Atopic dermatitis (AD), commonly known as skin asthma or infantile eczema, is an inflammatory skin condition affecting children in infancy, as early as 3 months of age. While most recurring cases of AD resolve by the age of 5, some will persist into adulthood, with periods of exacerbations and remissions lasting well into the patient’s 20’s and 30’s. AD is characterized by dry skin, severe itching and various types of skin lesions, ranging from mild redness to severe manifestations such as lichenification, or thickening of the skin due to repeated rubbing.
AD occurs when an environmental trigger causes an allergic reaction in the body. Such triggers include foods, airborne allergens, and colonization of the bacteria, Staph aureus, on the skin. Approximately 80% of AD cases tend to run in families, which suggests a genetic component. Because environmental triggers play a major role in the recurrence of symptoms, avoiding exposure to such allergens and boosting the body’s immune system are the best methods for preventing AD.
Beware of common food allergens in children such as peanuts, soy, eggs, and dairy, wheat, and fish. Also, be sure to read product labels, since many children’s snacks either contain these ingredients or are manufactured in factories that process such allergens. Even though food allergies and sensitivities usually manifest as a digestion problem, there are allergic reactions that are asymptomatic, so consult with your child’s pediatrician if you’d like to test for certain food-related allergies or sensitivities.
As AD is related to your body’s immune system, a healthy diet rich in essential fats, vitamins, and minerals will boost your child’s defenses. Rarely, a child may be histamine-intolerant, meaning the body is sensitive to outside sources of histamine, the compound that is released during an allergic reaction. If the pediatrician confirms such findings, it may help to start a histamine-free diet, which excludes fish/shellfish, cheeses, hard cured sausages, alcohol, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes. Avoid excess sugar consumption, as sugar will exacerbate the inflammation due to AD. Also, mild exposure to morning sunlight will aid in the production of Vitamin D, a powerful immune-boosting nutrient.
Airborne allergens contributing to AD include dust mites, molds, and dander. Use synthetic fiber pillows, and wash your beddings with hot water. Avoid using upholstered furniture, and avoid carpets and rugs, as dust mites and pet dander can collect in them. For the same reason, remove any stuffed animals, and keep children away from pets (especially the furry ones!). Use a dehumidifier in poorly ventilated areas, and keep the kitchen and bathrooms dry to prevent formation of molds. If a bacterial infection has occurred on the skin, an antibiotic may be prescribed by your child’s pediatrician. In the meantime, try to reduce emotional stress, as it can further depress the immune system, thus hampering the child’s inability to fight off the infection.