Did you know the earlier and more chronic the onset of baby eczema, the higher your chances of developing food allergies?
I didn’t and it’s the one thing I wished Doctors had told me when his eczema was diagnosed at one month.
How it started
It started innocently enough. He had cradle cap and baby acne at one month. At two months old, small patches of eczema came and went. We struggled with an episode of fungal diaper rash at 3 months. Then suddenly at four months, he broke out in multiple episode of hives. After the hives, the eczema ensued and began to spread with a vengeance.
In a state of shock
There’s no history of food allergies in my family. Only my husband’s Cousin has a mild peanut allergy which does not require any medical intervention. So it was a complete shock when skin prick tests showed positive allergic reactions to eggs, milk and peanut.
I was in shock for a good one year after his first skin prick tests. Having no prior experience with food allergies, I could not wrap my head around why he would have allergic reactions to normal foods that he was not even ingesting. It was an even bigger surprise when his allergist hypothesised that his food allergies were air borne. If you could smell eggs or milk or peanut in the air, he would react.
Fairly New but Credible Studies
In a medical article published in 2016, Predictors of allergen sensitization in Singapore children from birth to 3 years‘ there is evidence to suggest that..
Early onset of eczema and wheeze are risk factors for later allergen sensitization, suggesting a possible increased susceptibility to allergen exposure through an impaired skin barrier or defective airway epithelium.
This is not simply a phenomenon seen in Singaporean babies. In the same report, they pulled studies done by other countries which revealed..
the Melbourne Atopy Cohort Study, which recruited 552 at-risk children, also showed that children with eczema in the first 6 months of life had elevated risk of developing new allergen sensitization at 1–2 years and proposed that sensitization may have occurred through a dysfunctional skin barrier
The studies also show the opposite is true. Babies who develop eczema after 18 months have shown a lesser chance of developing new allergens at 36 months.
however, eczema with onset after 18 months was not associated with new allergen sensitization at 36 months.”
How Does your baby’s skin distinguish friend from foe?
These studies show that sensitive babies with a defective skin barrier could develop new allergies through their skin. Especially if the eczema is discovered at 6 months or younger.
How does this happen? The first months of your baby’s life is a period of crucial intelligence gathering of his immunity system. The skin, being the biggest organ of the body, performs an important role in this learning process.
As your baby grows, his skin is interacting with the environment around him. When the skin comes into contact with something new, immunity cells (T-cells) under the skin decide whether these are a friend or foe. For high risk babies with a defective skin barrier, proteins present in normal everyday items like eggs and milk are mistaken as harmful allergens. After multiple encounters of these common proteins in egg and milk, the immunity cells inform their co-workers, the mast cells, to fire up an allergic response through a release of histamine. The resulting response is hives and or rashes (eczema).
How does this information help you
If you are reading this and your baby has eczema, please keep in mind each child’s eczema and allergy profile is different. In Corey’s case, his was severe and I probably hit the allergy jackpot equivalent to the top prize.
On hindsight through piecing together our eczema and allergy puzzle, I find myself asking: what would I do differently knowing what I know now.
I know that I could have brought it under control sooner, had I done the following things:
Seek the appropriate medical advice and proper testing
I would have sought out a paediatric allergist sooner. Corey’s falls into the group of high risk infants, because his eczema showed up at 1 month AND both myself and my husband have history of allergic diseases.
Chronic eczema and food allergies are not to be taken lightly. Our grandmother’s advice of ‘little bit won’t hurt’ and ‘must keep exposing them to what they are reacting to’, may have worked way back when. But our environment and allergens have since mutated moons ahead of these age old traditions. So while I respect our elders’ well meaning advice, I’d much rather rely on statistically proven up-to-date therapies from a certified medical doctor.
This also applies to proper allergy testing which should only involve tests that have statistically proven scientific value. Applied kinesiology, and bioresonance falls into the class of dubious testing methods that have no proven value in diagnosing nor treating allergies. I speak from painful experience where we tried one of these quack testing methods and it delayed his healing due to misdiagnosed allergies.
For babies, a skin prick test is relatively painless (albeit a bit itchy like an ant bite) and easy to conduct. A paediatric allergist should be consulted on what is suitable for your baby.
Follow credible sources of information
It is tempting to troll social media for pictures of other babies’ rashes and compare them to your own. In fact I did it so much, I was convinced Corey had at least 10 other skin diseases that were completely untrue.
People who swear off steroid creams claim it is evil. But they are not professional allergists with decades of immunology experience. Again, if ever in doubt, check with your trusted doctor where to find credible sources.
Learn to protect your infant’s skin with the correct armour
When I think back to the first months of Corey’s life, I was making a ton of mistakes with his skincare regime. Your infant’s skin is fragile. To protect it involves choosing the correct armour and making sure it is not striped of moisture through over washing.
Contrary to what our confinement nanny’s may teach us, our babies actually do not require 2 baths a day. In fact, bathing too much may strip baby of the protective moisture and healthy bacteria on their fragile skin. I would instead opt for simple wipe-down maybe once a day with maybe a bath every other day.
Choosing the correct skincare products for infants is also very important. Check the ingredients of everything used on baby’s skin. Fragrance is the easiest one to spot and is my default deal breaker when choosing skincare products. Next, for really young babies at risk I would avoid compounds with foods listed in them.
The process of finding the right moisturiser takes trial and error so remember to spot test everything. Dot a little of moisturiser on an area of good skin, watch for reactions for the next hour. Repeat this process for a day or two to ensure no adverse reactions before lathering baby with it.
Keep learning, keep advocating for your child
The topic of allergic diseases is very complex and ever changing.
Nobody knows for sure why some babies develop food allergies while others do not. And no expert can predict with hundred percent certainty why some children outgrow food allergies and some never do. Doctors themselves sometimes have varied opinions on treatment methods. This can cause some confusion but it doesn’t mean medical science is wrong. It does signal that in many ways, allergic diseases are changing faster than we can react to. And it means we need to stay vigilant for our children.
The best thing we can do as parents is to keep learning, and keep advocating for our children. We may not be able to cure them, but we can certainly adapt to a lifestyle where they thrive and grow. In doing so, we are also giving them the best chance of outgrowing these allergic diseases.
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