Eczema and Food Allergies – Our Story of Despair and Hope – Part Two

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Yesterday I shared with you the trials that we went through regarding eczema and our son not sleeping in Eczema and Food Allergies–Our Story of Despair and Healing – Part One.

sleeping baby experiencing eczema

That post was filled mostly with despair–

Today comes the healing.

At the time of our appointment with Dr. Paller of Chicago Children’s Hospital, our son was basically covered with eczema from head to foot–baby eczema at its worst.  Literally, it was so bad that his cheeks were oozing and stuck to my arm when he nursed.

Desperate and bleary-eyed, I trudged to downtown Chicago with my sweet son in tow, hoping beyond hope for some relief.

For him and for me.

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During the appointment, Dr. Paller graciously told me about what eczema is and how doctors don’t really know what causes it, but that it appears to be an allergic reaction of the skin.  She told me that her preferred course of treatment was:

1.  Topical hydrocortizone using the strongest over the counter strength, twice per day, or as needed, using the lowest prescription strength only when needed.  (I don’t even want to think now of the strength of the cream that we first put on my vulnerable son’s body.)  I found the ointment preferable to the cream as it was easier to cover a small area with the ointment.  But it does help the medicine to penetrate the skin more readily so consult with your doctor as to which is better for you.

2.  Warm baths daily using a really gentle cleanser for only 3-5 minutes (any longer and she said that the skin would become susceptible to even more eczema), followed by a layer of the steroid cream and a moisturizing lotion.  She recommended Cetaphil.  These days, I would use a more clean cream (with no parabens) like a pure organic cream or this really soothing Beautycounter Body Lotion or Balm for All, which many have said works great for skin issues. Another great idea is to put some body oil under the cream for a moisturizing boost.

3.  For times when intense relief is needed, a warm damp cloth wrap, followed by more hydrocortisone cream.

I was concerned about the hydrocortisone use, especially for baby eczema, but Dr. Paller said something to the effect of “We’ve been using these creams for over 40 years.  Yes, there is a slim chance of a negative effect on your son, but not getting sleep is for sure going to damage him and this is much less risky.”

Balanced and sage advice.

As a side note, allergies were definitely a problem genetically for my son.  A little history:

I had been almost debilitated by seasonal allergies in my high school and college years.

In high school I stayed home for 6 weeks out of the year, having school assignments brought to my home so that I could complete the work and stay on course.  (The only thing that I did go in for was biology since that class was so demanding.)

Could Severe Baby Eczema Be Caused by Breastfeeding?

As Dr. Paller and I were talking, I asked her about food allergies and whether our son’s eczema could be related to food.

Her answer? About 30% of eczema seemed to be food-related.

So I asked my next question; how would I figure out if foods were the cause?  I’d suspected we were dealing with a food issue from flares I’d seen my son have after I’d eaten certain foods, but how would I know?

Dr. Paller said that there are IgE blood tests, but my son was too young to try those.

We’d have to do an elimination test where I’d remove probable allergens from my diet and see how he responded.

She said there were 6 top food allergies that should be considered (NOTE: now there are 8 top food allergens; milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat).

Our Food Allergy Test

She recommended removing each potential allergen for 3 weeks to see how my son’s eczema responded and then add it back in and try the next one.

The next question that I had both changed our lives and brought us real hope.

“What if he’s allergic to more than one food?”  I asked.

She said that was possible.

What I couldn’t afford was 18 more weeks of itching and 30-minute stretches of sleep.  What if he was allergic to 2 or 3 things and just removing them individually out of his diet didn’t heal him and we ended up after 18 weeks just where we started?

So I asked her if it would be alright to remove all 6 potential allergens out of my diet for the recommended 3 weeks to see what happened.

She said that nutritionally that would be fine.

Food Allergy Test Results

So that’s what I did.

Tough work.

But my son’s skin cleared up gradually as my elimination diet progressed.

We continued with the treatments of hydrocortisone and baths.  They were tiring, but at least I was getting a little more sleep as my son felt some relief.

