Dietary Causes of Eczema

Finding Possible Food Triggers

Did your baby’s eczema start with weaning? If so then an eczema trigger might well be something in your baby’s diet. However if you stopped breastfeeding around the same time it may also be that your baby became more susceptible to eczema breakouts without the protection of mother’s milk.  

Even if your baby’s eczema seems unrelated to weaning it’s still worth trying to rule out dietary causes as food still be a trigger for eczema even before weaning. 

Like everything with eczema, it’s not as cut and dry as one may hope. Even in children where something in the diet is a trigger unfortunately it’s rarely the ‘only’ trigger.

In children who do have a dietary trigger for eczema its only in about 10% of those cases it’s the only cause of eczema so more often than not you still have to maintain good skin care while looking carefully at other causes such as what is used for washing their clothing.

Milk as an Eczema Trigger

Baby’s intestines are very ‘leaky’ for want of a better word. They are like this to allow antibodies from breast milk to pass easily into the baby’s body to give them protection from illnesses. It also means foreign proteins from other foods, especially cow’s milk, can pass out through the intestines too making young babies vulnerable to dietary reactions.  As the gut matures it becomes less leaky which is why many babies and young children out grow their dairy sensitivities.

Baby eczema on face

The Kellymom website is a fantastic source of information about breastfeeding and has fantastic sections on sensitivities and weaning: Food sensitivities in a breastfed baby.

If your baby is formula fed your doctor or health visitor may be able to advise whether they think it’s worth you trying a dairy free formula. If you are breastfeeding there is a small possibility that something in your diet can still pass into your breast milk and cause a reaction. Cow’s milk in particular is often problematic for a lot of young children.

Exclusion Diets

Remember that care needs to be taken when altering the diets of babies or breastfeeding mums and your Health Visitor should be able to advise. Exclusion diets must be done carefully and it can take a long time to see the benefits. Cow’s milk protein for example can take 3 weeks to clear a breastfeeding mum’s system, with a further two weeks before it’s gone from the baby although improvements can often be seen after a week.

Careful Weaning

I weaned my son very slowly so that reactions were more obvious. In our experience reactions from food tend to cause an eczema flare up within 10hrs and last for 4-5 days. Contact reactions on the skin come and go much faster.

One thing we have realised is that processed food seemed to differ significantly from organic food cooked at home. Sometimes processed food will cause a reaction were the same raw cooked ingredients may be tolerated well. So you really do have to become a detective when working out food causes. 

I was lucky enough that my son’s skin was mainly healthy before weaning commenced, which made it easy to spot reactions as they happen. Once his skin has recovered we try a re-challenge (test) with the food to see if we get the same result.

Contact Reaction

It’s worth mentioning that some foods can cause a contact type of skin reaction. This is a reaction which leaves redness on the face where the food has been in contact with the skin and mainly occurs with acidic foods such as tomatoes and strawberries. This can often be prevented by applying barriers cream before eating, see our skin treatments section for more information.

Note: skin reaction can vary from redness or few dots around the mouth to hives or nettle rash, swelling and frantic itching. Always report any dramatic and severe reactions to your Dr or NHS 111.

Next: Eczema Skin Care