Allergies and Eczema – Is there a link?

Table of Content

Both allergies and Eczema are 2 conditions that are commonly seen in society. Often we see that these two conditions coexist, but is there actually a link between the two or is it only a coincidence?

What is an allergy?

An allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance. This substance may be pollen, animal dander, bee venom, or even a food item. Allergies don’t occur in everyone. What is allergic to you may not be allergic to your friend.

Our immune system produces substances called antibodies. They are there for our protection. However, when you have an allergy, your immune system produces antibodies that identify a particular substance as harmful, although it really isn’t most of the time. Therefore, if you come in contact with such an allergen, your immune system can cause a reaction that can occur as inflammation in your skin, airways, sinuses, or digestive system.

The severity of an allergy can vary from person to person. It may range from a minor irritation to anaphylaxis which is potentially life-threatening and considered an emergency. Most allergies are not curable, however, your symptoms can be relieved with various treatments.

What are the symptoms of allergies?

The symptoms depend on the allergen, which is the substance involved, and where the exposure occurs in your body. For example, hay fever, which is also known as allergic rhinitis can cause sneezing, itchy nose, and eyes, runny or stuffy nose with watery or red eyes.

Skin can get affected in allergies such as for certain foods. Hives or urticaria is a common occurrence. They are red, itchy welts that result from skin reaction. Depending on the severity, your lips, eyes, face, or throat can get swollen. This is known as angioedema. An insect sting allergy can give a large area of edema (swelling) at the site of the sting as well as hives and itching throughout your body.

What is Eczema?

Eczema is also known as Atopic dermatitis. It is a chronic skin condition commonly seen in children. It is a long term condition which usually has several flares and remissions. It can also be an allergic skin condition that causes your skin to redden, itch, flake, or peel. Atopic dermatitis is quite common which affects around 20% of children.

Eczema can be either wet or dry. These lesions are almost always itchy. Scratching can increase the risk of infection as germs get in through damaged skin. Continuous scratching can cause lesions to become thick, discolored, and leathery.

Eczema can run in families because it is an atopic condition which has an inheriting tendency. It can also associate with Hay fever (Allergic rhinitis), allergic conjunctivitis, or bronchial asthma. Usually, there is a family history of one or more of these conditions suffered by a family member or a close relative.

There is an entity called contact dermatitis which is quite similar to eczema. It is a skin reaction to something that it comes in contact with. These are irritants such as poison ivy, soap, bleach, certain metals, fabric dyes, hair dyes, and other irritants. Here, a red rash appears with an itching, burning, or stinging sensation in the area which was exposed or got contacted. Sometimes blistering (fluid-filled vesicles) and oozing can occur. Patch testing is done to identify contact allergens.

Impaired skin barrier in atopic dermatitis facilitates the penetration of potential allergens. Therefore children with atopic dermatitis have a possibility of contact allergies leading to contact dermatitis. They may have unacknowledged contact allergies contributing to skin symptoms. Here, patch testing is an important tool for screening children with atopic dermatitis which helps in their further management too.

Children with atopic dermatitis are also at a greater risk of sensitization to certain allergens like metals, metal products, and some skincare products.

Seborrheic dermatitis is another type of skin condition which commonly affects areas with hair growth or areas where oil (sebum) is secreted. It may be caused by a reaction to yeast which is a natural commensal (part of normal flora) on our skin. Here, the rash is dry and scaly and sometimes appears red. Seborrheic dermatitis may be similar to eczematous lesions.

What are the similarities between urticarial skin allergy and eczema?

Both eczema and allergies involve the immune system. Therefore, eczema and allergies are closely related.

  • Both conditions can cause severe itching
  • Redness of skin
  • Scratching can give rise to swelling of the area (edema)
  • It can occur in any place of your skin

What are the differences between skin allergy and eczema?

Eczema can be oozing or dry, but urticarial skin reaction or hives doesn’t ooze. Eczema can get infected but hives do not usually get infected.