Basically, I eliminated all the obvious sources of the Top 6 allergens out of my diet, but noticed slight to fairly bad flares even from me just eating milk chocolate. So out everything went from my diet.  I was scouring labels and making sure I ingested nothing that my son was allergic to.

His skin became almost perfect.

The next test was to add the foods back, one at a time.

It soon became pretty obvious that we were dealing with allergies to dairy and peanut. And egg.

And at 5 months of age (the earliest age at which IgE blood tests are typically performed), my son ended up in the hospital with rotavirus (that’s another story as well) and since they were drawing blood anyway, we decided to try an IgE blood test.

The verdict?

Allergic to dairy, egg white and peanut.

After all of these elimination tests and IgE test results, the question became:

Should I restrict my own diet and continue to breastfeed my son?

Or should I just go the “easy route” and put my son on soy-based formula.

My son’s wise pediatrician warned against the formula route.  Given my son’s sensitive constitution, he cautioned that it was quite possible that he would develop an allergy to soy and then we would be forced to either make our own homemade formula or go on a “pre-digested protein formula” that, if I remember correctly was running $80 per week.

Again, wise advice.

baby with eczema with text overlay

I decided to go the “hard route”:

  • eliminating everything containing anything on the allergen list
  • reading tons of labels
  • learning all the derivatives of dairy, egg, and peanuts.  There are a LOT.

This was so hard for me. I really like eating (who doesn’t?) and I like having what I want when I want it.

But I really wanted to breastfeed my child and my mother’s sense told me that while the nutritional aspect of nursing was important, the bonding aspect of nursing was crucial as well.

Later, true to our pediatrician’s advice, our son was also diagnosed with tree nut and sesame allergies and even soy.

He’s since outgrown the soy allergy, but not the others, though he now tolerates almonds and macadamias. (Note – read my about page to see how he later had miraculous recoveries from two more food allergies.)

Later, as my son grew, we found out more about him that made us glad I nursed him as long as I did.

It turned out that he had much more going on than just the food allergies and itchy skin.

Beneath the surface lay a hidden condition, called autism / Asperger’s Syndrome.

A condition that I (along with many experts) am convinced originates in the mind and gut.

I truly think that my choice to breastfeed my son may have kept him from either worsening Asperger’s or even full-blown autism.

I will never know, this side of heaven, but I am glad that I made the sacrifice to give up my food in order to nourish my son’s body and soul.

Now, let me make this clear.  This is not meant to be a criticism of mothers who have chosen to opt for formulas instead of a restricted diet.

But it is meant to encourage those who are dealing with eczema to look at diet as a possible cause.  And also to consider how important breastfeeding is for your child.

The benefits of breastfeeding for babies are great and as a side note, there are many breastfeeding benefits for mom as well.

For more of our family’s health struggles and victories, you may want to read:

I have been so touched hearing from readers about their eczema and food allergy experiences.  Please share so we can all learn from each other.

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  1. Did you also avoid food products that were made in a factory’s that processed diary, eggs, fish, peanuts? Or just Foods that contained them?

    1. Hi there–it depends on the doctor recommendation and the person involved. Initially we did avoid them. Later our allergist told us that we didn’t have to and that in fact evidence showed that tiny exposures were beneficial. There is new research showing that there are ways to possible mitigate allergies using small exposures via immunotherapy with peanuts. However that is in a controlled facility so I would consult with your doctor. Some people can’t be around the allergens at all.

  2. I also forgot to mention my comment my kids are picky eaters only like the same things. I don’t believe all kids get it from food allergies. I am allergic to shrimp but what causes my eczema is being dehydrated my skin being dry me stressing out and also the weather. I will continue to try to see what causes her to have dry patches. My son has a ton of tiny pimples on his arms and on his thighs I couldn’t figure out what causes that. They both have no allergies but is it possible it’s the detergent that’s causing the pimples. I don’t even know what they are or called but I’ve tried to research and it doesn’t look like staph I can’t figure it out.

    1. You can get eczema from other causes as well and of course it could be something else like dermatitis. My mom and sister and I had a rash from dryer sheets that was terrible. Your situation might be keratosis pilaris.

