KAREN'S STORY: "I didn't know eczema and food allergies were linked."

Thanks to our brand partner, ASCIA

If you’re in any parent groups on Facebook, you’ll know that the topic of eczema comes up a fair bit.

It’s not surprising with one in five children under two experiencing this skin condition.

When eczema first appears, parents desperately search for the cause and the remedy; Is it the washing powder? Or dust mites?  Should I try a natural remedy? Or a prescription cream?

What a lot of parents don’t realise is that many infants with moderate or severe eczema may also have a food allergy. In fact, proper management of eczema can actually help prevent food allergies developing.

Understanding the link makes all the difference, which is something mother of two Karen Chetner knows too well.

Karen’s boys, aged seven and nine, both have food allergies and suffered from eczema as infants. With the right advice and treatment, Karen got on top of her boys’ eczema and is keen to share her advice with other parents.

“If I could turn back time and have more of an understanding of eczema when I was pregnant or even before I was pregnant, I would have done all the research I could to better manage it,” Karen tells Mamamia.

Karen’s eldest son Felix started to get severe eczema when he was four months old, and by five months he was covered head to toe in a raw, red rash.

“He was really irritable. He was crying all the time,” Karen explains. “He wasn’t putting on weight. It took a few visits to different specialists, paediatricians and two dermatologists before we got the allergy diagnosis. He had a lot of food allergies at that point. He’s grown out of quite a few and now has severe allergies to cow’s milk, peanuts and egg.”

After consulting with her paediatric dermatologist, Karen started to effectively manage Felix’s eczema.

“I was breastfeeding and my milk supply had dropped so I topped him up with a prescription-based amino acid formula because he was allergic to cow’s milk and soy. Once we did that, he became a new baby quite quickly.”

Eczema can be managed by applying moisturiser twice a day to the face and body and using prescribed creams or ointments are directed. Image: Nip Allergies in the Bub.

Karen focussed on applying medicated creams and ointments and cautions against natural remedies.

“Eczema is quite hard to deal with because it can get infected. You have to manage the infection and then manage the eczema,” Karen says. “When you have a newborn baby, it can be scary to put cortisone [steroid] cream or ointment on them because they’re so beautiful. A lot of people opt for natural products not realising that they contain food products that may cause food allergies to develop.”

Karen is spot on. Research has shown that babies with eczema can develop food allergies if food comes into contact with their skin where there is eczema, so it is recommended that you avoid moisturisers that contain nut oils, cow’s milk or goat products as well as plant extracts.

The best option? Using prescribed creams as directed by your doctor or nurse practitioner along with a fragrance-free moisturiser, which can reduce the chance of a baby developing eczema by 30 to 50 per cent.

Karen’s second son Spencer was born not long after Felix. Although not as severe, he also suffered from eczema but Karen felt a lot more prepared to deal with it the second time around.

“Food allergies and eczema have a huge impact on a family. Luckily my kids’ eczema is quite well managed now and we rarely get a flare up because we follow the National Allergy Strategy’s recommendations.”

As she cooks multiple meals for a weekend away with the family, Karen describes her experience as “quite a journey” and wishes she had more information to help her through those early days. That’s why she’s spreading the word about the Nip Allergies in the Bub campaign, an allergy prevention project by the National Allergy Strategy and funded by Australian Government Department of Health.

“If I was pregnant or a new parent, my first step would be to go to the Nip Allergies in the Bub website and read everything they’re recommending because it’s packed with practical, evidence-based information about introducing solids and managing eczema,” Karen says.

The Nip Allergies in the Bub website recommends moisturising at least twice a day, every day, and using prescribed creams or ointments for eczema flares, to help prevent food allergies developing.

Another key recommendation is to feed your baby the common allergy-causing foods such as peanut, egg, tree nuts and cow’s milk before the age of one.

Be sure to check it out and the next time someone asks a question about eczema, you know where to send them.


About the Food Allergy Prevention Project

The National Allergy Strategy received funding from the Australian government to implement a food allergy prevention project based on the ASCIA guidelines for infant feeding and allergy prevention and was created in consultation with key stakeholder organisations.

The project aims to:

• Encourage parents to introduce the common allergy causing foods to their baby within the first year of life
• Provide information to help parents feed their baby the common allergy causing foods
• Provide an information line to help answer any questions parents may have about feeding their baby the common allergy causing foods, including questions from health professionals
• Provide information to help parents manage their baby’s eczema to help prevent food allergy developing
• Provide information for health professionals about current infant feeding recommendations to prevent babies developing food allergy
• Provide information for health professionals about optimising eczema management to prevent food allergy developing
• Provide answers to frequently asked questions about how to prevent food allergy.

These initiatives will provide greater support for parents who are concerned about eczema management and development of food allergy.