Eczema is a very common disease affecting up to 7% of the population. It can occur at any age, most commonly affecting infants with half of the cases clearing up by two years of age. Eczema typically affects the face, wrists, and insides of the knees and elbows. Symptoms and physical signs include: redness, swelling, oozing, crusting, scaling, itching, and when acute, vesicle formation. Current research points towards eczema as being an allergic disease because: all patients have positive allergy tests, 80% of all eczema patients have an elevated serum immunoglobulin E, 66% of eczema patients have a family history of the disease (which many go on to develop hayfever or asthma), and most patients when placed on an elimination diet improve.
Currently, allopathic (orthodox medicine) treats eczema by treating the symptoms. The pharmaceutical drugs that are administered are usually antiinflammatories that do not treat the cause but take away the symptoms. This is done by disabling the immune system, thus stopping it from reacting to what’s irritating it. Essentially the disease process is still going on underneath but there are no physical symptoms on the surface. As a result of this suppression a more chronic disease may surface a number of years later. It has occurred on more than one occasion that while treating and curing arthritic patients a recurrence of eczema has suddenly shown up. Something which may have been prevalent five years before the onset of their arthritis.
Natural therapies are very effective in treating eczema. With the use of natural therapies the immune system is supported, helping it to work more effectively. The theory, which seems the most logical, suggests that the body doesn’t have enough HCL (hydrochloric acid) to digest the foods properly. As a result foods that are only partially digested enter the blood stream in such a form. The skin (which is an organ of elimination) attempts to rid the body of these partially digested food particles. In its attempt to do so an inflammatory process usually occurs in those areas of the body where the highest concentration of perspiration is apt to happen.
There are many ways of understanding and treating this disturbing syndrome. Some are by utilizing: diet therapy, nutritional supplementation, western botanical medicines, Chinese medicine, and homeopathic remedies.
In treating eczema naturally the first and foremost treatment is that of changing the diet. Finding and removing all food allergens and suspect foods from the diet is essential. In infants the most common food allergen that aggravates and possibly causes an eczematous condition is cow’s milk and other dairy products. Another strong offender is sugar.
Nutritionally, eczematous patients have a deficiency in essential fatty acids or a defect in a zinc dependent enzyme involved in essential fatty acid metabolism. This results in a deficiency of a group of chemicals called prostaglandins that are responsible for the anti-inflammatory processes. Prostaglandins are high in evening primrose oil, fish (eg, salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel), and flax seed oil. Animal fats, which tend to be high in inflammatory fats called leukotrienes, should be avoided.
Zinc supplementation is necessary for some eczema sufferers and it is necessary for the conversion of essential fatty acids to prostaglandins and the formation of HCL in the stomach.
Vitamin A is necessary for any condition where there is a thickening of the skin (know as hyperkeratinization) as is common in eczema.
Western botanical medicines are highly effective in treating eczema. When western botanical medicines are prescribed, the prescription is based on the primary as well as secondary actions of the herb. Burdock root (arctium lappa) has long been used to treat eczema. Its primary active ingredient, inulin, tends to correct the underlying defects in the immune system commonly found in patients with eczema. Burdock’s secondary action is antimicrobial activity which helps combat the staph infections that are so common with eczema.
Pansy (viola tricolor) has a primary action of being anti-inflammatory and secondary actions of being a diuretic and an astringent. Therefore making it indicated for eczema that weeps.
Red clover (trifolium pratense) has a primary action of being an alterative (blood cleanser) and has no contraindications for its use making it the herb of choice in childhood eczema.
Topically, both liquorice and German chammomile have proven to be more effective than cortisone.
There are many other botanical medicines that are effective in treating eczema each with their specific indications.
Topical applications that can be applied are: UV light, cod liver oil, cucumber juice applied externally, pine tar, lemon and glycerine and oatmeal bath to relieve the itch. All of which can provide various degrees of benefit to the susceptible individual.
Homeopathy, which used to be the premier form of medicine in North America, is highly effective in treating eczema as well as almost all other diseases. Homeopathy is based on the study of “like cures like.” When a normal healthy person ingests a substance they develop certain symptoms and these symptoms are what the remedy rectifies in a diseased person.
In the case of eczema there are five homeopathic medicines that are most often indicated. The first and foremost remedy is Sulphur. The person who will benefit from the sulphur the most has eczema that is made worse from wetting, worse at night and worse from heat. The skin is rough, red and irritated. The sulphur personality is such that tend to have little regard for cleanliness, tend to be pack rats, and spend their time consumed in their ideas and philosophical meandering.
Arsenicum Album will benefit the person who is restless, skin has a burning itch, are worse at night, and the burning is better with hot applications. This person is usually a workaholic, very neat and orderly. Their external world has to be organized. As well these people have tremendous insecurity.
Psorinum has the same indications as sulphur but is typically used when sulphur has failed to act.
Rhus Tox is another restless type person who is worse at night, worse in the damp weather and better with heat. Itching is better when this person is moving.
Graphites are most indicated for eczema sufferers who have weeping discharges that have a honey like consistency.
Homeopathy can be very effective but most people who use it for skin diseases should be warned to go slow and expect things to get worse before they get better.
Chinese medical philosophy is based on thousands of years of trial and error in trying to understand the inner workings of the human body from outside the body. The Chinese had to guess at the existence of different organs and the functions which they perform. The Chinese system of medicine is a holistic model of medicine because it focuses on interrelatedness. One organ is interrelated with other body parts, emotions and environmental conditions. So if there is problem with these body parts there is a corresponding problem with the organ with which they are associated. The skin is associated with the lungs in Chinese medicine.
The Chinese also have a concept of environmental conditions called external disease factors that invade the body. These include the wind (which are symptoms that come and go and move about), cold (symptoms that are worse by cold and usually have pain), heat (symptoms that are worse by heat, and can have pain), dampness (symptoms that are worse by dampness and usually have swelling), and dryness.
In Chinese medicine acute eczema is caused by wind, dampness, and heat penetrating the skin. Chronic eczema is attributed to heat lodging in the blood. Treatment in Chinese medicine is directed towards clearing the heat and dampness from the body. For chronic eczema ‘Trisnake’itch Removing pills (San She Jie Yang Wan) and persica and rhubarb formula are the most effective. Chinese botanical medicines are cheap and when prescribed correctly highly effective. For acute episodes siler combination and pueraria combination are highly effective.
Acupuncture is beneficial in treating eczema but treatments have to be frequent over a fairly long period of time. Making it not very cost effective for most people.
In my practice I typically use diet therapy, nutritional supplementation, homeopathy, and Chinese medicine to effectively treat my eczema patients.
With some of the above recommendations individuals may easily help themselves. However self help can be costly and time consuming, leaving you with an inaccurate idea of how effective natural therapeutics can be. If you want successful long lasting results and want them reasonably quickly consult a Naturopathic Doctor. They are highly trained to diagnose your condition and will set up an individualized therapeutic regime prescribing the appropriate therapies.