Eczema, food allergies and asthma all on the rise in kids - Doctors say it's not a coincidence

Childhood conditions like asthma and allergies may have a common link - it might have to do with a skin condition.

Eczema, food allergies and asthma are all on the rise in children, and experts say that's no coincidence. New research shows how treating a baby's skin may save them from a lifetime of allergic diseases.

Ava Segur developed eczema when she was just a few weeks old. 

"We were trying to get that under control. Then all of a sudden, she got these food allergies at the same time, around 18 months old." Turns out, this wasn't a coincidence. And it all started with the dry, cracked skin caused by eczema. 

"Probably a third of patients with eczema develop a food allergy," says Dr. Donald Leung. He's been tracking the link between these conditions through his research at National Jewish Health.

It's known as the atopic march, or allergic march, a sequence of allergic diseases that starts in infancy with eczema, and often progresses to food allergies, asthma and hay fever, which was the case for Ava. 

"I never really thought of it that way, that they would ever be connected. But now that I look back at it, I'm kind of like, 'Oh, I see how that can make sense,'" she says. 

"These people have dry, cracked skin, which allows allergens from the environment to penetrate through," says Dr. Leung.

When food particles enter through the skin rather than the digestive system, they are more likely to cause allergies. Leung says the key to prevention is early care. He says the skin barrier needs to be rebuilt.

To do this, experts recommend what they call 'soak and seal,' which starts with a warm 20-minute bath, followed by moisturizing ointment. 

"That will create a film of water that then, if you put a sealant over it, that will trap the moisture from evaporating," Dr. Leung says.

This not only heals the skin, but it can stop the atopic march in its tracks.

Researchers are currently testing a method that will easily sequence every element of the skin to hopefully identify what is weakening the skin barrier and repair it before they develop any of these lifelong issues. In the meantime, in a child with eczema, be on the lookout for other sensitivities.