Food Allergy Risk Factors: Dry Skin, Diet, and Dirt

Are you worried about your baby having a food allergy?

You are not alone, in fact, food allergies are very common in babies. Up to 8 percent of children under the age of 3 have some type of food allergy. These can be severe or mild, but something you should be aware of regardless.

There are many factors that have contributed to the rise in food allergies. But many experts point to the three D’s of food allergy risk factors: Dry skin, Diet and Dirt. In this article, we’ll break down why these factors can put your child at more risk for developing food allergies. 

Dry Skin

During early childhood and infancy, baby Eczema is quite common. This is a dry skin condition that can be very uncomfortable for your baby. The main symptoms you should be aware of are skin redness and itching.

When a baby has Eczema, it might not always be noticeable. Sometimes flare-ups come without warning, at other times there are things that cause reactions. To limit these as much as you can, it is important to identify triggers. Common triggers include:

  • Soaps
  • Pollens 
  • Animals 
  • Foods 
  • Wool 
  • Dry Air 

Although all things mentioned above are triggers, there are different ways to approach each. At times, choosing recommended bathing products can help while at other times you may want to confront the allergen more directly. Since this article relates to food allergies, the research and solutions from here forward will focus around this topic.

At this point, you are probably wondering: how does dry skin relate to food allergies?

Interestingly, there has been quite a bit of research done surrounding this topic. Research found that up to 67% of babies with severe eczema will develop a food allergy. Clearly, there is a strong relationship between one and the other. The reason for a connection between food allergies and Eczema is not so obvious, though. 

When your baby has Eczema, their skin has difficulty holding moisture. As a result, this causes dryness. In turn, dryness leaves the skin more open to things that cause irritation. That is why something as simple as taking a bath can cause flare-ups. It is for this exact same reason that babies with Eczema are more prone to food allergies.

A baby with Eczema is more likely to develop a food allergy through skin contact. In other words, a baby exposed to a food like peanuts touching their skin can cause flare ups and lead to allergies. To decrease the chance of this happening it is extremely important to expose your baby to things that may later develop into allergies. Especially if your baby has Eczema.

With this knowledge, you can help limit the likelihood of your baby from also developing a food allergy. That is why new AAP guidelines on food allergy prevention are specifically designed for babies with eczema. These new guidelines recommend that babies with eczema be introduced to allergenic foods as early as 4 months of age to help prevent food allergies. 

Diet

Food allergies can develop in early childhood. 

There are over 100 different foods that are known to cause allergies. This varies from country to country depending on the diets of people living there. Of all the foods in the world, however, the majority of food allergies come from a select few. About 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States come from one of these top 8 allergens. 

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts such as almonds, wal­nuts, and pecans
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp

Contrary to what you may think, you should not avoid feeding your baby certain foods on this list. At the critical stages of development, research shows that you should expose your baby to low doses of certain foods starting at 4 months of age and multiple times a week for several months. 

To reduce the likelihood of your baby developing an allergy, it is recommended that you feed your baby peanuts, eggs, and milk. By offering exposure to these common foods, it allows your baby to build up a tolerance for them and in turn, help prevent food allergies.

As a parent, it is extremely important that you introduce potential allergens (peanuts, eggs, etc.) to your baby. Without exposure to allergens, you are actually putting your baby at risk. In fact, recent research suggests delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods may even increase the risk of food allergy. 

Over time, this exposure can be beneficial to reduce food allergies. When your baby is ready to eat solid foods, it is time to begin introducing them to these foods. At about 6 months old, your baby should be ready to start trying solid foods, but a good way to know that they are ready is when they are able to:

  • hold their head up
  • sit up and lean forward
  • let you know if they are full (for example turns head away)
  • pick up food and bring it to their mouth.

As you begin to introduce different foods into your baby’s diet, there are certain ones you might want to try first.  Peanut, egg, and milk represent the most common childhood food allergies, which makes it especially important to expose your baby as soon as possible. These foods in particular are most helpful in reducing risk through early exposure.

When introducing foods to your baby for the first time, there are certain things you should do.

  • Offer textures that are safe for your baby (semi-solids) 
  • Blend some of the common allergen into prepared infant cereal or fruit puree 
  • Offer your baby a small taste of the recipe (about a quarter of a baby spoonful)
  • Consistently expose your baby to each allergenic food multiple times a week for several months

As you feed different foods to your baby, be sure to wait to make sure they do not show symptoms of an allergic reaction. 

Dirt

Are you worried about your baby playing in the dirt?

Believe it or not, exposing your baby to germs can have a positive effect on their health. When it comes to things that commonly cause allergies and bacteria in general, the first year of your baby’s life is extremely important. During this time you should allow your baby to encounter as many things as possible to build up their immune system. A study at Johns Hopkins Medicine showed that infants in homes with a greater variety of bacteria were less likely to develop environmental allergies and wheezing at age 3. This was especially true when babies were exposed in the first year of life.

Some parents try to protect their babies from germs, this could have the opposite of the intended effect. By protecting your baby from germs, you are doing more harm than good. In an NPR interview, it became clear that this was in fact the case. It argued that people over-sterilize (hand wash and sanitize) their babies, leading to less prepared immune systems. Instead, you should let your baby play with animals, get dirt on them, and much more.

When you work out for the first time, you might feel sore, but after a few weeks these same actions become easier. Think of your baby’s immune system the same way: exposure to germs early and often helps build resistance. People’s immune systems actually need bacteria and can also benefit from exposure to things that cause allergies. According to one well known biologist, 97 to 99 percent of the germs people are exposed to are actually good for them. In fact, these help our immune systems fight off bad germs.

The more you expose your baby to different germs, the stronger their immune system is likely to be.

Key Takeaways for Parents

Although food allergies are on the rise, they are now preventable in many cases. By introducing your baby to allergenic foods early and often along with other factors, you can actually reduce the risk of developing a food allergy. 

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. 

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