares. 

You can certainly try adding probiotics to your child’s diet; if they turn their noses up at the fermented foods mentioned above, investigate probiotic supplements. Remember that there is neither proof nor even a strong correlation between probiotics and the prevention of eczema flares. 



What If Changing Your Child’s Diet Doesn’t Affect Their Eczema?



If your child’s eczema persists despite changes in diet, don’t lose hope. Eczema can be triggered by any number of things, including stress (yes, children can experience stress!). Keep in mind that the dietary triggers mentioned here are not the only dietary triggers–they’re just the ones that are implicated most often. A pediatric dermatologist (and perhaps an allergist) should be consulted if you cannot identify dietary and environmental triggers. You can discuss allergy testing and changes to treatment. 



Parents often feel guilty or inadequate when their child suffers. Remember that you are not to blame for your child’s eczema. It is difficult to treat under the best of conditions. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: eczema is a disorder with many different factors. You cannot protect your child from every trigger out there, even if you know them. 



Do your best. Monitor your child’s activities, diet, and symptoms and adjust accordingly. Provide the best diet you possibly can, and reduce stress as much as possible. Ensure that your child sees the appropriate medical professionals, and follows the treatment plan faithfully. Everything else is out of your hands. 



Flares Happen–Be Ready



Eczema is a chronic disorder; it pays to be prepared for flares. SmartLotionⓇ, an eczema cream developed by board-certified dermatologist Steve Harlan, MD, alleviates symptoms such as itching and swelling that bother your child (and break your heart). Best of all, you can be confident that SmartLotionⓇ will not cause skin atrophy or topical steroid withdrawal. 



Dr. Harlan’s SmartLotionⓇ is a worthwhile addition to your family’s medicine cabinet; talk to your child’s doctor about using SmartLotionⓇ to treat your child’s eczema flares. Under a physician’s supervision, it can safely be added to most prescription treatments with little risk of adverse effects (don’t make any changes to your child’s treatment plan without consulting their doctor!). 



SmartLotionⓇ is the first-ever prebiotic lotion that can safely treat eczema and dermatitis with ingredients tailored to restore your skin’s barrier function. Combined with a supportive lifestyle, including a healthy diet, SmartLotionⓇ can bring your child relief while providing you peace of mind. Visit Dr. Harlan’s website today to learn about this revolutionary eczema treatment.




  Cee Van

  Medical Writer


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