Is Your Diet Making Your Skin Itchy? The Truth About Atopic Dermatitis

Can specific foods cause atopic dermatitis flare-ups with red, itchy skin? While trigger foods such as milk, wheat, shellfish, peanuts, or soy can often lead to irritating skin rashes, they may not always be to blame. Learn how your doctor can conduct tests to determine if your diet is connected to your skin flares and recommend appropriate treatments.

Food Triggers for Atopic Dermatitis

🌟 Introduction 🌟

Do you have red, itchy skin that just won’t quit? Before you blame your favorite foods and eliminate them from your diet, hold up! Contrary to popular belief, foods or drinks aren’t always the trigger for a skin condition called atopic dermatitis (AD). So, before you bid farewell to your beloved meals, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis and tests to confirm whether your diet is truly causing those pesky skin flares.

Atopic Dermatitis and Food Triggers

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition associated with occasional dry, red, cracking flares that itch so intensely they could keep you awake all night. This condition is often linked with other allergic conditions.

In the United States alone, approximately 18 million people are affected by atopic dermatitis. While it’s more common in infants and children, adults can experience it too. The good news is that most kids with AD see a decrease in flares over time, and in about 90% of cases, the flares stop completely, according to Dr. Yasmin Bhasin, a renowned allergist in Middletown, NY.

Now, here’s a fun fact: only about 30% of people with atopic dermatitis actually have food triggers for their skin flares. So, before you become a Sherlock Holmes of the grocery aisle and start eliminating certain foods, make sure to consult with an allergist or dermatologist. During your appointment, they will:

  • Perform a physical exam and review your medical history.
  • Ask you questions about when and where the skin flares occur.
  • Conduct blood or skin tests to determine if common food triggers are causing reactions.
  • Recommend steps to eliminate potential food triggers and evaluate the results.
  • Prescribe treatments to alleviate skin flares and itching.

Dr. Bhasin suggests that if the skin tests come back positive, the next step is to eliminate those foods from your or your child’s diet for up to six weeks. If that doesn’t help, moisturizing creams, prescription steroids or nonsteroidal topical medications can be used to treat the flares. Oral antihistamines may also help relieve itching and finally grant you a good night’s sleep.

What’s Really Happening?

If you notice that your atopic dermatitis flares seem to coincide with certain foods, it’s tempting to make the connection and label them as triggers. However, hold your horses! According to Dr. Jessica Hui, a pediatric allergist and researcher at National Jewish Health in Denver, there are a few myths and misconceptions to address.

You see, with atopic dermatitis, people often mistake a rash for an allergy. But it’s crucial to understand the distinction between a true food allergy and atopic dermatitis. Unlike atopic dermatitis, true food allergies typically cause hives and can even lead to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, where breathing becomes difficult. To diagnose a food allergy, an allergist can perform tests and prescribe an epinephrine injection device for severe allergic reactions.

If you have an allergy to a specific food, such as peanuts or shellfish, hives will be the telltale sign. You must avoid the allergen and carry your trusty injector at all times. With each encounter, you can expect those dreadful hives to reappear, much like an uninvited guest.

Atopic dermatitis, on the other hand, is not life-threatening but can certainly make you uncomfortable. Skin flares may disrupt sleep and diminish your overall quality of life. To make the most of your doctor’s visit, Dr. Hui recommends the following:

  • Provide your doctor with precise details regarding when and where the rashes occur.
  • Keep a record of your skin flares to help your doctor identify potential triggers.
  • Snap a quick photo of the rashes with your phone, just in case they decide to hide before your appointment.

Tiny Skin Cracks and Beyond

Atopic dermatitis can result in tiny, invisible cracks in your skin. Dr. Hui, a co-author of a recent study on the subject, explains that the skin surrounding areas of red, inflamed flares in individuals with atopic dermatitis and a food allergy exhibits notable differences. It shows higher levels of inflammatory proteins and signs of an immune reaction.

