How diet can help control the itch of eczema

Eczema is a common skin condition sometimes caused by exposure to certain foods and the environment. Eczema is usually at its worst in winter. The dry, cold air triggers intense itching that no amount of scratching can stop. Here's what you should know about eczema and how diet can help alleviate the symptoms.

How diet can help control the itch of eczema

[Photo Credit: iStock.com/Astrid860]

What is eczema?

Eczema is an itchy, scaly rash often caused by sensitivity to foods, certain chemicals or environmental conditions such as dryness. The rash itself is not always a true allergic reaction, but an immune system reaction to a normally harmless substance.

  • Symptoms vary and can appear anywhere from a few minutes to several hours after exposure to the offending food or substance.
  • Eczema runs in families, often along with a tendency to develop asthma, hay fever or hives.

The usual response is to scratch the itchy skin until it is raw, broken and occasionally bleeding. Unfortunately, no amount of scratching can soothe the itch.

The role of diet

Certain foods can trigger the symptoms of eczema. Common culprits include eggs, dairy products, seafood, walnuts and pecans. If you believe your eczema is caused by specific foods, it's important to be tested for food allergies by a qualified healthcare provider. Otherwise, you may be limiting your diet unnecessarily and not getting the nutrition your body needs.

  • Although cow's milk can potentially cause eczema in babies and small children, they may possibly be able to tolerate goat's milk or soy-based products.
  • Because children need calcium and other nutrients to fuel their growing bodies, consult with a registered dietician, nutritionist or paediatrician before reducing or eliminating dairy products from your child's diet.
  • Some children outgrow their sensitivities by around the age of six, while others have lifelong recurrences.

Foods that can help soothe the symptoms

There are steps you can take to control this irritating condition, under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider. Other things that may help you to avoid an eczema outbreak include:

Consume more antioxidants
Dryness may cause eczema by triggering the formation of free radicals and therefore may be countered by antioxidants.

  • Preliminary studies indicate that foods rich in beta carotene can improve the symptoms of eczema. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables including apricots, squash, mangoes, carrots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes are good sources of beta carotene.

Eat foods rich in essential fatty acids
Vegetable oils, fatty fish and flaxseed may decrease swelling by helping to generate hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which reduce inflammation.

  • Primrose oil is another excellent source of essential fatty acids.
  • In one study, patients found that their symptoms improved when they took supplements of evening primrose oil, which is rich in an essential fatty acid called gamma linolenic acid.

Get lots of vitamin B6
Some researchers believe a diet rich in vitamin B6 protects against sensitivity rashes.

  • Good sources include vegetable oil, eggs, oily fish, legumes, brown rice, wheat germ and leafy green vegetables.

Environmental triggers

Chemicals in the environment could potentially trigger the symptoms of eczema more often than foods. Common offenders include nickel (often used for making costume jewelry) and latex, which is found in household and industrial rubber gloves.

In general
People in certain jobs are at high risk for developing eczema.

  • Acrylic adhesives are a possible source of irritation for manicurists and their customers; dental technicians and people who build models as a hobby.
  • Athletes sometimes suffer from skin rashes on the feet caused by the adhesives used in bonding running shoes. Buying another brand of running shoes may sometimes solve the problem.

Woollen clothing worn next to the skin can cause a rash to appear.

  • People sensitive to wool should also try to avoid lanolin-based skin-care products, as lanolin is a natural oil that is found in wool.

If your rash is worse in either hot or very cold weather, avoid extremes of temperature.

  • In cold winter weather always wear gloves, even if you're only dashing out to the car to get to work. In the summertime, use talcum powder on your hands to help keep them as perspiration-free as possible.

If possible, buy only soaps, detergents and toilet papers that are free of dyes and perfumes.

  • Sometimes dyes and perfumes can irritate sensitive skin.

Eczema is a bothersome condition that isn't helped by scratching. However, by limiting your contact with known triggers (which might include certain foods you eat)  and consulting with your doctor for additional treatment options, you can help to get it under control.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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