Eczema

A holistic approach to the prevention of Eczema based on good nutrition, natural remedies and a healthy lifestyle.

Eczema is an inflammation of the skin typically starting off as a red rash which becomes very itchy. It can be accompanied by small weeping blisters which may burst leaving patches of raw skin. Scaling, thickening encrustation of the skin may occur, and septic spots may occur if the skin becomes infected.

There are many different types of Eczema, but as a general rule it is the manifestation of the body’s sensitivity to a substance or substances either external or internal. An external cause of eczema may be due to contact with a cosmetic, washing powder or a chemical. This is often referred to as either Contact Dermatitis, Contact Eczema or just plain Dermatitis. Often no obvious external cause such as the above can be found.

One of the more common types of eczema is referred to as Atopic Eczema in which the sufferer has an inherited tendency to allergic responses to particular foods, pollens, cat or dog hair or the house dust mite. In this case the sufferer may also be vulnerable to asthma and hay fever. This type usually, (though not always) manifests in infancy and typically affects the wrists, backs of the knees, inside the elbows, face, scalp and nappy area. Very often low stomach acid can be a contributory factor.

In virtually all cases of eczema stress aggravates the condition.

Childhood Seborrhoeic Eczema, also known as “cradle cap” only affects babies, is not inherited, and usually clears up on its own almost always before age two.

Adult Seborrhoeic Eczema manifests as red itchy spots on the face, chest, armpits neck or scalp, where it can be confused with dandruff.

The first step on the road to recovery is to identify, insofar as you can, the irritants or allergens causing or triggering the eczema. If it is a contact eczema, then simply removing the offending substance may be the answer. Fabrics, cosmetics, washing powders (particularly the biological type), fabric softeners or conditioners, perfumes, cleaning products, plants or metals may all be possible culprits.

However, with other types such as Atopic Eczema this job can be quite difficult. Certain forms of allergy testing may be helpful in identifying the culprits, or you can use an elimination diet on an experimental basis in order to establish which foods trigger a flare-up.

Staff in IAHS stores will be happy to discuss either approach with you.

1. Diet

A good wholefood diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is the best way to ensure that the body is receiving all the necessary nutrients for optimum skin health. Introduce whole natural foods gradually to your diet while cutting down on highly processed or junk foods. Your IAHS health store will advise you on how to do this. Increase your intake of fresh fruit and especially vegetables, and cut down on sugar, sweets, cakes and alcohol. Common food allergens include dairy products (very common), wheat, eggs, citrus fruits, and artificial food additives.

If you decide to try eliminating these foods, it is most helpful to keep records of the foods eliminated and the results. Then reintroduce them one at a time, observing any changes. While you may or may not be allergic to any of these foods their elimination from the diet can often help simply by lightening the load on your immune system. Your local IAHS store stocks many nutritious foods that substitute for those being eliminated, e.g. goat’s milk, soya or rice milk, dairy-free spreads, cheeses and yoghurts, wheat-free breads and pastas etc. Any changes to your diet should be made gradually and your local IAHS health store will be able to help you with advice and recipes etc.

2. The house dust mite

This microscopic creature (or rather its droppings) is probably the most significant allergen of them all. They feed mainly on shed human skin (dander) and they thrive in our modern warm cosy homes. They are to be found especially in mattresses and bed-clothes, but also in carpets, soft furnishings and children’s cuddly toys. The problem of house-dust mites can be minimised by vacuuming and damp-dusting the house regularly (at least twice a week). It is important to use a vacuum with medically approved filters. Particular attention should be paid to the bedrooms and bedding, thoroughly vacuuming the mattress as well as the carpet. It may be a good idea to get rid of the carpet altogether especially in bedrooms. Cuddly toys and bed clothes should be washed regularly at over 550C. The house should be well ventilated with windows open whenever possible, and bed-clothes aired every day. Air purifiers or ionisers can be helpful too. Occasionally sufferers find the use of dust mite sprays helpful.

