The Allergy-Eczema Connection
When my son, Liam, was born, he had the creamiest and most delicious skin. No baby acne or cradle cap marred my newborn's face. But by the time he was 6 months, it was a different story. That's when a particularly harsh Midwestern winter settled in, and he developed bright-red bumpy cheeks. I didn't think too much of it until similar red patches erupted on his back. When I took Liam to see his pediatrician, she announced that it was eczema.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin rash associated with an irregularity in the body's immune system. It affects 20 percent of children in the United States, but more than half of us will have a bout of it at some point in our lifetime, says Kari C. Nadeau, MD, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, in California.
Sometimes eczema is caused by an allergic reaction. This occurs when the immune system inappropriately responds to a harmless substance, such as pollen or pet dander, as if it were an invading germ. Your body first reacts by making histamines and other chemicals, explains Dr. Nadeau. This leads to typical symptoms -- itchiness, redness and eruptions on the skin, and inflammation in the respiratory system. In babies and young kids, allergies to foods or to something in the environment present themselves first via the skin rather than the lungs or nose. But these skin reactions, such as eczema and hives, can progress to allergic rhinitis (commonly referred to as "hay fever") -- characterized by an itchy, runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing -- and asthma. "About 75 percent of children with atopic dermatitis develop allergic rhinitis, and more than 50 percent of them develop asthma," says Dr. Nadeau.