Sometimes, food can worsen an eczema rash, prompting caregivers to exclude some items from their babies’ diets to help soothe their skin. Knowing which foods to avoid for babies with eczema may help manage symptoms and flares.

However, it is important for parents and caregivers to consult with a pediatrician before eliminating certain items from their child’s diet. This is because strict elimination diets can put children at risk for nutrient deficiencies.

This article reviews foods that may exacerbate eczema symptoms in babies and toddlers, whether some foods may help with symptoms, and when to consult a doctor.

A baby with eczema who has to avoid certain foods. -1 Share on Pinterest
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According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), atopic dermatitis (AD) — a common form of eczema — affects an estimated 25% of children.

The condition often starts at an early age, appearing during the first 12 months for an estimated 60% of people.

Having AD can increase a person’s risk of developing an allergic condition such as asthma, hay fever, or food allergies. An estimated 15% of children with atopic dermatitis also have a food allergy.

Dietary choices do not cause eczema. Common eczema triggers include skin irritants such as soaps and detergents or environmental factors including dust mites and dampness.

However, some children may experience worsening eczema symptoms from certain foods due to co-occurring food allergies.

Eggs can often trigger an allergic reaction, particularly in children with eczema.

A 2015 study found that infants with eczema were 5.8 times more likely than those without eczema to develop an allergy to eggs by 12 months of age.

Infants with AD may be reactive to eggs as early as 4 months, so parents and caregivers may wish to offer this food with caution.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions against feeding cow’s milk to infants younger than 12 months. After the first year, dietary guidelines recommend between 1⅔ and 2 cups of dairy products or alternatives daily.

However, cow’s milk protein allergy (CMA) is the most common type of allergy in children, often co-occurring with AD. Symptoms of CMA in children with AD usually involve the skin, causing hives and eczema flares.

Older research from 2013 found that almost one-third of people with AD older than 14 years are sensitized to soy even without clinical symptoms.

Soy is a common ingredient in infant formulas. Many parents and caregivers use it when children are allergic or intolerant to cow’s milk.

However, up to 50% of infants that have CMA may also have soy protein allergy.

Soy allergy symptoms include:

  • hives
  • swelling
  • cough
  • vomiting
  • shortness of breath

Fish and shellfish may worsen eczema symptoms for some people with AD.

A 2020 study found that 13% of adults with AD also have fish allergies. The rate of shrimp allergy was lower at 6%. The fish and shrimp allergies worsen the AD symptoms in some people.

Conversely, a 2021 review article that examined some studies found that introducing fish early into an infant’s diet may actually protect against the development of allergic diseases. However, this research is not conclusive.

If caregivers are considering introducing fish to a baby with AD, they should discuss it with a pediatrician, particularly if there is a history of fish or seafood allergy in the family.

Usually, fish allergy symptoms in the general population are mainly gastrointestinal and include vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, people may experience anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.

However, some people also develop hives and skin itching.

Peanut allergy in children often begins in the first 2 years but can appear as early as 4 months. An estimated 20% of children outgrow peanut allergies.

Infants with eczema are more likely to be sensitive to peanuts.

Common peanut allergy reactions include hives, with more serious symptoms including:

  • facial swelling
  • shortness of breath
  • anaphylaxis

The AAD notes that research suggests feeding peanut-containing foods to infants may prevent peanut allergies.

However, parents and caregivers of children with AD should not attempt this without consulting an allergist since they may already have peanut allergies.

Medical supervision can ensure caregivers understand the appropriate precautions to take.

Wheat is a grain in many common foods. It contains the protein gluten, also found in other grains such as rye and barley.

One of the symptoms of a wheat allergy is the exacerbation of existing AD. Eliminating this grain from a child’s diet may help reduce their eczema flares.

Some people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may also experience skin rash as a reaction to gluten.

Celiac disease and AD are both immune-mediated diseases, and having one may increase the risk of having the other.

However, celiac disease is uncommon in the first year of life, and most children with AD will not have celiac disease.

Parents of infants with AD, particularly with a family history of celiac disease, wheat allergy, or other allergic conditions, should discuss the introduction of wheat with a pediatrician.

The six most common tree nut allergies in both children and adults are:

  • almond
  • cashew
  • hazelnut
  • pecan
  • pistachio
  • walnut

Around half of children allergic to one kind of tree nut will also react to a second type. Most children with tree nut allergies do not outgrow them.

Atopic conditions such as eczema may be associated with a more severe reaction to a tree nut allergy than a child without eczema.

It is not clear whether certain foods benefit eczema.

However, exclusively chest or breastfeeding an infant for the first 4–6 months and then introducing a variety of solid foods may have a protective effect against the development of AD and other allergic conditions.

It is not clear how long the effect lasts.

Parents and caregivers who want to try an elimination diet for their child should speak with their doctor first.

They should also consult a doctor if the child:

  • does not have an eczema diagnosis but is experiencing symptoms for the first time
  • has been prescribed treatment, but it is not working
  • has a rash that has worsened or is showing signs of infection, such as discharge
  • has a fever
  • appears or acts unwell

Diet may not cause eczema, but certain foods can worsen flares for some people. Eliminating those foods can reduce the itch and discomfort of an eczema rash.

Proper nutrition is crucial for optimal growth and development in the early years of a person’s life. Parents and caregivers wishing to eliminate potential eczema triggers from their child’s diet should speak with their pediatrician first.