October is Eczema Awareness Month.
In the United States alone almost 15 million people have one variety or another. This is a relatively common dry skin condition that starts at a young age. Some characteristics of eczema include rashes or bumps that can appear anywhere in the body along with itching.
When a baby has eczema, it can be a can manifest in a mild or even severe form. Flare-ups can be painful and irritating for your baby and stressful for you as a parent, especially if you are unsure exactly what you can do to help. Although the condition itself cannot be cured, babies can go on to live happy, healthy lives when eczema is properly managed.
There is something that you should be aware of, though. Babies with eczema are at higher risk of developing food allergies. This article will help you understand these risks and learn what you can do to minimize them.
Why Does Eczema Put My Baby at a Higher Risk?
Babies with eczema are inherently at a high risk of also developing a food allergy. There are a variety of reasons that help explain this connection.
One potential reason that babies with eczema are at a high risk stems from their skin. During the earliest years of life when babies begin to develop their immune systems and tolerance, they are being exposed to bacterias and other organisms for the first time. Oftentimes, skin is the first layer of protection.
As previously mentioned, eczema is a dry skin problem. This means that the body has difficulty retaining moisture and regenerating skin cells. You might be wondering: “what does this have to do with allergies?”
Findings suggest that the skin actually plays a significant role in food sensitivity and immunity. Contrary to previous beliefs that food allergies develop in the gut, scientists have evidence that they may develop immune cells in the skin. According to the National Eczema Association, this is a major reason why babies with eczema are more susceptible to developing food allergies.
Knowing that skin plays a role in immunity against food allergies is crucial information that parents need to be aware of. In part, these findings explain why babies with eczema are up to 67 percent more likely to develop a food allergy.
Another factor parents should be aware of doesn’t directly relate to the skin itself or even eczema. Siblings with food allergies increase the likelihood that another child will also have a food allergy. In fact, 1 in 8 food-allergic children will have a sibling with the same diagnoses compared to 1 in 12 for the general population. Although this difference may seem minor, consider the fact that a baby with eczema is already at a higher risk of developing a food allergy.
Given this information, parents should be sure to seek the advice of medical professionals for testing and further suggestions.
How Can I Lower these Risks?
As a parent, you can make a huge difference.
Although your baby may have been born with eczema, they develop allergies over time.There are actions you can take that will prevent most food allergies even if your baby has eczema. You can feed your baby certain foods as part of their diet to minimize the risk of developing an allergy. Following the suggestions below can change the course of your baby’s life.
1. Introduce Your Baby to Allergens
Food allergies in the United States have grown significantly in recent decades. Research found that the prevalence of combined peanut and tree allergies in children in 2008 was 2.1 percent, compared with 0.6 percent in 1997.
One of the main factors that has propelled this rise is that parents avoided feeding their babies peanuts and other allergenic foods. They hoped to eliminate the risk of food allergies, but had the opposite effect. The evidence is clear that you need to expose your baby to allergens.
You might be wondering, “what are common food allergens?”
Allergens are things such as foods that cause allergic reactions. Although there are a wide variety of foods that cause allergies, the FDA notes that almost 90 percent are caused by just 8. The most common food allergens are:
- Tree nuts
Not all food allergens are created equal. Some are likely to remain lifelong allergies with little we can do about them. However, certain foods on this list can be introduced to babies with remarkable results.
There is significant evidence to suggest that peanuts, eggs, and milk should be introduced to your baby at a young age. A recent landmark study found that introducing your baby to peanuts can prevent about 80 percent of allergies. Through gradual exposure to peanuts, your baby can build immunity.
Of all populations, babies with eczema are most likely to develop food allergies. As such, it’s especially important that parents introduce their eczema babies to allergens. This frequent exposure helps the body become used to certain things over time, in this case food.
Exposure is highly effective and something that parents have control over. Knowing that you have the power to reduce food allergies means that you need to incorporate these foods at an early age. By making slight adjustments to your baby’s diet, you have the power to change a life–not only in the short term, but in the long term as well.
2. Start as early as 4 Months Old
The most recent USDA guidelines were released in 2020. For the first time ever, they incorporated children from ages 0 to 2 in their recommendations. A key takeaway from these guidelines is to start introducing your baby to allergenic foods at about 4 months.
A key takeaway from the new USDA guidelines is to start introducing your baby to allergenic foods at about 4 months.
This may seem quite early, but as soon as your baby can eat semi-solids it is time to begin the process. A good way to determine whether a baby is ready is to see if they are willing to chew food and if they can hold their heads up without help.
Early introduction is especially important for babies with eczema given their increased risk factors. Starting at 4 months aligns with the PETIT study which focused on egg consumption and children with eczema. The study concluded that consuming egg early resulted in about a 79 percent reduction in egg allergies in high-risk infants.
Another reason for early introduction relates to immunity development. During the first year of life, babies require exposure to different germs and allergens to build tolerance. The evidence is clear that you should start feeding your baby common allergens by 4 months of age.
3. Take a Gradual Approach
So far, it has been made clear that babies need to be exposed to a variety of allergens starting at an early age. They also need to be introduced to foods gradually and with great frequency.
When you introduce your baby to new foods, you need to do so one at a time. Before trying something else, make sure you also wait 4 days. This essentially serves as a testing period so that you can pinpoint any reactions in the event that they occur. In contrast, giving a baby multiple new foods at once would make it unclear which food caused the reaction.
Consistency is the key when it comes to food introduction. Your baby needs constant exposure to allergenic foods in order for it to build immunity, this is not a one time trial. In the three major studies conducted on allergen introduction (LEAP, EAT, and PETIT) a commonality was the frequency with which foods were consumed. This is a gradual process.
As you begin to integrate foods into your baby’s diet, it helps to have options. There are recipes available that include allergens such as peanuts. When your baby starts this process, they will most likely be eating things like purees, but eventually transition to solids. Having recipes for your baby as you begin to introduce solids s allows you to keep your baby interested and progress as your baby does.
Key Takeaways for Parents
Babies with eczema are at a significantly higher risk of developing food allergies. In order to help prevent allergies, you can build their immunity to potentially harmful foods. By introducing allergens at an early age, you will lower your baby with eczema’s chance of getting a food allergy.
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.