Eczema and Allergies: Navigating the Connection

Young woman has skin rash itch on neck

Key Points

  • Millions of people around the world suffer the twin burdens of allergies and eczema.

  • Researchers don't view the two as distinct but believe allergies play a significant role in eczema.

  • Allergic reactions can occur shortly after exposure to an allergen.

As the millions of eczema sufferers across the world can attest, this chronic skin condition checks off all the boxes when it comes to feeling miserable in your own skin — chronic inflammation and redness, flakiness, and a persistent itch that rob sufferers of sleep and makes day-to-day life sometimes challenging.

Adding allergies to eczema's blend of symptoms can create a mind-wracking stew of symptoms that feed off and trigger each other. Interestingly, although researchers and healthcare professionals still don't know the exact cause of eczema, they believe allergies play a significant role in developing and exacerbating its symptoms. This comprehensive guide delves into the intricate connection between eczema and allergies.

Common Allergens That Trigger or Worsen Eczema Symptoms

Understanding the relationship between eczema and allergies begins with recognizing the common allergens that can trigger or exacerbate eczema symptoms. Eczema-prone individuals often have sensitive skin that reacts strongly to allergens. Certain foods trigger eczema flare-ups in some sufferers, especially children. Common culprits include dairy products, eggs, soy, nuts, and wheat. Keeping a food diary helps identify potential triggers.

Pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores are environmental allergens that can worsen eczema symptoms. Seasonal changes and exposure to these allergens can lead to flare-ups. While not allergies in the traditional sense, irritants like harsh soaps, detergents, fragrances, and wool can irritate sensitive skin and exacerbate eczema symptoms.

Some individuals with eczema may develop contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction to specific substances that come into contact with the skin. Common contact allergens include certain metals (e.g., nickel), latex, and chemicals found in cosmetics and skincare products. Make sure to use an eczema body wash, too.

Identifying Allergy-Related Eczema Flare-Ups

One of the challenges in managing eczema is distinguishing allergy-related flare-ups from regular ones. While both commonly lead to redness and itching, allergy-related flare-ups may have specific characteristics that set them apart from regular eczema flare-ups.

Allergic reactions can occur shortly after exposure to an allergen, leading to a sudden onset of eczema symptoms. Regular flare-ups may be more gradual. Allergy-related flare-ups often come with intense itching, sometimes described as a "burning" or "pins and needles" sensation.

Allergy-related flare-ups may appear in specific areas of the skin that were in contact with the allergen. Regular eczema flare-ups can occur anywhere on the body. Allergic reactions may cause additional symptoms like hives, swelling, or watery eyes. These symptoms are less common during regular eczema flares.

Avoiding Allergens in Life and Skincare

Managing eczema involves reducing exposure to allergens. If you suspect food allergies are triggering eczema, consult a healthcare professional for allergy testing. Once you identify allergens, you can eliminate or reduce them from your diet. To minimize exposure to environmental allergens, consider these strategies:

  • Use HEPA filters in your home to trap allergens.

  • Wash bedding and curtains regularly in hot water to remove dust mites.

  • Keep windows closed during high pollen seasons.

  • Limit contact with pets if pet dander is a trigger.

Choose hypoallergenic, fragrance-free products for skincare and laundry. Opt for mild, unscented soaps and detergents to avoid skin irritation. If you suspect contact allergens are triggering your eczema, try to identify the specific allergen by using patch testing. Once identified, avoid products containing the allergen.

Skin prick allergy test

Allergy Testing and Eczema Care

Allergy testing is a valuable tool in eczema management for many patients. There are two primary types of allergy testing: skin prick tests and blood tests.

In a skin prick test, a doctor applies a tiny amount of allergen to the skin's surface and then pricks the skin to allow the allergen to penetrate. If you're allergic to the substance, you develop a small, itchy bump at the test site. This test is commonly used to identify environmental allergens like pollen, dust mites, and pet dander.

Blood tests, such as the specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) test, measure the level of IgE antibodies in your blood in response to specific allergens. Elevated IgE levels can indicate an allergy. These tests are often used to identify food allergies and some environmental allergens.

Allergy testing helps pinpoint allergens that trigger eczema, allowing for targeted allergen avoidance. Testing also aids in developing personalized treatment plans, such as allergen-specific immunotherapy or dietary modifications. And finally, testing delivers peace of mind by confirming or ruling out specific allergens as contributors to eczema flare-ups.

Comprehensive Allergy Management

Allergists and dermatologists should closely collaborate to achieve comprehensive allergy management and improved skin health in eczema patients. Allergists are experts in identifying and managing allergies. These healthcare specialists give patients insights into their own allergies.

They achieve this feat by performing allergy testing to identify specific triggers, recommending allergen-specific immunotherapy (allergy shots) for severe allergies, and offering guidance on allergen avoidance strategies.

Dermatologists specialize in diagnosing and treating skin conditions like eczema. They can prescribe topical steroids or other medications to manage eczema symptoms, offer advice on skincare routines and product selection, monitor skin health, and adjust treatment plans as needed.

Collaboration between these specialists ensures a holistic approach to eczema care, addressing the underlying allergic triggers and the skin's health.

Eczema Connects to Other Conditions

In August 2023, researchers Zelma Chiesa Fuxench et al. at the University of Pennsylvania published a study in the journal JAMA Dermatology that found a connection between atopic dermatitis — eczema's most prevalent form — and an increased risk for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in both children and adults.

Regarding this study, Medical News Today writer Corrie Pelc says, "The scientists say they found that both children and adults with atopic dermatitis have an increased risk for IBD, however, the risk varies depending on age, atopic dermatitis severity, and type of IBD."

Moreover, this isn't the first study to find a link between atopic dermatitis and other medical conditions. Various studies have uncovered links between atopic dermatitis and heart disease, asthma, chronic kidney disease, and autoimmune diseases.

Put Your Healthcare Providers on the Same Page

Eczema and allergies share a complex relationship. Managing eczema effectively often involves identifying and avoiding allergens so sufferers can manage their allergies. Living with allergies and eczema under one skin is tricky and frustrating, but it's essential to talk to healthcare professionals about management and treatment options.

By getting your allergist and dermatologist to work in sync in managing both conditions, individuals with eczema can experience improved skin health and a better quality of life. If you or a loved one suffers from eczema, remember that personalized care and a proactive approach to allergy management make a significant difference in managing this chronic skin condition.

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