The Management of Eczema / Atopic Dermatitis
Eczema affects 2 million Canadians and 15 million American, it is also the most common skin disease in children affecting 12% – 15% of children worldwide.
Eczema is a general term for several types of inflammation of the skin with atopic dermatitis being the most common. Atopic dermatitis is also interchangeably described as eczema.
For this article, we will stick with the term eczema mostly because it is shorter and requires me to type less. So what is eczema….in short it is inflammation of the skin, it is also a chronic life-altering sometime debilitating disease of the skin. The word eczema comes from the Greek word ‘weeping skin’, in Chinese medicine it is called Shi Zhen roughly translated to ‘damp sore’. These descriptions give you a good idea as to the nature of eczema. Eczema plays a negative effect on the quality of life of the sufferer more so than other skin disorders such as acne and psoriasis. The disorder is likely hardest on children as they can suffer a loss of confidence and low self-esteem compounded by interrupted sleep patterns due to the itch-scratch-itch cycle that is often worse at night. Eczema sufferers on average will experience 8 flare-ups a year. There is also a strong genetic predisposition to eczema, if one of your parents has eczema, you have a 40% chance of inheriting the same condition. If both parents have eczema you have an 80% chance!
Here is the bad news first… eczema can be challenging to treat, the good news is that flare-ups can be eliminated or the severity greatly reduced, as well the frequency at which they occur can also be greatly reduced.
If you have suffered with eczema you are all too familiar with topical corticosteroids, oral antihistamines, and antibiotics. This is the extent of the tools used in conventional medicine. I actually believe that dermatology is still one of the weakest areas of Western Medicine… we have much to learn.
I do have to say that corticosteroids are effective to initially and quickly reduce inflammation, however, the side effects, systemic toxicity and subsequent ‘back with a vengeance’ flare-ups make them a less than ideal treatment option.
How can eczema be reduced or even prevented?
Eczema outbreaks can usually be minimized with some simple precautions. The following suggestions may help to reduce the severity and frequency of flare-ups:
Moisturize twice a day with a ‘Clean” plant-based moisturizer – no harsh synthetics, or petrochemical based moisturizers – email me for my recommendations. This is especially important after showering or bathing as water can reduce the natural lipid layer that protects the skin.
Eliminate cosmetics and personal care products based on petrochemicals. i.e. Mineral oil, petrolatum, carbomber, paraffin, propylene glycol, and other PEG’s... These ingredients greatly impair the respiratory function/elimination function of the skin.
Observe skin with changes in temperature or humidity.
Observe your skin's reaction to sweating or overheating. Some will notice that sweating can induce outbreaks, however, I have also observed some individuals who can greatly reduce or eliminate future outbreaks by regularly sweating either through exercise, hot yoga or infrared sauna. One theory why this can work is due to the fact that one of the skins main function is the elimination of toxins from the body. Through this cleansing, the skin respiratory and immunologic function is increased thus reducing outbreaks. One other important note is that often the skin gets much worse before it gets better with the ‘sweat it out’ regime.
Reduce stress – There is no doubt that the hormonal/chemical changes in the body that occur during periods of high stress can induce eczema outbreaks.
Avoid scratchy materials (e.g., wool and synthetics like nylon) Natural breathable products like organic cotton and bamboo feel great and let the skin breathe freely.
Avoid harsh soaps, detergents, and solvents. I recommend olive oil soaps (or just water), no fragrance or additives. Eliminate sulfate based cleaning products (laundry).
Avoid environmental factors that trigger allergies (e.g., pollens, molds, mites, and animal dander).
Consider installing wood or laminate flooring and consider dust/allergen-proof mattresses and pillow covers. (See more information on dust mites below)
Keep fingernails short and clean to reduce the damage from unconscious scratching
Avoid bacterial infections by keeping areas of inflammation clean
Research in the last 10 years has proven the link between common dust mite and eczema. Researchers found a clear and significant link between the reduction of dust mites from bedding materials and the reduction of eczema symptoms. The solution was simple and highly effective, gortex mattress covers were used instead of cotton
Dietary Advantage – This is one area that is rarely discussed and can be instrumental in reducing the frequency and severity of flare-ups. Be aware of any foods that may cause an outbreak and avoid those foods. the big ones to watch are cow’s milk protein, hen’s egg white, peanuts, soy, shellfish, codfish and even wheat. Avoid overeating and incorporate more easily digested foods. Avoid or eliminate refined sugars refined starches and processed food. Try to move gradually towards an organic whole grain and organic vegetable diet. Little changes such as cooking brown rice instead of white, buying whole grain artisan bread and shopping at the local farmers market for organic veggies are just some of the many modifications that can be incorporated to obtain a healthier diet. Breast milk is the single best food for infants and has been shown to decrease the incidence of eczema.
Hydrate frequently (but not excessively) with clean, quality room temperature water.
Consuming foods rich in omega-3 and GLA fatty acids can greatly benefit inflammatory skin conditions. Consider flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, walnut, tempeh, sardines, anchovy, herring, mackerel, salmon, krill oil. Additional sources of omega 3 are dark leafy green vegetables like kale, collards, chard, parsley and cereal grasses (wheat and barley grass products).
Another reason to load up on dark leafy green vegetables is the fact that all greens are rich in chlorophyll which purifies the blood helping eliminate toxins that cause skin eruptions.
Foods that contain beta carotene/provitamin A should also be consumed by anyone with inflammatory skin conditions. Examples include carrots, squash, spinach, beet greens, kale, chard and dandelion greens.
Adding sea vegetable to one's diet is also suggested due to their nutritional profile and cooling and detoxifying nature.