treatment for baby eczema and infant food allergies

Baby eczema is very common condition affecting more than 3 million babies in the US each year.  It is often related to food allergies and can even be caused from foods mom is eating if the baby is breastfeeding.  It can also be very serious causing pain, itching and lost sleep for not just baby, but the entire family.  Our youngest son Leo starting having pretty severe baby eczema around 3 months of age and now at 12 months, we finally have it (almost entirely) under control.

I tried EVERYTHING and want to share my experience of how the eczema presented, how we treated it and how we're managing his many food allergies as that is the cause of his initial eczema flare up...but not the whole story.  I spent many hours researching the internet and visiting doctors and therapists trying western, eastern and any treatment in between to find a solution.  Here's our story and I truly hope this might help anyone who is experiencing the same with their child!

PRESENTATION:

Leo started with cradle cap around 3 months of age.  It got so bad and inflamed that he was scratching his head and breaking the skin.  His poor head was so red and irritated that he was constantly clawing at his head.  I tried treating it with coconut oil, over the counter holistic eczema creams, brushing it with a baby comb, etc. etc.

After a visit to our pediatrician, where I was told that it had nothing to do with my diet (Leo was exclusively breastfed at the time), I reluctantly started using an over the counter hydrocortisone cream occasionally.  My mom (a nurse) suggested that it looked like a yeast or bacterial infection so I started using an antibacterial cream I had been given for diaper rash as well.  We saw some relief with this.

Around 4-5 months of age, the eczema spread to his entire body and face.  Leo was miserable, hardly sleeping (so neither was I), and scratching everywhere he could.  He was still exclusively breastfed at this time.

DIAGNOSIS:

Pediatrician:
At Leo's 6 month doctor visit, we saw our primary and amazing pediatrician, Dr. Laura Mikhail of Child and Adolescent Health Associates in Chicago.   She took one look at Leo and personally called an allergist and dermatologist to see Leo ASAP.  She also ordered blood tests to determine if Leo was in fact allergic to any foods as I suspected.  The panel included tests for the 8 most common food allergens (listed below), as well as other foods most often associated with eczema in breast fed babies and a few other foods I was suspicious of.  She also tested for environmental allergies.

Food allergies most often associated with eczema in breast fed babies or anyone:
1. Dairy
2. Egg
3. Soy
4. Tree nut (cashew, almond etc.)
5. Peanut
6. Wheat
7. Fish
8. Shellfish
9. Seeds
10. Corn

We discovered that Leo was allergic to dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, soy and possibly coconut and oats (note: false positives are common with blood allergy testing especially when the overall IgE level is high as in Leo's case).


TREATMENT:

1.  Food Elimination:
Before the blood tests confirmed Leo's allergies, I had tried eliminating dairy and already rarely ate wheat and corn.  After the diagnosis, I eliminated all of his known allergens.   This diet proved difficult and exhausting at first, but 6 months later, I feel better too and have pretty much mastered it.  I'll post later about what we (Leo and I) eat now.  I'm still nursing Leo twice a day at 13 months and if I have just a little bit of dairy or eggs, Leo will develop a small amount of eczema around his face and diaper area.

2. Homeopathic treatment:
I saw a homeopathic pediatric doctor, Dr. Chuck DuMont at The Raby Institute  of Chicago.  He suggested some homeopathic treatment that involved dissolving small pellets into water and giving this to Leo through a baby dropper.  After 2 weeks, I ran out of pellets, had done my best to eliminate the foods and we saw little to no improvement in Leo's skin.  I would possibly try this homeopathic treatment again in the future now that Leo's skin is under control.

3. Allergist:
Shortly after receiving the results of the blood work, we saw the allergist, Dr. Kelly Newhall at Chicago Family Asthma and Allergy.  She is amazing and helped me make the decision to continue breastfeeding despite the fact that Leo's skin still wasn't great and his sleep was barely better, even after eliminating all of these foods for a few weeks.  Here's what she prescribed:

  • bleach baths:  Every other day I was to bath Leo in a bath of 1/2 cup bleach for 10 minutes.  This sounded so crazy, but she insisted it would work...and it did definitely help.  We also tried apple cider vinegar but as much as I wanted it to work, it just didn't have the same effect.  
  • steroid oil
  • vitamin D drops
  • epi pen
  • benadryl as needed
  • continued elimination of allergic foods and slowly start feeding Leo orange vegetables, avocado and meats 
4.  Dermatologist:
Leo's skin, sleep and general disposition still weren't where they should be by the time we saw Dr. Peter Lio at Medical Dermatology Associates of Chicago.  I was still frustrated, concerned and extremely tired.  After 1 minute with Dr. Lio, I almost started balling from relief.  He has amazing bedside manner and finally convinced me that my decision to continue nursing was the right one.  He told me that he has seen babies become malnourished because the parents gave them rice milk only in an effort to figure out what the offending foods were.  His theory is that there is also a bacterial component to the eczema and it's crucial to treat this and repair the skin for the eczema flare to calm or be healed.  He also talked about the possibility of "leaky skin" similar to the leaky gut that's become a hot topic.  His thought is that potential allergens may get in through the skin and cause irritation (he described this better than I but the theory makes sense to me). His prescription for Leo:

  • continue with bleach baths but DAILY now
  • a compound made of steroid and antibacterial cream to be applied per a specific and detailed schedule that he gave me.  This was prepared by a special pharmacy and delivered to us.
  • continued vitamin D drops 
  • probiotics every morning (he recommended Culturelle kids)

After 1 week on Dr. Lio's treatment, we saw a major improvement in Leo's skin.  I was never a fan of bathing my child in bleach or applying steroids or antibacterials to his skin, but I also wasn't sleeping and neither was he which wasn't good for him developmentally.  I  chose the lesser of two evils.  My pediatrician and Dr. Lio were much more concerned about Leo's skin becoming seriously infected than with the application of topical steroids.

Now at 13 months, Leo's skin looks amazing (unless he or I have an offending food).  He has had a few major reactions, including an anaphylactic reaction, when he got ahold of a food he's allergic (a whole different story) and his skin flares almost immediately.  I continue to give bleach baths as needed and will occasionally apply Dr. Lio's compound for a day or two if absolutely needed.  Leo's diet is basically paleo without the nuts, seeds and eggs.  He does eat some grains (oats, rice and occasionally organic wheat).  I try to give him only organic and naturally raised meats, fish and chicken as it's my belief that his gut is allowing too much to pass through to his blood and I want to prevent chemicals from reaching his system in any way possible.  Stay tuned for a post on what we eat....

Note:  I also tried 2 visits with an NAET therapist in the suburbs of Chicago.  The whole concept of this type of healing was very far-fetched for me but at the time, I was desperate and so I gave it a try.  After 2 visits and over $300, I saw no improvement in Leo's skin and was frankly put off by the therapist and the way she dismissed my knowledge as a nutritionist.  If you're considering this kind of treatment, I would ask for an initial brief meeting or consultation with the therapist at no or reduced fee.

I was also recently talking to a fellow parent of a highly allergic child and he mentioned a study correlating birth month to allergy incidence.  Here is a link to something I found on the topic:
Season of birth is associated with food allergy in children

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments.  I would love to hear your stories,  research and experience too.

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