Ask Dr. Marla: Is there a connection between eczema and dairy allergy or intolerance?

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My friend’s daughter had bad eczema and it went away when they switched to lactose-free dairy products. Is there a connection between eczema and dairy allergy or intolerance?


Dr. Marla Genetics is a key factor with eczema and it also clusters with other atopic diseases such as seasonal allergies or asthma. This is often called the atopic triad. In fact according to the National Eczema Association, as many as 80 percent of children with the condition will also develop hay fever or asthma.

There are indeed known triggers to eczema and we group them into irritant triggers, allergen triggers and food triggers – among other substances – that can cause a flare.

Irritants can include detergents, soaps, bubble baths and disinfectants. Allergens are typically found in our environment such as house dust mites, pet cats and dogs, seasonal triggers and molds. They can all lead to a flare-up if you are susceptible.

Typically before the age of one, food allergens can cause atopic eczema to flare. Research shows us that as much as one half to two thirds of those with eczema have some kind of food allergy. The typical suspects include dairy products as well as eggs, seeds and nuts, soy products and wheat products.

There are other known triggers including changes in temperature, stress and infections.

If there is a true milk allergy, there is more of a likelihood that these infants and children will have this atopic dermatitis or eczema. In turn, children with this diagnosis are more likely to have positive allergy tests to milk and some other foods.

It is interesting to note that the more severe and the earlier the onset of the rash, the greater likelihood that the child has, or might have at some point, some kind of allergy, including a food allergy. It is likely a reflection of the allergy-prone nature of the child, rather than a direct link between a particular food and the rash.

Before you remove milk from the diet, discuss this with your health care provider or allergist because this is such an important part of a child’s diet. Our first step would be to treat the dermatitis and if there is no improvement, it would likely be helpful to speak with an allergist before eliminating food groups.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2014.

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