Is eczema actually an allergy?

Most eczema types are not allergies. Eczema cannot be caused by an allergy. However, we have seen that eczema flare-ups occur following exposure to certain allergens in susceptible individuals. For example, certain foods can cause an allergic reaction which may give rise to an eczema flare-up.

Studies have found that eczema and food allergies are closely related. Certain foods can lead to allergic reactions and eczema flare-ups. These common food allergens are milk, eggs, wheat, soybean, nuts, and meat items. These foods can commonly affect kids and worsen their eczema symptoms. It may not be so in adults.

Ex: Babies with atopic dermatitis are found to have a higher risk of developing food allergies.

What is Atopy?

Atopy refers to a genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases like asthma, atopic dermatitis (eczema), allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and allergic conjunctivitis. Atopy is associated with heightened immune responses to common allergens such as food allergens or inhaled allergens.

Atopy runs in families. Therefore, you may have seen a mother with asthma having a baby with hay fever or atopic dermatitis or vice-versa. Research is still being carried out to study the link between these atopic conditions.

What is ‘Atopic march’?

According to allergy experts, atopic dermatitis is an early step of ‘Atopic March’. There is a common clinical progression from atopic dermatitis to food allergies and sometimes to respiratory allergies and allergic asthma in some children.

This biological process occurs because allergens reach your immune cells easily through the dysfunctional skin barrier that is affected by atopic dermatitis.

The link between eczema and allergies is still unclear and the connection is complicated. Scientists are still learning new details regarding this link.

Some areas of study include;

  1. Genes – A gene has been identified which causes a lack of a protein type called Filaggrin in their skin. Filaggrin protects the outer layer of our skin and keeps the germs out. When Filaggrin is lacking our skin barrier becomes weak, making it vulnerable to irritants, such as chemicals, soap, and detergents. Germs and allergens too can easily get in. Therefore, people with a lack of the Filaggrin gene are more sensitive to allergens like pollen, pet dander, and certain food items. A defect in the filaggrin gene by a mutation increases the risk of eczema.
  2. Body’s reaction to allergens – Research has found that eczematous skin has a defective skin barrier. There are small gaps that dries out your skin as well as let allergens and germs enter your body.

What happens when germs and allergens enter our skin?

Our skin sees these allergens as foreign substances and causes a reaction. It is called inflammation, where our body makes chemicals that can lead to swelling and redness. The prompting to make these chemicals within your body is done by the allergens. Therefore, if you suffer from eczema or if you are susceptible to it, you may have an outbreak or a flare-up, if you get exposed to an allergen.

  1. Antibodies – It is identified that the antibody IgE (Immunoglobulin E) plays a role in our body’s allergic response. If you are a person with eczema, you may have a higher level of IgE antibodies in your bloodstream. It is not yet understood why people with eczema have too much IgE in them and the exact role of it towards eczema.

Learning about these links between allergies and eczema will help you to control your eczema flare-ups in a better way.

How can you avoid allergens to prevent flare-ups of eczema?

These allergens are known as trigger factors because they initiate the reaction to cause the flare-up of your eczema.

  1. Avoid allergy triggers – Identify the triggers which worsen your eczema or leads to a flare-up in well-controlled disease. Different people may have different triggers. However, in some, it will be difficult to find an exact trigger factor.

preventing eczema flares

Once you identify them, it is easier to avoid getting exposed.

Sometimes these triggers can be unavoidable, such as pollen during spring and summer seasons. But allergens like pet dander, mold, dust mites, and allergic food items can be avoided if you are careful.

Some tips to avoid allergy triggers….

