Foods to Avoid in Babies and Toddlers with Eczema

It can be especially difficult to manage in infants and toddlers, as many factors can contribute to the severity of your child’s symptoms.

In some cases, making changes to your child’s diet can help reduce symptoms, and eliminating certain foods from their diet may even help prevent flare-ups.

Here are 7 foods to consider avoiding for babies and toddlers with eczema. Keep in mind that it’s always best to speak with a healthcare professional before eliminating foods from your child’s diet.

Diet and 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 (1).

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.

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.

7 foods to watch for

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).

Fortunately, there are several simple plant-based milks available as an alternative to cow’s milk, including soy milk, 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. Soy products

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

Compared with allergies to other major food allergens, 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).

Unfortunately, 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, pasta, 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.

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.

Foods that may help with eczema

Several foods can be beneficial for eczema and may help reduce symptoms such as itching and inflammation.

For example, fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that can protect against oxidative stress, cell damage, and inflammation (27).

Although studies in humans are still limited, some research suggests that reducing oxidative stress could play a role in managing eczema (28).

Increasing your intake of probiotics through fermented foods or supplements may also be helpful.

According to one review of 13 studies, certain strains of probiotics were effective at reducing eczema severity in children. These strains included Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus salivarius (29).

However, more research is needed because other studies have found that probiotics do not have a significant effect on symptom severity or quality of life for those with eczema (30).

Including more foods rich in antioxidants and probiotics in your child’s diet could be beneficial for eczema, but more research is needed.

The bottom line

For many babies and toddlers, diet can play a key role in managing symptoms of eczema.

While certain foods can make eczema symptoms worse, others may decrease inflammation and oxidative stress, which could reduce symptoms.

However, it’s best to talk with a pediatrician or dietitian before making any changes to your child’s diet, especially because eliminating certain foods from their diet could make it harder for them to meet their nutritional needs.

Additionally, keep in mind that many other factors can contribute to eczema and some children may also need other types of treatment to help relieve symptoms.

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