Eczema – causes and treatment
Eczema is a skin condition which affects children as well as adults. There are many types of eczema but, in general, it is more prevalent among kids – affecting around 15% of school children compared to around 5% of adults. Both my kids have struggled with this skin condition since birth and I have spent a fortune on using every prescribed cream available and in the process have become more and more frustrated. Surely there is a better way to treat, or even prevent, eczema flare-ups in babies, children and even adults?
What is Eczema?
Eczema causes an inflammation of the skin, leaving it dry and itchy, often appearing red and swollen. A bumpy rash, or clear oozing bumps may also appear. Eczema can appear anywhere on the body but is most commonly found on the face, neck, forearms or behind the knees or elbows. It is capable of spreading to other parts of the body and thus hands should be washed regularly and fingernails trimmed to prevent the spread of bacteria and germs. Children with eczema are also prone to developing allergies. Children often develop eczema if their parents have allergies such as hayfever or asthma.
What causes Eczema?
The reason we get eczema is because the skin barrier is damaged or impaired and it doesn’t retain sufficient moisture. The condition is thought to be a result of allergens which cause skin to itch and become dry and appear cracked.
This can be aggravated by various things such as:
Contact with allergens. Food allergies do impact on eczema in infants and younger children but they don’t cause the eczema, they aggravate it because the skin barrier is weakened.
Sensitivity to chemicals, such as those in soaps or detergents, and other irritants.
Environmental factors, such as dry weather, or extreme cold or heat.
Stress can also trigger eczema especially in adults.
How to treat Eczema?
Prevention is the best cure, so if possible, figure out what is triggering the eczema and avoid it.
Here are some additional ways to prevent or remedy an inflammation:
- Moisturize with an emollient cream that works for you or your child. This is an effective way to keep the skin moisturised, and should be applied frequently, often even 3 or 4 times a day, even if there aren’t any symptoms. Always moisturize after bathing, showering or swimming.
- Avoid perfumed soaps and lotions, using mild or hypoallergenic soaps or soap substitutes instead such as Aqueous Cream or natural soaps such as . Avoid using creams that remove the natural oils from the skin.
- Change your diet. Switch from a standard diet to a wholesome diet of fresh, organically grown fruits, vegetables, and nuts, mostly in their raw form. Avoid acidic foods that may trigger a reaction, such as tomatoes or pineapples.
- Take probiotics. This is also suitable for babies, women in the second half of their pregnancy and breastfeeding moms. Probiotics affect the stomach bacteria that affect eczema.
- Take Omega 3/ Fish oil supplements.
- Get some sun. A lack of Vitamin D can lead to deficiency, which means children can develop allergies, so spend some time in the sun.
- Use natural laundry products. An enzyme free, or non-biological, laundry detergent is preferable. I use the Icon washing ball from Verimark thereby using NO soap in my washing. It does a great job of cleaning but for stubborn stains I still use a pre-wash stain remover. Other tips are to double rinse and to wash new clothes or linen to get rid of any chemicals that may be on the items before using them.
- Break the itch-scratch cycle. Itcy skin leads to scratching which can lead to infections, making skin more prone to flare-ups. For babies, cut fingernails short or use cotton gloves, to prevent them scratching themselves.
- Avoid tight, synthetic or rough fabrics, such as wool or polyester, in clothing and bedding. Choose cotton clothes and linen.
- Eliminate dust mites. These have been known to trigger reactions so try to get rid of them by washing linen frequently at high temperatures, vacuuming the mattress, using a dust-tight mattress cover, and airing out the room regularly. Also remove carpets, scatter cushions and soft toys from the sleeping area if possible. If that is not possible vacuum the room frequently and limit soft toys to one or two.
- Treat acute flare-ups with steroid cream to get the eczema under control early on. Always follow the recommended dosage. It is advisable to speak to a doctor or specialist before using this or other medicines.
In my struggle with eczema in my home I have done all of these listed above at some stage or another and I can report that it is exhausting! It’s definitely not the worst thing to be dealing with when it comes to childhood illnesses and for that I am grateful but it is hard work and very frustrating. As I said I have spent a fortune trying various lotions and potions all with varying degrees of success. I have resorted to cortisone creams on many occasions when things have got out of control but as a long term solution this is not the best answer. Keeping the skin moisturized is. However, another area of concern are the ingredients in all the other creams, even good old Aqueous cream contains paraffin and other nasties…. which has lead me to start researching what natural ingredients are available as an alternative for long term use.
Treating Eczema Naturally
Here are a few natural ingredients that you should consider the next time you are choosing a moisturizer to treat eczema:
1. Almond Oil
Almonds are commonly used in foods to add flavor and decoration. Although they are a nut, almonds are technically the seeds of almond fruits which grow on trees. The oil is a pale yellow color, has a calming aroma and is made by blending almonds into a paste and letting it sit for a week so that the oil seeps out. This oil is then collected and placed in a jar or container to be used for aromatherapy or skin care.
Almonds have been found to have many health benefits such as being able to lower cholesterol and protect against diabetes. The oil can be particularly effective against eczema and should be massaged on the affected area before a shower or bath. It contains vitamin E and other plant-derived compounds such as ursolic and oleic acid which protect and help to repair damaged skin.