3. Household pets

That much-loved member of the family, particularly if it is a furry animal like a cat, dog, rabbit or hamster may also be a source of problems, especially for atopic children. Both the fur and dander are potential allergens, and the more contact with them the more likely is a reaction. You may have no alternative but to find the pet another home.

4. Other self-help measures

  • Wear only cotton, (not wool or man-made), fabrics next to the skin.
  • Wear rubber gloves while washing-up or using cleaning detergents.
  • Use emulsifying ointment rather than soap in the bath.
  • Oatmeal baths are very soothing for the skin and eases itching.
  • Try to keep cool at all times especially at night in bed. Cold packs can give temporary relief from itching.
  • Start going to relaxation or meditation classes – a particularly important aspect of the healing process where stress is a factor. Yoga enables you to recognise the effects of stress on the body and the mind and enables you to develop techniques to effectively manage stress.

A Natural Approach

Many eczema sufferers have found great relief using alternative therapies. Homoeopathy, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary therapy and aromatherapy have each had some notable successes in treating eczema. Because we are all different a therapy that is enormously helpful to one may fail to help another. A qualified therapist cannot guarantee complete success. Often a therapist can refer you to someone who will try a different approach. Usually IAHS stores have a list of reputable and professional practitioners in your particular area.

IAHS stores stock a wide selection of safe herbal and homeopathic remedies, and can advise on their use. The following are some of the most useful supplements/remedies available:

  • Vitamin A/Beta carotene: Essential for promoting healthy skin.
  • Vitamin B complex: Useful for restoring skin health, particularly when stress is a factor.
  • Vitamin C: Antioxidant and immune system support. Use a buffered or non-acidic form if citrus fruits tend to aggravate the eczema.
  • Vitamin E; Antioxidant and aids the healing process.
  • Zinc: Particularly important for healing skin lesions.
  • Digestive enzymes: These are indicated in cases of low stomach acid and are to be found in tablet form.
  • Essential fatty acids: Evening primrose oil (has been found useful in two thirds of cases of infantile eczema) and starflower oil are useful for reducing inflammation and regulating hormonal activity (women sometimes find their eczema flares up just before menstruation). Other forms of essential fatty acids may be found in certain proprietary branded products. Enquire in IAHS stores.

Any supplementary regime should be stuck to rigidly for at least 6 months initially. Adjustments can be made after that point. There are a variety of creams and ointments available, which can be helpful in alleviating the itch, and those based on calendula, chickweed, aloe vera, vitamin E (oil or high strength cream) and/or zinc are among the most useful.

Summary

Whilst eczema is often very distressing, it is not insurmountable and there are a lot of measures you can take to minimise, and, in many cases, eradicate the manifestations of it. However eczema will always be an underlying condition, so you will always need to take great care with your skin and be careful of what you eat.

Although sometimes very unsightly, eczema is not caused by an infection, and so is not contagious. Stress is a very important trigger factor, and the condition invariably worsens during times of anxiety or worry. Unfortunately having the condition itself often evokes anxiety on the part of the sufferer, which makes matters worse, thus creating a vicious circle. The answer is a positive approach using diet and selected remedies and therapies and even a slight improvement lifts the spirits, a healing occurrence in itself.

Eczema is very much an individual problem – what results in dramatic improvements for one person may have little effect on another. Therefore sufferers usually have to discover their own best solutions by trial and error.

Above all, remember to :

  1. Give any approach a fair trial – a few months at least before deciding whether or not it is helping you.
  2. Keep an open mind about trying new approaches.
  3. Exchange information and ideas with other sufferers.
  4. Be positive! Somewhere, sometime you’ll discover a treatment that works for you. Just keep looking!

Further Reading

  • Eczema (Natural Way series), by Sheena Meredith
  • Everyday Homoeopathy by Dr. David Gemmell
  • Family Guide to Homoeopathy by Dr. Andrew Lockie
  • Skin Diseases by Jan de Vries
  • Better Health through Natural Healing by Ross Trattler
  • Skin Troublesby Leon Chiatow
  • Eczema Relief by Christine Orton

This fact sheet is for information only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a healthcare professional.

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