Your skin acts as a protective barrier, keeping moisture in and disease-causing particles or allergens out. When food allergens manage to penetrate the skin, your body perceives them as foreign invaders, triggering moderate to severe skin reactions. In such cases, an appointment with an allergist is essential not only to manage the skin condition but also to receive guidance on food and diet choices.

Identifying triggers for every skin flare is a challenge, especially when it comes to young children. Kids do all sorts of things—put on sweaters, play on carpets, snuggle with dogs, and maybe even eat a cracker off the floor (we won’t judge). So, as Dr. Hui explains, it’s easy for parents to point the finger at the cracker or various other culprits. Factors like drooling, sweating, and using irritating soaps during bubble baths can also complicate the matter. Sometimes, what you mistake for a skin flare could simply be redness or irritation caused by citrus fruits or juice.

Should You Go Gluten-Free?

In recent years, gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley products, has been linked to various health conditions. However, it’s important to note that gluten is not a common cause of food allergies or skin reactions, according to Dr. Bhasin.

The gluten-free frenzy has taken the world by storm, with many people believing that switching to a gluten-free diet—complete with gluten-free bread and pasta—will automatically make them healthier. While some people swear by it, Dr. Bhasin advises caution. It’s crucial to confirm with your doctor that you are indeed allergic to gluten before eliminating it or any other food from your diet.

It may seem logical to cut out a food that appears to trigger skin flares, but many allergists recommend maintaining a diverse diet to ensure you obtain all the necessary nutrients. This is particularly important for growing children. Dr. Hui encourages parents to introduce a variety of foods early on, unless specifically advised against it by a pediatrician.

“By exposing children to a broader range of foods,” she says, “we can help them develop tolerance. In the past, we used to tell people to avoid these supposedly allergenic foods altogether. Even during pregnancy and breastfeeding, we don’t restrict a mother’s diet. We want children to have a varied diet. While topical medications may still be necessary to treat flares, as kids grow older, this condition tends to improve. With a diverse diet, their bodies will develop tolerance.”

Q&A: Your Burning Questions Answered!

Q: Can stress worsen atopic dermatitis? A: Absolutely! Stress has been known to exacerbate atopic dermatitis symptoms. So, while you’re tending to your diet, don’t forget to take care of your mental health as well. Consider incorporating stress-reducing activities into your daily routine, such as meditation or exercise.

Q: Can my child outgrow atopic dermatitis completely? A: Yes, there is hope! According to Dr. Yasmin Bhasin, about 90% of children with atopic dermatitis see an improvement or complete resolution of their symptoms by the age of 5. So, don’t lose heart. With time and proper care, your child may bid farewell to those bothersome flares.

Q: Are there any natural remedies to alleviate atopic dermatitis? A: While food triggers aren’t the primary cause of atopic dermatitis, certain natural remedies may help alleviate symptoms. For instance, bathing in colloidal oatmeal, applying coconut oil or aloe vera gel to the affected areas, and using fragrance-free moisturizers can provide relief. However, it’s essential to consult with your dermatologist before adopting any new treatment.

For more information on atopic dermatitis and food triggers, you can refer to the following sources:

  1. National Eczema Association: Atopic Dermatitis 101
  2. Mayo Clinic: Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
  3. Allergy & Asthma Network: Ask the Allergist: The Food Allergy-Eczema Connection
  4. FDA: EpiPen: Epinephrine Injection
  5. Science Translational Medicine: The Nonlesional Skin Surface Distinguishes Atopic Dermatitis with Food Allergy as a Unique Endotype
  6. Celiac Disease Foundation: What is Gluten?

Now, armed with a deeper understanding of atopic dermatitis and its relation to diet, you can make informed decisions about your health. Remember to consult with medical professionals, who can guide you on your journey to healthier skin. Share this article with your friends and family so they too can benefit from this knowledge. Together, let’s banish those itchy skin flares! 💪✨