What Is Eczema?
The skin is an important organ of elimination, communication and protection. The body is trying to tell us that something is wrong when we see symptoms like eczema. Eczema and other skin issues have become a very common problem, usually affecting children and babies. The typical presentation of eczema is a scaly, red and itchy rash that appears on the creases of the elbows, back of the knees, behind the ears, on hands and on the face. This results from chronic inflammation that manifests in the skin, which is termed atopic dermatitis. Atopic conditions occur due to an imbalance in the immune system, which has caused it to become hypersensitive and thus prone to developing other hypersensitive reactions, such as asthma.
What Causes Eczema?
There are many contributing factors to the development of eczema. These include:
- Environmental trigger(s): chemical irritants, soaps, lotions, and laundry detergent can all contribute to skin irritation
- Food sensitivities: food allergens (eg. peanuts or diary), and chemicals, additives, or oils in processed foods can cause the rash to worsen
- Stress: Stress can also undermine the whole system, and contribute to the development of skin issues. Keeping a stress free environment as much as possible, can be very helpful
- Improper Elimination: when the organs of elimination (liver, skin, bowels, or urinary system) are overtaxed or underperforming toxins can remain in the body and contribute to skin problems.
- Antibiotics: Overuse or improper use can severely disrupt the normal flora of the body. This is a risk factor for skin issues, especially in young children.
How Is Eczema Treated?
The conventional treatment for eczema is corticosteroid cream, combined with rounds of antibiotics if the skin is severely compromised and there is concern of infection. While this may be necessary in extreme cases, it also has side effects of thinning the skin and steroid resistance, among others.
From a natural medicine perspective there are a number of things that can be done to help treat and prevent eczema.
- Eliminate allergens from the diet. Some of the most common ones are wheat, dairy, soy, eggs and corn.
- Decrease stress. Stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which can actually make skin conditions worse. Exercise, meditation and spending time doing things you enjoy can help decrease stress.
- Minimize exposure to environmental triggers. Try using chemical free skin products and laundry detergent. Many products are labeled ‘for sensitive skin’.
- Improve immune function. There are many things that can be done to help optimize the immune system. Eating a balanced diet of whole foods, including sources of omega 3s and fermented foods for probiotics, can minimize flare-ups.
- Maximize routes of elimination. Ensuring that the liver, skin, bowels and urinary system are functioning optimally can keep toxin levels to a minimum and help keep the skin in better condition. Good detoxification foods include the dark leafy greens and spices like turmeric.
The itch caused by eczema can be the worst part of eczema. Many children will itch their skin until it is raw, blistered and bleeding to get relief. Some helpful strategies for dealing with the itch include:
- Homeopathic Remedies: Certain homeopathic remedies can be very helpful with minimizing the itch. Since each case is somewhat different, it is important to get a proper assessment from a trained practitioner.
- Topical creams: natural topical creams that are free of chemicals can be helpful for minimizing itch.
- Cool compress: placing a cold cloth over the affected skin can often provide temporary relief if an oatmeal bath cannot be taken at the time.
Watching a child suffer from eczema can be a very stressful experience for a parent. If your child is suffering from eczema or you suspect they are, it is best to take them to a Naturopathic Doctor who can perform a proper assessment and form a treatment plan that will address your child’s needs. Always speak to your health care provider before beginning any new medications or supplements.
1. Stoppler, MC. (2012). Eczema. Reviewed by Schiel Jr., WC. MedicineNet. http://www.onhealth.com/eczema/article.htm.
2. Romm, A. 2003. Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A Commonsense Guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health. Celestial Arts.
3. Skowron, JM. 2009. Fundamentals of Naturopathic Pediatrics. CCNM Press. Print.
I am a Naturopathic Doctor and Doula providing care in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I have a passion for helping people with their health issues and improving the birth experience for Moms, and their babies. I also have a life long love affair with soccer, curling, and the alto saxophone.