How to Identify Food Allergies with an Elimination Diet

If food is making your kids' skin crawl, literally, an elimination diet can help identify the offenders

Credit: Flickr/Amdrew Sweeney

Peanuts are a common food allergy; other allergens include wheat, milk, eggs and soy

Get some allergy relief for you and your kids by eliminating foods that trigger an allergic reaction

A few months ago, a frightening episode with hazelnuts landed a friend’s 10-year-old son in the emergency ward with anaphylaxis, a severe whole-body allergic reaction. 

The next steps were obvious: get an EpiPen and eliminate all nuts from his diet. Once the nuts were removed from the house, the idea of an elimination diet for the younger son, who suffers from eczema, became less daunting.

Food Allergies and Eczema

Kasper is seven and while his eczema isn’t life-threatening, it is a chronic quality-of-life disorder that makes his skin erupt, blister, weep and crack. When this occurs, there is the possibility of infections like staphylococci, also known as staph. 

To avoid this, he wears band-aids on the worst parts, mostly between his fingers and on his elbows. Eczema can also appear on the face, behind the ears, on the back of the knees, hands, neck and trunk.

In about one-third of cases, food allergies can cause or worsen eczema. Some of the most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat and tree nuts. One easy step to identify an allergen’s effect is to eliminate foods that make eczema erupt.

Identify Allergens with an Elimination Diet

An Elimination Diet can help you decide if food allergies are causing or worsening eczema. The Elimination Diet here is taken from Dr. Ida Mary S. Thoma’s Foreword to My Kid is Allergic to Everything Dessert Cookbook

  1. Keep a food diary. List all foods eaten for one week. The test food must be eaten daily for one week before the test.  
  2. After a week, completely eliminate the test food. For example, if wheat is the test food, eliminate all wheat in any form. Be sure to read labels – wheat and other allergens are often in other processed foods. Wheat is in, among other things, many forms of “filler” like in sausages, HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein), many types of modified food starches, MSG, some varieties of tempeh, and some forms of yeast.
  3. On the fourth or fifth day at breakfast, eat the test food – only the test food and in its purest form. If you are testing for wheat, eat Cream of Wheat – no milk or sugar – just the food itself.
  4. Watch for allergic reactions. The person must be observed carefully for at least 40 to 60 minutes after ingesting the food.

If the food is an allergen, usually within 15 to 30 minutes, one or more of the following symptoms may occur:

  • Itching
  • A burning sensation
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Aura of light or spots before the eyes
  • Swelling of nasal passages
  • Wheezing
  • Diarrhea, within an hour

If there is a symptomatic response, Dr. Ida Mary S. Thoma suggests a dose of milk of magnesia to hasten the riddance of the allergen from the body. I use Kids Benadryl.

If no symptoms, there is no strong allergy to the test food. Move on to test the next food on your list.

We used a much more complex Elimination Diet  than this to determine our son’s food allergies. Shortly after, we went to a pediatric allergist who did a pin prick test. 

The results of our own elimination and the results of the doctor’s test were the same. And the eczema? As long as we colour inside the lines, nothing turns red and scaly any more.

Teresa Goff is a freelance writer and broadcaster. As the mother of one very allergic boy and one very energetic boy, she has learned how to make food out of nothing at all while playing lego and doing two art projects at once.