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Dermatologists Caution That Atopic Dermatitis is a Strong Precursor to Food Allergies

Posted: March 7, 2011

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Recent research examining the genetic basis of atopic dermatitis has shown that this chronic skin condition is likely related to a defect in the skin's protective outer layer—known as the epidermal barrier—allowing irritants, microbes and allergens (such as food) to penetrate the skin and cause adverse reactions. Since the skin barrier in patients with atopic dermatitis is compromised and open to absorb proteins, it allows sensitization to certain foods, leading to a positive skin or blood test.

Although the new guidelines establish protocol for the proper evaluation and management of food allergy, Hanifin explained that another exciting area of research is examining whether withholding foods is leading to more allergies than an unrestricted diet in young children. This may provide future insight in potential ways to prevent food allergies.

For example, Hanifin explained that studies have shown that children in Israel seldom get peanut allergy, which possibly can be attributed to the use of peanut proteins in pacifiers in that country. In the U.S. and Europe, where peanut allergies are more common, infants are not usually exposed to this food until they are toddlers – the time when most peanut allergies are noticed.

“There is some thinking that withholding foods might actually be causing more allergies, and that an unrestricted diet may help tolerize babies to foods that could potentially cause a problem later in life,” said Hanifin. “Ongoing studies in this country using oral immunotherapy—in which you feed small amounts of food to kids to correct potential food allergies—appear promising, and dermatologists hope that we may discover how to prevent food allergies in the future while continuing to provide successful treatment for children with atopic dermatitis.”