Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory condition that causes a person to develop patches of dry, itchy skin on their body. For some people, dietary changes may help ease eczema symptoms.

There is no cure for eczema. However, there are over-the-counter creams and medications that can help to reduce symptoms. Sometimes, doctors may also recommend avoiding specific foods known to make eczema worse.

According to 2014 research, 33–63% of young children who have eczema also have food allergies. Despite this association, possible links between the two conditions are not well understood.

In cases of known food allergies or sensitivities, a doctor may recommend avoiding those trigger foods to help with eczema.

Some people may also choose to make other dietary changes with the goal of reducing eczema symptoms. This article looks at options that a person may wish to consider.

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Because eczema is an inflammatory condition, some people believe that eating an anti-inflammatory diet could help manage it. Currently, there is not enough evidence to say whether this approach is helpful. However, eating a nutritious diet based on whole foods may benefit a person’s general health.

Examples of anti-inflammatory foods include:

Fish

Fish is a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids that may help with inflammation in the body. Examples of fish high in omega-3 include:

Probiotic foods

Some foods naturally contain probiotics, which are bacteria that may help promote good gut health. Research suggests that this effect may also help to reduce inflammation throughout the body.

Probiotic foods include:

Read about the link between eczema, gut health, and the microbiome here.

Foods high in flavonoids

Flavonoids are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds found in a range of foods. They typically occur in the skins of colorful fruits and vegetables.

Examples of flavonoid-containing foods include:

Cautions

A person should always discuss major changes to their diet with a doctor first. This is especially important for children, as well as anyone with food allergies or other health conditions.

According to the European Task Force on Atopic Dermatitis, dietary changes targeted at managing eczema are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, a person should work with their doctor or dietitian to make an eating plan that is specific to their own situation.

For some people with food allergies and sensitivities, eating certain foods can trigger the body to release immune system compounds that cause inflammation. These, in turn, can contribute to an eczema flare.

Even if a person is not allergic to a particular food, they may have sensitivity to it, and could experience delayed skin symptoms after exposure.

Some allergy symptoms, such as itching, may appear right away and can make eczema worse. In addition, “late” food-sensitive eczema reactions can happen 6–24 hours after a person eats a particular food.

An elimination diet is a technique that can help determine what foods may be causing the reaction. This diet involves temporarily avoiding a food or a group of foods for several weeks.

Before starting an elimination diet, a person should talk with a doctor about their eczema symptoms and which foods could be causing problems. They may wish to create a list of possible “trigger foods” with a doctor’s advice.

While avoiding certain foods, a person monitors their symptoms to determine whether they ease. Then, they reintroduce the foods one by one to determine whether the symptoms return. This helps a person learn which trigger foods may be causing problems.

Here are some questions that can help a person monitor any changes:

Do my eczema symptoms get better while avoiding a particular food? If a person’s symptoms do not ease when eliminating a food, they likely do not need to remove it from their diet.

Do my eczema symptoms come back after reintroducing a food? If a person’s symptoms get worse after adding a particular food back into their diet, they may consider avoiding it in the future.

A person may find it helpful to do the following:

  • Keep a detailed journal of everything they eat and drink, and their symptoms. Comparing these records may help narrow down potential trigger foods.
  • After the elimination period, slowly add foods back into the diet, one at a time. That way, it is easier to tell which foods cause a reaction.
  • Some food reactions can take a day or longer to appear. Do not add a new food back into the diet every day. Instead, reintroduce the same food for several days to check for a reaction. After a few days, a person can move on to adding another food back into the diet.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend allergy testing to help determine the best course of treatment for eczema. However, a doctor must interpret the test results. Even if a food shows a positive result on an allergy test, it may not be appropriate or helpful to remove that food from a person’s diet.

Potential benefits and risks

In studies, eliminating trigger foods slightly eased certain eczema symptoms such as daytime itching and sleeplessness. However, researchers note that the evidence is limited.

There are also some risks associated with elimination diets. Experts caution that eliminating foods from the diet may actually increase the risk of developing food allergies, as well as nutritional deficiencies.

An elimination diet may not be right for everyone with eczema, and it is important to talk with a doctor before trying this approach.

Nickel allergy

People with a nickel allergy typically have skin reactions after touching certain metal objects. These can include jewelry, electronics, buttons, and zippers.

In some cases, people who are allergic to nickel may develop eczema symptoms as a result of contact with the metal. A nickel allergy may also cause episodes of dyshidrotic eczema, which typically affects the hands and feet.

Nickel is also present in some common foods. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), people who are very sensitive to nickel should consider avoiding foods that contain nickel.

Foods that are high in nickel include:

It is important to talk with a doctor before deciding to eliminate any foods.

Birch pollen sensitization

Some people who have a sensitivity to birch pollen may experience a reaction to certain foods. This reaction is known as oral allergy syndrome, and for some people with eczema, it can worsen their symptoms.

This sensitivity may be more likely to affect children than adults with eczema.

People with birch pollen sensitization may react to foods such as:

People with eczema should speak with their doctor if they have a pollen allergy or experience mild allergic reactions to any of the above foods.

Nutrition

Eliminating trigger foods may help some people to reduce their eczema symptoms. At the same time, removing foods from the diet could mean losing out on important nutrient sources.

It is important to consult a doctor or dietitian before making major dietary changes. This helps to ensure that a person’s diet contains all the nutrients they need. Always talk with a health professional before starting an elimination diet or removing foods from the diet.

Elimination diets may not be appropriate for children, pregnant people, and people who have experienced eating disorders.

For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.

Researchers have studied many supplements for their effects on eczema. These include:

According to the AAD, vitamins D and E may show some promising results, though there is not enough conclusive evidence to prove this. Experts suggest there is not enough research on fish oil to know whether it is effective.

It is a good idea to first speak with a doctor when considering adding supplements to an eczema care routine. This is especially important if the supplements would be for a child or person with additional health conditions.

Probiotics

Probiotic supplements are a popular home remedy for eczema, though research findings do not necessarily support their use.

There is no strong evidence to suggest that probiotic supplements can treat eczema, according to a 2018 review of 39 randomized controlled trials. Across the studies included in the review, probiotics did not ease eczema symptoms.

However, the researchers noted that eczema was often rated as less severe overall after probiotic treatment. In addition, there were few side effects reported.

Because there are so many different probiotic supplements and every person’s needs may be different, it is difficult to say for certain whether a person will experience any health benefits when taking probiotics.

When choosing a probiotic supplement, a person should talk with their doctor, a pharmacist, or a dietitian.

While a person’s diet is not always a trigger for eczema, some people may find that their symptoms do ease when they make dietary changes. Making these changes and monitoring the results can help a person determine whether changing their diet could help them manage their condition.

If a person wishes to eliminate foods from their diet or make other major changes, they should talk with their doctor to ensure they are not missing out on essential nutrition, such as vitamins and minerals.

For more science-backed resources on eczema, visit our dedicated hub.