7 Foods to Avoid in Babies and Toddlers with Eczema

Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is a common condition characterized by red, itchy, and inflamed skin.

Although eczema can affect anyone, it’s especially common among children. In fact, about 60% of cases develop within the first year of life (one).

Many factors can worsen eczema flare-ups, including foods.

Research shows that certain foods may trigger eczema in 20–30% of cases of moderate to severe eczema. Additionally, foods are more likely to worsen symptoms in children and infants under age 5 (2).

While foods do not directly cause eczema, making dietary changes could help reduce symptoms, especially for those who have a sensitivity or allergy to specific foods (3).

In children with a confirmed food allergy, eliminating trigger foods from the diet may significantly improve symptoms of eczema within just 1–2 months (4).

However, keep in mind that it’s not necessary to avoid all the foods listed below to help manage your child’s eczema.

Summary

Certain foods may worsen symptoms of eczema, especially in children and infants. However, it depends on the child’s particular allergies or sensitivities, so speak with a healthcare professional to determine which foods might be best to eliminate.

Research has shown that eliminating one or more of these foods from the diet may significantly improve symptoms of eczema in some children.

1. Dairy

Not only is a cow’s-milk allergy the most common food allergy in young children, but dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese are also common triggers for eczema (6).

One study in 132 children with food-triggered eczema found that 39% of children developed an immediate reaction after consuming cow’s milk (2).

A 2019 review reported that infants with eczema were six times more likely to have an allergy to cow’s milk, eggs, or peanuts at 12 months of age compared with infants without eczema (7).

There are several simple plant-based milks available as an alternative to cow’s milk, including soy milk, luckily almond milk, and cashew milk.

However, be sure to check the ingredients lists carefully, as some of these products are high in calories and added sugar.

2. Fish and shellfish

The term “shellfish” refers to any aquatic animal that has a shell-like exterior, including crabs, lobsters, oysters, mussels, and shrimp. Meanwhile, most types of fish, including salmon, trout, tuna, and tilapia, have fins and scales.

Although both fish and shellfish are highly nutritious and can be great sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, they can also worsen symptoms of eczema for many children.

This is because fish and shellfish allergies are common and can cause a wide range of side effects, including hives, itching, and eczema (8, 9).

While some children may be sensitive to finned fish or shellfish, others may experience reactions only to certain types, such as crustaceans (like shrimp and crab) or mollusks (like oysters and clams) (8).

A pediatrician or registered dietitian can help determine which specific types of seafood may trigger symptoms for your baby or toddler.

3. Pedigree products

For those with a soy allergy, consuming soy products like soy milk, tofu, or edamame can cause an response, which could trigger skin immune reactions such as eczema (10).

Compared with allergies to other major food allergies, soy allergies are not nearly as common (11, 12).

For example, one 2013 study in 175 people with eczema found that around 30% had an immune reaction to soy. However, only about 3% of people experienced symptoms, such as hives and itching, after consuming soy (13).

If your baby or toddler has a sensitivity to soy products, keep in mind that many processed foods contain soy-based ingredients, all of which could worsen symptoms of eczema. Examples include (14):

  • soy sauce
  • tamari
  • soy protein
  • textured vegetable protein

4. Eggs

Some babies or toddlers may have an allergy to the proteins found in egg whites or yolks, which could trigger symptoms of eczema (15).

Egg allergy is one of the most common food allergies, affecting an estimated 1.3% of children under 5 in the United States (16).

Furthermore, one study reported that infants with eczema are nearly 6 times as likely to develop an egg allergy by 12 months of age compared with those without eczema (7).

However, most egg allergies in children resolve by around age 5 (17).

Additionally, some babies and toddlers who are sensitive to eggs may be able to tolerate them in some forms, such as baked eggs (16).

5. Tree nuts

Tree nuts could worsen eczema for many young children with a tree nut allergy. Examples of tree nuts include:

  • almonds
  • cashews
  • walnuts
  • pecans

Tree nut allergies are very common and may affect up to 4.9% of children and adults (18).

tree nut allergies can be very serious, and some research suggests that more severe reactions to tree nuts are often associated with severe cases of eczema, asthma, and seasonal allergies (19).

In addition to avoiding tree nuts specifically, your child may need to avoid foods that contain tree nuts, including pesto, nut butters, coconut products, and certain types of cereals, cookies, crackers, or candies.

6. Wheat or gluten

Wheat is a type of cereal grain and a staple ingredient in many foods, such as bread, pastry, and baked goods.

Gluten is a specific protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that gives dough its structure and elasticity.

For those with a wheat allergy, consuming products that contain wheat may worsen eczema and could also cause other symptoms, including hives, asthma, and digestive issues (20, 21).

Eczema and skin rashes can also be caused by a sensitivity to gluten, as well as by celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that triggers an immune reaction when gluten-containing foods are consumed (22, 23, 24).

While there is no test available to diagnose non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your child’s pediatrician can use a skin or blood test to help determine if your child has celiac disease or an allergy to wheat.

7. Peanuts

Peanuts are a common allergen and are associated with several skin reactions, including rashes, hives, itching, and eczema (25).

Peanut allergies are especially common among babies and toddlers, as most peanut allergies appear within the first 2 years of life (25).

Additionally, some research shows that peanut allergies are more common among infants with moderate to severe eczema (26).

If peanuts cause flare-ups of eczema for your baby or toddler, try swapping other ingredients into your favorite recipes instead, such as seeds or seed butters.

Summary

Some of the most common foods that cause allergies in infants and toddlers are dairy, fish, shellfish, soy products, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs.

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