Childhood Rashes and Food Allergies

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Skin rashes are very common in children. These days, atopic dermatitis impacts a very high percentage of children at some point in their lives. One of the most frustrating and distressing things parents have to cope with when their child has a chronic rash is not being able to identify the cause. Some rashes are caused by irritants in the environment. Others are caused by allergic reactions to substances that come into contact with the skin or which are inhaled into the lungs.

Food allergies are also fairly common in children who are diagnosed with persistent and severe atopic dermatitis. However, the latest evidence suggests that eliminating foods from a child’s diet doesn’t usually have an effect on their rash symptoms. In other words, kids with chronic eczema are likely to have food allergies, but the food allergies aren’t generally the cause of the skin rash.

What’s the Harm in Testing and Food Restriction?

It is natural for worried parents to want to have their child tested for food allergies “just in case”. Skin prick and serum IgE testing can be useful for identifying some allergens, but these tests have a tendency to be overly sensitive. They may show an allergic result even for individuals who don’t have any negative reaction to actually eating the food in question. These false positive test results can lead parents to restrict their child’s diet unnecessarily. Sadly, there have been reported cases of children suffering from malnutrition because their parents were taking food allergy management to an extreme without sufficient medical oversight.

Elimination diets that cut out one food and then another to see how this affects symptoms such as skin rashes have not been shown to be a fully reliable method for identifying food allergies. Making major changes to a child’s diet such as eliminating entire food groups can have serious health implications including stunting growth. So, parents should seek medical counsel before cutting foods that are generally considered necessary for optimal child health.

NIAID Weighs In

According to guidelines published by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, not all children who suffer a skin rash should be tested for food allergies. The exception would be when a specific food causes an immediately noticeable allergic response such as hives, swelling of the lips or tongue, or intense stomach pain. These symptoms can indicate a serious allergy that may be life threatening. Otherwise, topical treatments for atopic dermatitis should generally be explored with the assistance of a dermatologist before moving on to less common causes like food allergies.

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