  • Use dust-proof pillow covers and mattresses
  • Avoid animals and pets especially furry dogs and cats
  • Remove carpets
  • Mop floors
  • Stay indoors when pollen counts are high
  1. Avoid skin irritants –Your skin can get irritated by soaps, detergents, wool, perfume, chemicals, and even cigarette smoke. Avoid them as much as possible once you correctly identify that these are common irritants that can lead to your eczema flare-up.
  2. Maintain an eczema journal –Remember when, where, and what you were doing when your eczema flared up. Write them down in a journal. If you go through it carefully, you may figure out what your triggers are. You can share this journal with your doctor, so that he or she can see the pattern and advice you accordingly, during your appointments.

Link Between food allergies and eczema

It is a well-known fact that food allergy and eczema are highly associated. However, all eczema patients do not have food allergies. Research has found that 20-40% of children with moderate to severe eczema have an IgE mediated food allergy.

Can food allergies exacerbate eczema?

There are some studies which suggest that people with positive allergy testing to egg can get better if they eliminate egg from their diet. Testing for food allergies can be beneficial in children with severe eczema who do not improve with optimized skincare. Testing for food allergies can be done through skin testing or blood tests to identify the specific IgE antibody for the allergen.

Although a positive result means that the allergic antibody is present, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have an allergic reaction.

Research has found that food allergies and eczema co-exist, but we still do not know for sure whether food allergies worsen eczema. Further research needs to be done to confirm this fact.

According to another study, food allergy was found among 50.7% of patients with atopic dermatitis.

Ex: eggs, milk, wheat, soy

Scientists have found that children with both atopic dermatitis and food allergy have structural and molecular differences in the top layers of healthy-looking skin near the eczema lesions, although children with atopic dermatitis alone do not have these differences. However, the outer appearance of the eczema rash doesn’t show any difference between the 2 groups. According to published research defining these differences can help to identify children who are at a higher risk for developing food allergies.

Therefore, it is helpful to identify food allergies in order to improve symptoms in patients with atopic dermatitis.

The link between inhaled allergens and eczema

It is identified that airborne triggers (allergies in the air) act as inhalant allergens and are highly associated with eczema.

Ex: Pollen, dust mite, animal dander

Therefore, there is a strong association between eczema and respiratory allergies such as asthma and allergic rhinitis.

According to studies, atopic dermatitis is characterized by skin barrier defects (such as mutations in the Filaggrin gene and other alterations of immune cells). These factors promote the development of food allergies and asthma too.

Scientists have tried to introduce potential food allergens to at-risk infants to prevent food allergies. But does this prevent the babies from eczema? Research data is inadequate to come to a conclusion.

References:

  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29750772/
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29222945/
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23610604/
  • https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/scientists-identify-unique-subtype-eczema-linked-food-allergy
  • https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13671-015-0121-6
  • https://nationaleczema.org/atopic-dermatitis-and-allergies-connection/
  • https://www.longdom.org/scholarly/eczema-journals-articles-ppts-list-3188.html
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/atopic-dermatitis-eczema/symptoms-causes/syc-20353273
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/allergies/symptoms-causes/syc-20351497

10 Foods that may Worsen your Eczema

We all know that diet is important for maintaining a healthy and well-nourished body, but for people suffering from eczema, the food you eat may be the difference between clear skin and a sudden and irritating flare-up.  

If you are experiencing eczema without knowing the cause, it may very well be that you’re eating the wrong food. 

In this blog post, I’ll explore 10 foods that may be worsening your eczema and offer some better alternatives so that you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner without the itchy aftermath. 

Please bear in mind that I am in no way a medical professional and while my suggestions may provide relief, you should always speak to a medical professional or nutritionist before making any dietary changes to ensure all essential nutrients are retained – especially when children are involved.  – Jennifer Roberge

Eczema in a Nutshell

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes a person to develop patches of dry, red, itchy skin on their body, most commonly appearing on the face, hands, feet, and back of the knees.  It occurs in both babies and adults and can be triggered by a number of factors.  

