How Does Diet Affect Symptoms of Ichthyosis Vulgaris?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on April 7, 2017Written by Ashley Marcin on April 7, 2017

Overview

Ichthyosis vulgaris (IV) is a skin disorder. It’s also sometimes called fish scale disease or fish skin disease. Why exactly? With IV, dead skin cells build up on your skin’s surface and leads to scaling. Symptoms of this inherited disorder can range from mild to severe. It often develops early in childhood, but sometimes people don’t get diagnosed with IV because the scaling may just look like dry skin.

Diet and ichthyosis vulgaris

IV affects about 1 in 250 people. It’s a chronic condition and there is no cure. But, you can manage your symptoms through lifestyle changes. Avoiding certain allergens in your diet may help you avoid triggering or worsening symptoms.

For example, a recent case study about a 20-year-old woman with IV revealed that diet changes may have a positive impact on symptoms. The woman’s mother believed her daughter’s IV started when she was a baby after beginning to eat solid foods. Her doctors tested her for food allergies and discovered she was sensitive to dairy, eggs, peanuts, spelt, whole wheat, gliadin, gluten, and baker’s yeast.

Many of these foods are common allergens. When she eliminated these foods from her diet, her skin improved dramatically within two weeks.

How to determine your food allergens

There isn’t much research on the effects of diet on IV. More research is needed to identify the diet changes that have the biggest impact on symptoms. There’s evidence that diet does impact skin and skin conditions. Certain foods are more likely to cause allergic reactions and skin issues.

Common allergenic foods include:

  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • milks
  • eggs
  • wheat
  • soy
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • sesame

Your own triggers may be unique to you, whether food allergies or intolerances. Here are some ways you may be able to identify your symptom triggers:

Keep a food diary

Consider keeping a diary to record what foods you’ve eaten and whether your skin got better or worse. You can also use this information when you visit your doctor for treatment. It’s important not to self-diagnose a food allergy. Make sure you get the appropriate care and information.

Get tested for allergies

Your doctor may refer you to an allergist for testing. Your medical history may help reveal different food sensitivities or allergies. Beyond that, there are tests your doctor may use to confirm your results, including:

Learn more about allergy testing »

Participate in an elimination diet

Another way your doctor may diagnose a food allergy or intolerance is through an elimination diet. This diet is temporary, usually two to four weeks, during which you stop eating all suspected allergenic food. Then you add them back into your diet one by one to see which ones create a reaction or worsen your symptoms.

Work with your doctor and a dietitian if you’re doing an elimination diet. They can recommend foods to eliminate and help you safely reincorporate them back into your diet.

Home remedies

Besides changing your diet to avoid food allergens, there are other things you can try at home to manage your symptoms.

  • Soaking in the bath may help soften your skin. Avoid harsh soaps that can dry skin. To gently remove scales, try using a loofa or pumice stone.
  • When drying your skin, pat it with a towel instead of rubbing your skin. This will help keep some moisture in your skin and avoid irritating your skin.
  • Use moisturizers and lotions right after bathing. Doing so will help keep the most moisture in your skin.
  • Try moisturizers that contain urea or propylene glycol. Petroleum jelly is another option. These chemicals may help keep your skin hydrated.
  • Experiment with urea, lactic acid, or salicylic acid up to twice each day. Low concentrations of these ingredients may help you control dead skin cells and keep them from building up.
  • Add moisture to the air around you by using a humidifier. You can buy a self-contained humidifier or one that attaches to your furnace.

Traditional treatments

If home remedies don’t help, talk to a dermatologist. While there’s no cure for IV, they can help you manage your symptoms.

Your doctor may prescribe medicated ointments and creams that moisturize and exfoliate the scales. These topical treatments often contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like lactic acid or glycolic acid. They can work by helping to control the scaling and by increasing the moisture in your skin.

Oral medications that may help include retinoids. These medications are derived from vitamin A and may help slow your body’s production of skin cells. It’s important to know that these medications may cause side effects, including inflammation, bone spurs, and hair loss.

Speak with your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking these medications.

Outlook

While uncomfortable, mild IV is not life-threatening. More severe cases may require special medical attention and hours of skin care each day. IV is a chronic condition, so there’s no cure. By working to keep your skin moisturized and avoiding certain foods, you may be able to manage your symptoms.

Tips for avoiding allergens

Avoiding allergens may be challenging at first, but these tips can help you can identify and avoid them:

  • Cook more at home so you can control what ingredients go into your meals. Cooking your own food is also a good way to become familiar with recipes so that you’re better able to spot dishes that may be hiding allergens.
  • Read labels carefully. When you’re shopping, try to shop the perimeter of the store to stick with whole foods. For foods with several ingredients, spend some time reading the labels.
  • Familiarize yourself with different terms used for foods you are allergic to or avoiding. Ingredients go by different names, so it’s important to know the other names for things you want to avoid. The Kids with Food Allergies organization maintains handy lists. For example, milk may be in a food if you see the words “galactose,” “casein,” or “ghee.”
  • Know before you go. If you’re visiting a chain restaurant, you may be able to access the ingredients of a meal on the establishment’s website. Consider logging onto the internet and searching around to arm yourself with the information.

If you don’t know, ask. Menus may not always list different allergens. You can always ask your server to find out what exactly is in that appetizer or entree you’d like to order.

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