  3. Hello I am a 25 year old mother to 2 kids. A boy 3 years old and a daughter 1 year and 3 months old. My baby and I both have eczema I have struggled with it my home life. I used to have it so bad that sometimes my own family would make hurtful jokes that I had ringworms. Stress makes me extremely dry with rashes. And simply with my daughter I just put aveeno baby lotion. With myself I have to drink water, shave my whole body every time I shower because when I have hair growing it hurts me and I get to itching to relieve it. But hydrating the outside of my skin makes me believe it cures it. As soon I’m done showering I dry myself softly and immediately apply baby oil. From there I change and apply Eucerin advanced therapy (the eczema lotion) to my extra dry parts. Ever since I applied baby oil after my showers it’s prevented my whole eczema rash episodes. The only thing that ever touches my face is Nivea cream from the blue jar

  4. Thank you for this informative post. I have struggled with food allergies with my kiddos, it is literally the most exhausting and heart wrenching journey. I have a few friends that I’m going to share your post with, they are going through similar struggles. If I may I would recommend checking out Melanie Wildman’s new cookbook. Her kiddos had allergies as well and I found a lot of great information there. Every little bit helps in these situations!

    1. Thank you, Sally! It is horrible for sure–how are your kids doing now? I would love to check that out – is it the high protein one? And you said “had allergies”–were they reversed?

      1. Adrienne, so sorry, I was referring to Melanie’s kids who had/have allergies. She goes into more detail on her website. And yes it is The Ultimate Protein Cookbook.
        It just made me feel relieved that this woman had gone through the journey of battling food allergies with her children, and created something good from it. I don’t know if her children “still” have allergies, I assume so…
        Her cookbook, it isn’t a cure all but it is a nice balance of,’cooking with allergies in mind’ as well as ‘high protein’ for me, does that make sense? They are really clean recipes and easy to prepare. I hope that helps!
        I also wanted to add something, a friend that I worked with, her son had terrible eczema, and it was worsened with the treatment the doctors prescribed. Because he was allergic to corn! And the cream they prescribed him (initially), had ingredients derived from CORN! Just an FYI, I try to tell as many parents about this as I can, check the ingredients on EVERYTHING.
        Oh, and my kiddos are doing better- we have the eczema and celiac under control! Fingers crossed =) thank you for asking!
        Thank you Adrienne!

        1. Thanks for coming back, Sally. How terrible. Yes, corn is in so many things. I can’t believe that a cream with corn would be recommended to a child with eczema?!?! But then again, a woman told me just the other day that she had kidney stones and her doctor prescribed an antibiotic that has been proven to cause kidney stones!

  5. Hi Adrienne, I enjoy reading your blog! I wanted to make those struggling with eczema issues aware of a problem that could arise with the use of topical steroids (TS). I am 53 &have lived a healthy life. I’ve had eczema off & on for 20 yrs. Tried many ntrl remedies & used very sm amounts of TS. In 2015 I developed eczema on my hands that wouldn’t go away. Tried cleansing, suplmts, special soaps, salves, etc. My hands were a mess & I was always at risk of infection. By 2017 it spread to my arms. Dr realized what was going on & diagnosed me with Red Skin Syn-drome(RSS) aka Topical Steroid Withdrawal(TSW). It’s a MISERABLE rash that can cover your body & is caused by use of TS. My usage (incl a round of Prednisone & 2 steroid shots)was 1MONTH. For that, I suffered 7 mo. After that, I finally had some days of reprieve & flare-ups became less. In that time I had rash on most areas of my body (not just where I applied TS) & other awful effects of RSS that go beyond the rash. It’s 20 mo since I started with RSS & I only flare-up few days each mo. The Dr who 1st diagnosed this as something other than chronic eczema says that RSS can last months up to 2 years, depending on the amt/time of TS usage. He also states that NO amount of TS usage is safe. Based on my experience, I would have to agree with him. I now “freak out” when I hear of someone using TS. One never knows how much will be too much for them! For more info, the site is helpful. However, my disagreement with them is their statement implying that responsible use of TS is safe. Plenty of people would disagree!