Typically, these irritants include house-hold products like soaps and detergents, extreme hot or cold weather conditions, stress, rough fabrics such as wool, and a variety of beauty products. Because eczema develops due to inflammation, one of the biggest culprits of the condition is actually food.

You can manage and track the food triggers using the eczema app and eliminate it from your diet to keep the eczema flares at bay

Elimination Diet

Although there are plenty of natural creams and medications that offer soothing and calming relief for itchy skin, one of the best ways to relieve eczema is eliminating the triggers that are causing it in the first place.  In terms of diet, this means avoiding the consumption of foods that are known to make eczema worse for a certain period of time (usually about a month) and then slowly work these foods back into your diet to determine which caused a reaction.

A food-sensitive eczema reaction will likely occur within 6-24 hours of consuming the food but it’s possible that the reaction may be delayed. [1]  If you are having trouble ascertaining which foods exactly are triggering the condition, this helpful eczema elimination diet is a good place to start.  Please keep in mind that an eczema elimination diet is only a short-term diet, with the goal being to reduce the intake of the triggering food, if possible. 

Foods to Avoid

While there are common food culprits that may worsen your eczema, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and not everyone will experience the same issues with the foods listed below. Understanding your body and knowing which foods work and don’t work for you personally is crucial, keeping in mind that there is a difference between a food allergy and a food-insensitivity. 

  1. Gluten – Wheat is quite a common allergy in children but thankfully, it’s also one that most children will outgrow by age 10. Usually, the reaction will occur minutes after consuming the wheat, but it’s possible, in some cases, that symptoms won’t appear for a couple of hours after consumption.

  2. Nuts – Nut allergy is one of the most common food allergies in children and adults. Nuts come in many varieties including pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, to name a few. If you are allergic to one type of nut, it’s highly likely that you’ll react similarly to other nuts as well – no matter where they grow.
  3. Soy Products – Unfortunately, soy is one of the most difficult products to avoid if you suffer from allergies as it’s found in many processed foods such as mayonnaise, vegetable broths, frozen meals, and meat substitutes. A soy allergy ranges from mild to severe and usually begins in early life.
  4. Eggs –  As eggs are found in most breads, pastas, cakes, cookies, and cereals, they are a hard product to avoid.  Unfortunately, they are also one of the most common allergens, with 2% of children reported as being allergic to eggs [3]. Some egg-free products include macaroni, marshmallows and other types of noodles.

  5. Dairy – Cow’s milk is the leading cause of allergic reactions in children.  Unfortunately, changing from cow’s milk to almond milk is not much help due to the fact that, as mentioned earlier, nuts are another common trigger of eczema.

  6. Citrus Fruits – Eating citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit, can irritate eczema.  In fact, even coming into contact with the peel of citrus fruit can initiate extreme itching, dry skin, redness or burning.
  7. Peanuts – Despite containing the word ‘nut’ in its name, peanuts are actually part of the legume family as they grow underground. That being said, the allergic reaction to peanuts is very similar to that of the tree-nut allergy.

  8. Shellfish – An allergy to shellfish can develop any time in a person’s life and can be caused by food that you’ve previously eaten with no issues whatsoever. Some shellfish to avoid include shrimp, crab, lobster, prawns, mussels, oysters and squid. Often, shellfish allergic reactions can be unpredictable as they can occur long after the person has consumed the allergen [3].

  9. Spices – Vanilla, cloves, and cinnamon are common types of spices that cause allergic reactions
  10. Tomatoes An allergic reaction to tomatoes will typically occur immediately following exposure to the allergen.  As tomatoes are beloved in many dishes (such as pizza and pasta!) they might be frustrating to avoid but thankfully, alternatives such as alfredo sauce and bechamel sauce are tasty replacements

What To Eat Instead 

Fortunately, there are anti-inflammatory foods that reduce eczema symptoms. This includes foods that are high in probiotics, such as miso soup, sourdough bread, tempeh, and naturally fermented pickles, as well as foods that are high in quercetin, such as apples, blueberries, kale, broccoli and spinach. 

