September 8th, 2010
02:00 PM ET

Does eating gluten cause eczema?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Wednesdays, it's Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the
American Cancer Society.

Question asked by L. Rodriguez, Orange County, California

I have suffered from eczema for many years. I changed doctors last year and she thinks that my skin condition may be a result of being allergic to gluten.

Since I have an HMO, she cannot test me for the allergy because they will not pay for it. I have tried going gluten free and the skin condition got better but did not go away. Is there anything that I can do to be sure I was given the proper diagnosis before completely changing my diet and life?

Expert answer

You ask a fascinating question about a very common disease, much of which was first described only in the past 60 years.

Celiac disease is also called gluten-sensitive enteropathy and nontropical sprue. It is an allergy to gluten in the diet. People with this disease often have mild abdominal discomforts such as bloating and gas after consumption of breads and cereals that contain gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Some have more serious symptoms such as bowel mal-absorption, abdominal pain, diarrhea and nutrient or vitamin deficiency. Children with it can have severe malnutrition and growth impairment.

The treatment of a serious gluten allergy is a gluten-free diet, which has a lot of meat, fruit, milk and potatoes. Many grocery stores are starting to carry gluten-free foods. Restaurants in Europe and Australia commonly advertise gluten-free meals. Abdominal symptoms generally improve within a few weeks of changing to a gluten free diet.

This disease is primarily found in whites of Northern European ancestry. It is estimated that 1 in every 300 to 1 in every 500 Northern Europeans have some form of it, usually with relatively mild non-specific abdominal symptoms. This disease was once thought to be one that began in childhood and infancy, and some children eventually grew out of it. It is now realized that some children do go into remission and may relapse later. Also, the prevalence of the disease increases with age, meaning some people develop it as they age. Some will develop first symptoms in their 50s or 60s.

Patients are at higher risk for Type 1 diabetes, mellitus, collagen vascular diseases, autoimmune thyroid disease. Bone mineral deficiencies such as osteopenia and osteoporosis have also been noted. Uncontrolled celiac disease is also associated with a small increased risk of a number of malignancies. There is no special cancer screening recommended for patients with celiac disease.

The disease can be diagnosed using blood tests that measure the amount of immunoglobulin that binds to the proteins gliadin and endomysium. The classic definition of celiac disease includes atrophy of parts of the small bowel as seen on biopsy. A series of small bowel biopsies is often done to confirm it. The biopsies can be done through an endoscopy, in which a fiber-optic tube is placed in the mouth and down into the small bowel or through some even less invasive procedures.

There are some skin illnesses associated with celiac disease. It is very frequently associated with dermatitis herpetiformis, an itchy red raised rash with fluid-filled vesicles. This rash is not related or caused by any of the herpes viruses, but has the name because the rash resembles that of the herpes viruses or shingles. It improves as the disease improves with diet modification.

Patients and their seemingly unaffected family members are more likely to have atopic dermatitis, which is also known as eczema. The hallmark of eczema is itching with the skin scaling, crusting and an oozing of a serous or transparent fluid. Eczema can be worsened by stress, heat, dry air and sweating.

You actually may not have celiac disease or at least you may not have the clinical manifestations of a gluten allergy and you can still have eczema related to celiac disease. It would be preferable that you get the testing to confirm or disprove the diagnosis of gluten allergy. Even if the tests were negative, many physicians would suggest a two month trial of a gluten-free diet to see if the eczema improves. Most would advocate continuing the diet if there seemed to be some improvement in the rash and even if it did not clear up fully.

soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. 2simpel to buy domainnames

    I enjoy, result in I discovered exactly what I used to be having a look for. You've ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

    May 14, 2012 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Team Sorbeo

      It's always great to see Celiac disease (and other digestive ailments) gain more awareness. One of the key issues faced by Celiacs is the "malabsorption" that's described in the article. Celiacs often face difficulty properly digesting food and extracting its nutritional value. In cases like that, digestive enzymes can be of real benefit to people who suffer from Celiac disease.

      Team Sorbeo: http://www.getsorbeo.com

      June 23, 2013 at 12:11 | Report abuse |
  2. Reynaldoo Furgisont

    I've learned some important things via your post. I will also like to express that there may be a situation that you will obtain a loan and don't need a cosigner such as a U.S. Student Support Loan. When you are getting a borrowing arrangement through a traditional finance company then you need to be made ready to have a cosigner ready to assist you to. The lenders may base their very own decision over a few issues but the most significant will be your credit worthiness. There are some lenders that will also look at your job history and make a decision based on this but in many cases it will depend on your scores.

    July 25, 2012 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Akilah Gargan

    Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.^

    View the most up to date blog post on our own website

    February 27, 2013 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Danial Kelman

    The term eczema is broadly applied to a range of persistent skin conditions. These include dryness and recurring skin rashes that are characterized by one or more of these symptoms: redness, skin edema (swelling), itching and dryness, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing, or bleeding. Areas of temporary skin discoloration may appear and are sometimes due to healed injuries. Scratching open a healing lesion may result in scarring and may enlarge the rash. :;..:

    See you later

    June 20, 2013 at 07:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. buy clindamycin lotion

    What's up friends, pleasant post and nice arguments commented at this
    place, I am in fact enjoying by these.

    July 9, 2014 at 06:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Domitila Q. Kelton

    you're truly a good webmaster. The website loading pace is incredible.

    It kind of feels that you're doing any distinctive trick.
    In addition, The contents are masterwork. you
    have performed a fantastic process in this subject!

    October 9, 2014 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sekolah website no 1 web design

    proach can untukth it lookbest just comarticle ca working additional


    June 10, 2015 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. harga besi beton

    Mantap Dan Bukti Nyata Mengesankan Konsumen kita Berkwalitas Sangat Digemari Dan Terkenal Harga Besi Beton


    August 3, 2015 at 23:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. cara membuat website berbayar

    sosial pencari merambah yang seperti di sampai website banyak nomor mencari faham terpadu serta tertentu dan pengetahuan memantau Online


    January 17, 2016 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ava

    I wanted to write a little comment to support you.


    March 10, 2016 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. buy plays on soundcloud

    Thanks for what you have got. This is the very best article I’ve read


    April 11, 2016 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Wilburn Vilches

    Great post, thanks for the read.


    May 28, 2017 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.