People with food allergies are more at risk of a common type of eczema called atopic dermatitis. However, scientists do not know how food contributes to the risk of developing eczema, and they do not currently recommend avoiding certain foods.
This article explores eczema and food allergies and the connection between them. Additionally, it discusses when to consult a doctor and answers some common questions about eczema and food allergies.
To discover more evidence-based information and resources for asthma & allergies, visit our dedicated hub.
Eczema is a noncontagious inflammatory skin condition. There are different types of eczema, including:
However, the most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis is a common condition affecting 1 in 10 Americans. People of all ages may have this type of eczema, but it usually develops by age 5.
Symptoms of eczema may include:
- an itchy rash on the skin
- dry, scaly skin
- warm, swollen skin
- oozing or crusty patches
- eye problems
- raw, bleeding skin
- deep lines in the palms of the hands
- skin infection
For some people, having eczema may cause feelings of self-consciousness, anxiety, or depression. In addition, people may have trouble sleeping because of itchiness or pain.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), people with food allergies, asthma, or hay fever are at greater risk of developing atopic dermatitis. However, other factors — such as a family history of the condition, the environment a person lives in, and the person’s immune system — may also contribute.
Food allergies occur when someone’s immune system overreacts to a particular protein in food. If a person eats even a tiny amount of a food they are allergic to, it may cause symptoms.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), eight foods are responsible for the majority of allergic reactions:
The AAAAI advises that although food allergies may share symptoms with food intolerances, the difference is important. Food allergies trigger a response in the immune system, such as anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening, so people must be careful to avoid foods they are allergic to.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that food allergy symptoms usually appear within minutes or up to 2 hours after someone eats a food. Allergic reactions can include symptoms such as:
- flushed skin or a rash
- tingling or itchiness in the mouth
- swelling of the face, tongue, or lips
- abdominal pain
- coughing or wheezing
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- swelling of the throat and vocal cords
- difficulty breathing
- rapid decrease in blood pressure
People who experience symptoms of food allergies should consult a medical professional for further advice about managing the condition.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:
- swelling of the face or mouth
- fast, shallow breathing
- a fast heart rate
- clammy skin
- anxiety or confusion
- blue or white lips
- fainting or loss of consciousness
If someone has these symptoms:
- Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
- Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
- Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
- Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.
Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.
A 2015 review indicates that approximately one-third of children with severe atopic eczema also have a food allergy. However, in adults with atopic eczema, food allergies are rarer.
The review notes that in children, cow’s milk and chicken eggs are primarily responsible for allergic reactions, while in adults, pollen allergies often precede food allergies.
However, it is unclear whether food allergies cause eczema. Instead, it may be that people with eczema are more at risk of developing food allergies.
A 2020 review explains that an imbalance of skin bacteria and disruption of the skin barrier can leave people susceptible to food allergies. The researchers suggest that introducing highly allergenic foods to infants early may help prevent them from developing a food allergy if they have eczema.
However, a person should ask a doctor for further advice about how to treat eczema and food allergies in infants.
In addition, according to the AAD, years of research have shown that changing the diet of a child with atopic dermatitis rarely prevents flare-ups.
The National Eczema Association advises that eating certain foods sometimes triggers an immune system reaction such as eczema. Unfortunately, allergy tests do not appear positive in many of these cases, so it is challenging to determine whether a particular food is causing eczema symptoms.
The review authors suggest that digestive dysfunction and food play a part in disease development. They note that studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of an elimination diet on atopic dermatitis, but they recommend a monitored nutritional program, especially for children.
Further conclusive research is necessary to determine the cause of the link between eczema and food allergies.
A person who has symptoms of eczema may consider consulting a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Food allergy symptoms can be severe or life threatening and may need immediate medical attention. A food allergy differs from a food intolerance, which may have milder or less immediate symptoms.
If a person wishes to find out whether they have a food allergy or intolerance, a healthcare professional can arrange a test to determine this. Without medical advice, people should not eliminate foods from their diet or from an infant’s or a child’s diet. Eliminating food groups may lead to nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, and developmental issues.
Below are some common questions and answers about eczema and food allergies.
What foods should someone with eczema avoid?
Cow’s milk and chicken eggs are common allergens, particularly in children, but it is unclear whether these foods cause eczema. A person can consult a doctor or a registered dietitian to find out whether avoiding certain foods may benefit their eczema symptoms.
What does food allergy eczema look like?
Food allergies can cause severe and immediate reactions such as hives, vomiting, and anaphylaxis. A doctor may be able to advise a person on whether their eczema flare-up is connected to a food allergy.
How long does food allergy eczema last?
Symptoms of a food allergy may last as long as the person continues to eat the food they are allergic to. These symptoms can be severe, so a person should avoid eating foods they react to whenever possible.
Research does not indicate that food allergies cause eczema. However, many people with eczema — particularly children — may also have food allergies. A compromised skin barrier may increase the risk of food allergies.
Milk and eggs are common allergens in children. A person can ask a doctor to perform a test that can help them diagnose a food allergy. However, people should not eliminate foods from their own or their children’s diets unless a healthcare professional advises them to do so.