Quercetin is effective in reducing inflammation because it is a powerful antioxidant and antihistamine. 

Finally, salmon and herring contain high-levels are omega-3 fatty acids, making them anti-inflammatory and ideal for those suffering from eczema. 

e hope this list is helpful in giving you a better understanding of how the food you consume can affect your eczema.  Remember to always seek the advice of a medical professional or a nutritionist before making any dietary changes.  

References: 

[1] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320855.php

[2[ https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/shellfish#foods-to-avoid

[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/egg#1

About the Author

Jennifer Roberge is the founder of the award-winning Its An Itchy Little World blog and The Eczema Company. Propelled to find a solution for her son’s struggles with eczema, allergies, and asthma, Jennifer has established herself as the go-to resource on integrative and holistic methods, and the best natural products for healing both inside and out.

Environmental factors causing Eczema Flares

Index

Environment and Eczema

Though the exact causes of Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) are unclear it is widely accepted that Eczema is aggravated by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Eczema flareups are due to defensive actions of the immune response cells of the body reacting to foreign factors. These foreign factors are called triggers. These triggers can be apparently harmless aspects of your daily life. Some of these triggers can be controlled by patients but many of them are beyond their easy control. Triggers such as specific food ingredients, clothes, perfumes, etc can be controlled or avoided easily. However, some triggers such as pollen count, humidity, temperature, etc. are beyond a patient’s control or cannot be avoided easily. Some of the weather and other environmental triggers have a dramatic impact on the severity of an eczema flare-up.

Our skin is the outermost organ of our body which senses conditions and adapts accordingly for e.g. if the climate is hot it perspires to make it cool and has a layer of fat under it to keep the body warm in cold weather. But these adaptation functions of the skin despair to an extent in people with Atopic Dermatitis The skin affected with eczema loses more water than it should and gives an open ground for microbes, allergens, and other irritants. Climate or weather affects each person differently even if two individuals are suffering from Atopic Dermatitis both of them will react differently to different triggers. The exact relationship between weather and Eczema has not been defined, but experts consider that the damage to the skin’s barrier may hamper the ability to adapt to the changing weather. Let’s check out some important environmental factors and how do they affect eczema.


Try Eczemaless an AI app to keep a check on the most common weather triggers such as temperature, pollen, humidity, etc that cause eczema flares.

Go to Eczemaless

Get your Eczema severity score and keep track of your Eczema progress.


– Humidity

Humidity is one of the vital factors in the environment, to which skin reacts almost immediately and it plays a major role in how your body handles eczema.

Dry and Low humidity: The dry air pulls moisture from the skin making it dry worsening the eczema plaques further.

Hot and High humidity: The hot and sticky climate makes your skin sweat a lot making eczema-prone skin itchier and more irritated resulting in a flare-up

Humidity level for Eczema

A perfect level of humidity can be different for each person but climate with 50% humidity in the air is ideal. Both Low and High humidity is bad for eczema wherein Low humidity triggers your eczema or intensifies a flare-up, whereas hot weather worsens an existing outbreak intensifying the itch.

Tips

  • If possible and feasible with your work-life balance, move to a place better suited for your eczema
  • Take necessary precaution while moving out of home and try avoiding a condition in which you will sweat more such as congested rooms or trains.
  • use humidifiers/dehumidifiers and indoor AC/heating, to control the climate at least inside homes and set it at an ideal condition for eczema

– Winter

Experts found that people with Eczema experience greater itchiness in cold weather than summer season and that maybe the reason your flare-ups occur predominantly in winter. Changes between cold and hot environments also worsen Eczema.

The combined effect of low temperatures, less humidity and dry air with a reduced or negligible amount of sunshine in winter aggravates eczema flare. The dry air drains and evaporates moisture from the skin making it dry and triggering a flare. Low temperatures demand insulation which comes in the form of increased clothing. Some of the warm clothing is made from wool and other fibers which reduce ventilation of skin and also cause irritation increasing the itch and need for scratching worsening eczema.

