Skin moisturizers can act as a simple barrier that prevents food particles from coming into contact with inflamed skin and triggering an allergic reaction.

Share on Pinterest
The latest research suggests that caring for a baby’s skin immediately from birth may assist in preventing eczema and other allergic diseases. Getty Images

Infants who have eczema are more likely to develop allergies, hay fever, and asthma as they grow up, in a process known as atopic march.

Treating eczema in babies may help prevent allergic diseases later in life, and the treatment may be simpler than you think.

Dr. Donald Leung, PhD, head of pediatric allergy and clinical immunology at National Jewish Health, says moisturizing early in a child’s life may stop other problems from occurring.

In his research, Leung has found that dry, cracked skin and itching from eczema significantly contribute to the progression of atopic march.

“When food particles are introduced through the skin rather than the digestive system, they are much more likely to cause allergies,” Leung said in a press release.

“Cracks in the skin of those with eczema often set off a chain of allergic diseases that develop over several years,” he said.

The skin plays an important role in the body’s immune system. It acts as a barrier to keep bacteria and external allergens out while also keeping moisture in.

In his research, Leung found that people who have eczema don’t have certain proteins and fatty acids in the outer layers of their skin, creating a defective skin barrier. Water escapes the skin, causing dryness, cracking, and itching.

When people with eczema scratch this itchy skin, it causes further damage to the skin barrier and encourages the immune system to activate.

If food particles enter the body through cracked skin, this triggers an allergic response by the immune system that causes food allergies. Once that’s happened, the immune system is likely to not stop at food allergies and cause hay fever and asthma.

Leung says there could be a way to stop this from happening.

“Because skin barrier dysfunction contributes to these associated allergic diseases, it is important to do good skin care and control the skin inflammation,” he told Healthline.

Leung says it’s important to restore the skin barrier as soon as eczema develops.

The best way to do this is to thoroughly moisturize in a process known as “soak and seal.” This involves thoroughly moisturizing the skin in a warm bath, then applying a moisturizing ointment to trap in the moisture.

Leung believes that caring for a baby’s skin immediately from birth may assist in preventing eczema and other allergic diseases.

The skin of a baby is susceptible to drying out after birth due to emerging from the watery womb into the dry air in the world. Beginning this process early, he argues, is important.

“Because atopic dermatitis and eczema is the first step in the atopic march, early intervention by controlling skin barrier dysfunction associated with eczema may prevent food allergy and asthma,” he told Healthline.

It’s estimated that 31.6 million people in the United States have some form of eczema.

Eight million adults have atopic dermatitis, as do 9.6 million children. Of those children, around 33 percent have moderate to severe atopic dermatitis. They’re more likely to go on to develop allergies than children without eczema.

Allergic diseases are the most common health issue for children in the United States. In 2015, 8.8 million children had skin allergies. It’s estimated that 5.6 million children have food allergies.

That’s roughly 1 in 13 children, and around two children with food allergies in every classroom.

“Most infants with severe atopic dermatitis will go on to develop other allergic diseases. That’s an important point. One example is food allergies, which occur more frequently in children with atopic dermatitis, even after the eczema goes away,” Dr. Michael Wein, chief of allergy at the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, told Healthline.

“Cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy are among the most common food allergies in infants, but as they get older, fish, tree nuts, and shellfish become more prevalent too. With severe atopic dermatitis, it seems certain skin cancers are more common later in life, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, but not melanoma,” he said.

Although much is still unknown about why allergies occur, genetics are known to be a factor.

“Having one parent with any type of allergy increases child’s risk by 50 percent. But environment also plays a role, industrialized societies, use of disinfectants, eating processed foods: All shift our microbiome and immune system toward a more allergic phenotype. This is because we no longer are exposed to good bacteria that protect us from developing allergies. This is called the hygiene hypothesis,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, national spokesperson for the Allergy and Asthma Network, told Healthline.

The atopic march can span across several years, beginning with eczema then food allergies in infancy. A few years later, young children may develop hay fever. A few years further down the line, they may also develop asthma.

The atopic march has been a focus for many in the field of allergy research. But questions still remain.

“The reason why some people develop the entire allergic march whereas others do not is not known. If our understanding improves, we may able to prevent the expression of allergic diseases without taking any medications,” Dr. Neil Kao, a board-certified allergist in clinical practice in Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina, told Healthline.

He says it’s important that parents are proactive to give their children the best chance at not developing allergic diseases later in life.

“For parents of children with eczema, the best thing they can do for them is to take an active role in deciding what triggers in their environment and what treatments their children receive.

“Once they understand the cruel and currently arbitrary nature of the development of allergic diseases, with information and active decision-making, they can strongly reduce the odds of their children suffering from long-term allergic diseases,” Kao said.