Itchy, painful, and hard to hide, for many of us, skin complaints are the bane of our lives. From rashes to acne, when we suffer a flare up, finding ways to soothe the skin is only half the battle, as we try to pinpoint exactly what caused it in the first place. This frustration can be particularly true when it comes to eczema.
What is eczema?
Eczema is the name given to a group of skin conditions that cause sore, dry, and irritated skin. There are more then 10 different types of eczema, some more severe than others. It’s thought that between 15-20% of children and around 38% of adults suffer with the condition.
Often difficult to treat, severe eczema can be very uncomfortable, even painful. The cause is still relatively unknown but there are many factors that have been linked to eczema, including diet, stress, a family history of the condition, and allergies.
People who develop eczema are known as ‘atopic’. This means that they have an overactive immune system which, in the case of eczema, can lead to a host of symptoms, including:
- Dry, itchy, and inflamed skin
- Inflamed skin which can blister or weep
- Inflamed skin which can become infected
- Dark coloured patches of skin
- Rough areas of skin
- The first sign of eczema is usually intense itching followed by a red, bumpy rash.
If you notice abnormal changes to your skin, it’s important to speak with your GP. Your symptoms may lead you to suspect you have eczema, but there are other conditions which present in similar ways and may need different types of treatment.
Eczema flare ups can be incredibly frustrating and can leave you feeling like the condition is impossible to control. While it’s possible to have periods of improvement, eczema can be triggered and made worse by a host of factors, including allergies, stress, or your diet.
It’s possible to manage eczema topically, by making sure you keep your skin well hydrated using a good moisturiser. Your pharmacist can recommend a range of over-the-counter treatments to help heal the skin and break the cycle of itching, and your GP may prescribe treatments such as steroid creams for more severe cases.
While these creams can help alleviate the surface level symptoms, it’s worth considering the link between your skin and what you’re eating, to understand if there’s a deeper reason for your flare ups.
Food intolerance and eczema – is there a link?
While there is a wealth of compelling evidence to support the link between diet and eczema, food intolerance testing is not commonly offered by GPs for those suffering with skin complaints.
Food intolerance is often confused with food allergy, but the two are very different. Allergies are usually present from birth and symptoms – which can be life threatening – tend to present immediately after being exposed to a trigger food. Food intolerances however, although often uncomfortable, are not as severe and can take up to 72 hours to appear, making it particularly difficult to pinpoint the cause.
Food intolerances can occur when your body’s immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat, releasing antibodies to fight it. This reaction can result in a range of inflammatory symptoms in the body, such as IBS and bloating, headaches, brain fog, joint pain, or skin complaints, like eczema or acne.
While allergies are quite rare, affecting around 2% of the population, it’s thought that around 45% of UK adults have a food intolerance. While for some, the symptoms are quite mild and manageable, for others, the impact their trigger foods have on their health can be debilitating.
This was certainly the case for Matt, a Maths and Physics student, who had been living with eczema all his life. While steroid creams helped to ease the flare ups, it wasn’t until he dived deeper into his diet, that he was able to sort his skin out for good.
Can particular foods cause eczema?
Over time, there has been a lot of speculation about whether certain foods can cause or exacerbate eczema. And it’s commonly believed that there can be a link between eczema and dairy.
But each individual is different and what triggers inflammation for one person, may be fine for another. While it might be tempting to cut out certain foods, you can do more harm than good by removing important nutrients from your diet unnecessarily.
Take control of your diet
Getting to the bottom of a food intolerance can be frustrating. Elimination diets, where you remove one food at a time for a few weeks to see how you feel, can take a long time. And, as many of us react to several ingredients, it can be a while before you are able to see the bigger picture.
Additionally, the foods that you react to can often come as a surprise. It’s common to blame a few ‘usual suspects’ when it comes to food intolerance but, anything, from chicken to chickpeas, could be the cause.
Get answers faster with Smartblood
When it comes to food intolerance testing, it’s important to do your research and choose a reputable laboratory testing company.
At Smartblood, we offer a comprehensive test to help you take control of your diet quickly and discover your own trigger foods.
Our home-to-laboratory service gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts, with clear, easy to understand results sent to you via email within three days.
Our tests are supported by a 30-minute telephone consultation with our BANT registered Nutritional Therapist to help you understand your results and make safe, sustainable changes to your diet.