Eczema is considered an allergic reaction of the skin, and is often idiopathic in nature. Eczema is characterised by redness, pain, swelling, loss of function and heat, which are the symptoms of inflammation. If eczema is particularly bad and scratching of the affected area is allowed, blisters can develop which may become infected, leading to further inflammatory responses. Eczema may result from contact with an allergen or through ingestion of an allergen. In the case of the former, poison ivy for example is a known irritant that induces contact dermatitis. Household cleaning products are also commonly implicated in contact dermatitis. In the case of the latter, any number of foods or food ingredients may be able to cause eczema in particularly sensitive individuals. Interestingly eczema is more common in children, and many children outgrow eczema, which suggests that it might be related to hypersensitivity in the immune system, something that is not so prevalent as an individual ages.
As allergens are implicated in the development of eczema, the most obvious solution is to identify the allergen and avoid it. This is easy in the case of ivy as it is not commonly encountered and the dermatitis is easy to identify when contact occurs. However, in the case of household cleaning products, cosmetics and food ingredients this is much more difficult to achieve. Further, because multiple foods can trigger eczema, it can be extremely difficult to identify the food or foods involved. However, eggs, peanuts and milk account for the vast majority of cases of childhood eczema, and so these foods are a good place to start. An elimination diet can help identify the foods responsible for triggering eczema. In addition, eczema suffers also appear to have deficiencies of the delta 5-desaturase enzyme necessary for the metabolism of the essential fatty acids. Supplemental fish oils and gamma linolenic acid from starflower oil or evening primrose oil can therefore also be effective treatments.