Eczema is one part of what’s called the “atopic march,” a group of allergic conditions which begin with the skin disorder, progress to food allergies, then hay fever (also referred to as allergic rhinitis), and finally, asthma. The diagnoses usually appear in this order. Atopic triad is another name for the combination of eczema, hay fever, and asthma. Someone who is atopic has an overactive immune response; they are genetically prone to develop allergic diseases. Exactly how food allergies, eczema, and other atopic conditions are connected and what causes they may share is an important topic in allergy research. Emerging evidence is shedding some light on the link between eczema and food allergies. Food allergies are more likely to play a role in the development of eczema in children younger than 5 years of age compared to older people with food allergies. Also, the percentage of people with food allergies rises with the severity of eczema. Though parents may swap out their detergents, moisturize their child’s skin, and follow the doctor’s instructions in an effort to soothe and heal the irritated rash, further flare-ups may point to the relationship between eczema and food allergies. Could one or more foods be contributing to the problem? Eczema and Food Allergies Eczema may be a potential risk factor for developing food allergies, and food allergies may make an individual more prone to eczema. The percentage of children with eczema and a food allergy is thought to be 33 to 63%. But the link between eczema and food allergies isn’t so clear-cut. For instance, some people who have both eczema and food allergies won’t exhibit a flare-up of a rash after eating the allergic food. Additionally, food allergies seem to primarily be an eczema trigger for young children or for those kids with severe eczema. Nevertheless, to help keep eczema symptoms under control, it’s important to look for subtle or delayed signs of food allergies, including feeling itchy after consuming a specific food. Another sign is a new-onset eczema flare that occurs between 6 and 48 hours after exposure to a certain food. Cause of Eczema and Food Allergies To date, researchers haven’t identified a specific cause of eczema. But the current school of thought centers around the idea that the immune system kicks into high gear by an internal trigger—an allergen or irritant of some sort—which may include a food allergy. Risk factors for eczema suggest there’s a genetic component to it, including a family history of atopic dermatitis, asthma, or hay fever. Additionally, research suggests there are abnormalities in the outer layers of the skin’s protective barrier in people with atopic dermatitis. Food allergies may have a multifactorial cause as well. A healthy immune system defends the body against foreign invaders and pathogens. When the immune system perceives food as a danger to the body, the immune system kicks into overdrive to protect itself, resulting in an allergic reaction. Risk factors for developing food allergies can include a family history of food allergies, a family history of the allergic conditions above, environmental factors, and the mix of microbes (known as the microbiome) that impacts digestive and gut health. However, there is still much to learn about the causes of food allergies. Possible Food Triggers Although allergies to food may trigger or worsen an eczema flare in some people, it’s not always easy to recognize the offending food because eczema symptoms can ebb and flow. However, the following foods have been identified as potential triggers: Milk Eggs Peanuts Wheat Soy Food Allergy Testing If you continue to have eczema flare-ups despite conventional treatment, it may be time for you to consider whether or not food allergies are contributing to the problem. An allergist is a physician who specializes in allergy testing and interpretation, as well as immune system disorders. The standard testing measures an allergist may use are a blood test or a skin prick test (or a combination of these methods) to investigate whether you are allergic to a particular food. However, the testing isn't foolproof—just because you test positive to a food, it doesn’t mean that food is adding to the eczema flare. Keep in mind that, depending on the severity of eczema, a skin prick test may be difficult to complete if a rash is present. Additionally, an allergist can perform an oral food challenge in which patients consume an allergenic food to see if their body responds with an immediate reaction. But there are some downsides to this method of testing. The healthcare provider must be ready in case a serious reaction occurs, and the testing requires a significant amount of time. Other doctors may work alongside the allergist to treat a severe reaction. In the end, however, knowing if a food allergy could affect your eczema may be one more tool in your toolbox of ways to find relief and cope with an uncomfortable skin condition. What to Ask Your Doctor If you think a food allergy may be contributing to your eczema flare-ups, ask your doctor if food allergy testing is right for you and what you should expect from the testing. Also, ask your doctor about a multifaceted approach to treatment, such as eliminating trigger foods, combined with a more traditional approach to managing eczema. Although both food allergies and eczema can be bothersome, many people will eventually outgrow both conditions or find that their reactions significantly lessen over time.