2. Cocoa butter
Cocoa butter is derived from cocoa beans through roasting and fermentation. It is a pale yellow vegetable fat which is dairy free and suitable for vegans. Its primary use is for cooking but many cosmetics manufacturers are now using it in their moisturizers because it has a smooth texture, is suitable for sensitive skin and contains natural Vitamin E. Cocoa butter also has the added benefit of a pleasant aroma and will not have any added artificial preservatives.
3. Aloe Vera
A popular ingredient in cosmetics and used in many moisturizers, soaps and shower gels. The aloe plant is found in northern Africa and the leaves of the plant have been used for healing purposes for centuries by tribe to treat wounds, rashes and burns. Aloe vera contains many useful vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, plant sterols, magnesium, zinc, copper and amino acids. Along with using it topically, the nectar can also be consumed.
Many people have reported success with treating relieving eczema with the plant. The easiest way to get the benefit of aloe vera is to purchase a plant and to cut off and rub the leaves onto your skin. The leaves can be stored in your fridge so that it can be used whenever you need it and the plant can be kept in your home or garden.
4. Coconut Oil
Coconut Oil is another natural ingredient to try when looking for moisturizers to treat eczema. Coconut oil comes from the coconut fruit. It contains Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFA) or medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Unlike trans fats, Virgin Coconut Oil provides good fats and nourishment to dry eczema skin. It also contains lauric acid, which makes up 50% of the fatty acids. Lauric acid has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. The MCFA help restore damaged skin, by penetrating into the cell structures of the connective tissues. Hence, it is excellent as a natural eczema treatment, for other skin disorders, as well as for anti-ageing purposes. It also helps prevent the skin from developing liver spots, by destroying free radical formation.
The combination of the slightly acid pH of the skin and the MCFA provides a protective chemical layer on the skin that prevents infection from disease-causing organisms.
When you bathe or shower, ordinary soap tends to wash off the acid mantle of your skin. Applying coconut oil helps to restore the protective layer of your skin. Coconut oil penetrates quickly, keeping your skin soft. It helps to reduce any inflammation and is healing to wounds, blood blisters and rashes.
Coconut Oil can also be consumed to help prevent flare ups. It is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
If you prefer natural skin care remedies or have tried many skin care medications without any results, you may want to test some of the alternatives outlined in this article. Most of these ingredients can be found in supermarkets and, not only are they very cheap, they also do not have any negative side effects. Please leave a comment if you have also struggled with eczema in your family, esp if you have found something I may not have mentioned that would be helpful to others!
Like the digestive system, the skin is a porous membrane. Alkaline forming whole foods as found in a plant-based diet will offer internal anti-inflammatory benefits that begin the healing from the inside out. Warm but not hot Epsom salt or Dead Sea salt baths along with other mineral dense topicals can provide a soothing environment to heal from the outside in. Mineral zinc can be helpful in soothing the heat and itch of eczema and baths can also include chamomile tea or raw apple cider vinegar.
Treating Eczema with Diet
There is some connection suspected between Eczema and Diet and I have tried using an elimination process in the past but with limited success however it is worth noting that if you have a family history of eczema it might be worth following a quality, anti-inflammatory gluten-free and casein-free diet during pregnancy and then continue practicing this diet with your baby, and breastfeed your baby, for at least one year to give their immune system time to better develop. (Be sure to speak with an experienced registered dietitian about how to implement this diet during and after pregnancy.)
Some studies have shown that introducing fish before nine months of age can reduce the risk of developing eczema, but fish has become an increasingly common source of heavy metal toxins like mercury and lead. A fish oil supplement that is free of heavy metals, is also advised both during and after pregnancy.
Stress and emotional duress are implicated in eczematic flare ups. Because of the acid forming reaction we develop from stress, it’s even more important to consume a mineral dense, plant-based diet that works to stabilize blood sugars and exerts its own calming effect when stress is heightened.
Specific dietary minerals including selenium, zinc, copper, and manganese have been found to offer potential benefits for eczema.
Selenium protects cells from free radical damage and is a powerful antioxidant. The easiest way to build in dietary selenium is with Brazil nuts, the most highly concentrated source of selenium. Throw in two per day to smoothies, trail mix, and coconut yogurt. Sardines, and sunflower and mustard seeds are other handy and easy to build in sources of selenium.
Sea vegetables, button and shiitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds, peas, and spinach are excellent sources of zinc. Build these into your diet by topping a spinach salad with mushrooms. Top a brown rice cake with sunflower seed butter or enjoy some green pea soup.
Copper also reduces tissue damage caused by free radicals. Sesame and sunflower seeds, and cashews are good sources of copper. Some parents have been known to give their children a daily tablespoon of blackstrap molasses, another good source of copper.
Manganese, another antioxidant, is found in brown rice, pineapple, garbanzo beans, greens like mustard, kale, chard, or romaine, and even maple syrup are good sources.
About the Author: This article was written by myself, Kathryn Rossiter, and contributed to by Mariele West – the creator of ManukaHoneyBenefit.com, a site which discusses the benefits of manuka honey and how to use it for various health conditions. Additional mineral information found via Dermaharmony.
Images: 1) Greg Glidden 2) FoodMayhem.com
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