Eczema Winter Tips

Tips

  • Moisturize skin at least twice a day. Lock the moisture in the skin to help hydration and repair the skin barrier
  • Use lukewarm water for bathing and keep baths short.
  • Avoid harsh soaps, which can further dry and irritate the skin
  • Use humidifiers to increase the amount of moisture in the room.
  • Wear suitable clothes while going outside. Hats, scarves, and gloves may be required but avoid those made from wool, which can increase itching and scratching.

– Heat

When an eczema patient is exposed to heat, and the temperature reaches a certain level, it gives an itching sensation exacerbating eczema. The normal mechanism of the body’s sweating in hot condition to cool down actually worsens the condition in eczema. Moreover, when the sweat evaporates leaves the sodium in the skin making it drier and itchier.

Apart from hot weather conditions other causes that overheat the body include exercising, wearing non-breathable fabrics and overdressing

Tips

  • Avoid Overheating
  • Avoid overdressing, wear breathing fabric such as cotton.
  • put on moisturizers and sunblock when outside, and try not to get into situations where you sweat

Take a shower after exercise or whenever you sweat a lot due to traveling, playing, etc.

– Sunlight

Sun acts as both the healer and as a culprit for Eczema flares.

Sunlight can act as a treatment for eczema. People with severe cases can benefit from ultraviolet ray treatments. Sun exposure leads to increased vitamin D production, which can be great for the health of the skin.

For Many people Sun can be an irritant and may cause you sunburn and be a reason for increasing your itch, raising your body temperature, causing you sweat ultimately causing your eczema flare.

Tips

  • use an eczema-safe sunscreen when in sun for extended periods.
  • shield yourself with breathable clothes and a hat.

– Pollutants

Pollution or pollutants don’t directly cause Eczema but definitely can be a trigger that may cause an eczema flare worsening the condition. The correlation between air pollution and the prevalence and severity of atopic dermatitis is well known. The mechanism behind this is, itch causes scratching, disrupting the skin barrier function, and opening the entry for antigens (pollutants) to penetrate. This results in the patients being sensitized to antigens and subject to allergic diseases, in this case, Atopic Dermatitis.

This apart you may also be subjected to indoor allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, Pollen, mold, etc.

If allergies are a trigger for your eczema, take steps to control them.

Tips

  • Keep your home clean. Dust often and be sure to vacuum carpets frequently.
  • Get rid of dust mites by washing bedding, curtains, blankets, etc. at least fortnightly with very hot water.
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom
  • Close your windows during peak allergy season to avoid exposure to mold and pollen

To live a healthy life with eczema it is important to keep your symptoms and triggers under check. While tracking Eczema triggers keep in mind that eczema flare can appear even after some time to exposure, the lag time appears as a challenge to narrow down the trigger.

Approach a Physician

In case your eczema suddenly gets out of control it could be possible that you have developed an allergy or an Infection. In such case better to approach for medical health.

It is also advisable to approach a dermatologist if your symptoms are proving very hard to manage on your own.

Take away

As already mentioned, under tips section of each category of environmental factors, the best way to deal with your local weather is to move to a weather location less averse to Eczema and wear appropriate clothes, put on moisturizers and sunblock when leaving the house, and avoid situations which will make you sweat. Make sure that your bedroom is at the perfect level of humidity and heat using humidifier/dehumidifier, AC / heater, etc.  This ensures that you will be more comfortable at least when you sleep and help keep eczema flare-ups calm through the night.

Try out EczemaLess App to keep a track of Environmental Triggers as the app automatically records the most common weather triggers such as pollen, humidity, etc. Users can log suspected triggers through the intuitive user interface. The app comes pre-populated with the most common triggers, users can add custom triggers.