Eczema is a chronic skin condition in which the skin appears itchy and inflamed. Approximately 1 out of every 10 children develop eczema, which usually appears before age 5. The most common cause of eczema, atopic dermatitis, develops as a response to an interaction between the child's immune system, the environment and heredity. Children with eczema are more likely to respond to allergens and irritants than other children. Approximately 40 percent of children with moderate to severe eczema have a food allergy.
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Symptoms of Eczema
Symptoms of eczema include red to brownish-gray colored patches of skin, small raised bumps, which may ooze and crust over when scratched, thickened or scaly skin and raw skin from scratching.The slightly raised, itchy rashes may appear in the bends of a child's elbows, behind the knees and on the backs of wrists and ankles. Scratching worsens the rash and can cause thickened brown areas on the skin. As children get older, the rash becomes less oozy and more itchy and dry. Allergens that trigger the symptoms of eczema include exposure to certain foods, irritants, emotional stress, temperature changes, pollen, animal dander and molds.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and all grains derived from them. For children with gluten sensitivity, exposure to gluten triggers a response in the immune system that produces eczema symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration reports that wheat is 1 of the 8 food allergens responsible for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions. Gluten sensitivity differs from the gluten intolerance associated with celiac disease. Celiac disease causes an immune system reaction to gluten that damages the villi in the small intestine. Your doctor may refer your child to an allergy specialist for testing to determine if gluten triggers eczema flare-ups.
A gluten-free diet may alleviate or stop symptoms of eczema if your child is gluten sensitive. The diet eliminates all sources of gluten, including most breads, rolls, breakfast cereals, crackers and cookies. Consult with a registered dietitian to help you select gluten-free foods and to learn how to read food labels carefully. Food manufacturers can alter the ingredients of items without warning, so read food ingredient labels every time you purchase an item. Grocery stores and health food stores offer gluten-free food items. Discuss your child's food sensitivity and restricted diet with teachers, administrators, relatives and babysitters.
If you are considering a gluten-free diet for your child, note that dietary interventions require not only changes in diet, but also changes in lifestyle that affect the entire family. Dietary interventions that restrict foods should be monitored by your doctor and dietitian to insure adequate nutrition. The benefits of a restricted diet are contingent upon identification of the correct allergen by your doctor and compliance with the diet's guidelines.