Perhaps your toddler has recently developed a red, itchy rash. The poor little pumpkin is not only scratching and miserable from the itch, but you've noticed she's been constipated lately as well. She doesn’t seem sick and is tearing around in the usual frenetic toddler fashion. The combination of symptoms may seem puzzling, but there's a possibility they are related and could be caused by certain foods.
Eczema typically begins in younger children as a rash over the cheeks, neck and scalp. Older toddlers are more likely to have itchy red patches on the inner forearms, behind those plump little knees and in the elbow area. From 1 to 10 percent of all children develop eczema; in about half, the symptoms disappear by age 2, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. If you have allergies, your little sweetheart is more likely to develop eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. Eczema is usually an allergic reaction to something, although it can also be caused by emotional stress.
If you’re the one changing those “oh phew” diapers, you’ll recognize the signs of constipation with no trouble. Once toddlers are toilet-trained, it might be more difficult. Each child has her own rhythm when it comes to bowel movements, but if she goes three or four days between them, has stools that are hard and compact or says it hurts to go “number two,” she might be constipated. Pain in her tummy that gets better after a bowel movement, pain during a movement or blood in the toilet, on her diaper or in her underwear are other signs.
Food allergies can cause both eczema and constipation. A study in the September 2011 “European Journal of Pediatrics” reported that many children with chronic constipation tested positive to food allergens. The most common allergies were to wheat and eggs. The researchers eliminated the offending foods, and 28 of the 32 children improved. The AAFA notes that eczema is often related to food allergies, and children with eczema may also have other allergic problems such as hay fever. Many potentially allergenic foods are typical toddler fare, such as cow’s milk, eggs and wheat. Peanuts (hold the PB&J), soy, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are other offenders.
It can be tough to decide if it’s a particular food that’s causing eczema and/or constipation. In some cases, your little one may start to scratch immediately, but in others, there doesn’t seem to be a connection. Multiple allergies complicate the situation. Increase her fluids, fruits and vegetables to see if that softens her stools. Discuss the problem with your pediatrician or family doctor, who might suggest strategies such as an elimination diet that keeps the most likely offending foods off the menu for a while.