The Complete Guide to Eczema Treatment
Most people will have heard of eczema but they might not realize how common it is nor how debilitating. There are different types of eczema but they all have similar symptoms. Top of the list is dryness followed by itching, inflammation and thickening of the skin. Unfortunately, eczema outbreaks keep on recurring.
The different types of eczema:
- Atopic eczema is the most common and closely linked to asthma and hay fever, affecting both adults and children and often running families.
- Allergic contact dermatitis develops when the body's immune system reacts against a substance in contact with the skin.
- Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by frequent contact with everyday substances, such as detergents and chemicals and is most likely on the hands.
- Infantile seborrhoeic eczema is a common condition affecting young babies and is often referred to as cradle cap.
- Adult seborrhoeic eczema usually affects adults between 20 to 40 and often seen on the scalp as mild dandruff. It can spread to the face, ears and chest. The skin becomes red, inflamed and starts to flake and the condition is thought to be caused by a yeast growth.
- Varicose eczema affects skin of the lower legs of those in their middle to late years, being caused by poor circulation.
- Discoid eczema is normally found in adults, appearing as a few coin shaped areas of red skin, normally on the trunk or lower legs.
Eczema is a very old condition and in the same way that many western words have originated from the Greek language so has eczema. Translated into English the word eczema means "boiling out". This is understandable because the small blisters that first appear in eczema (similar in appearance to sago granules) look as if the skin is "bubbling" or "boiling out".
Dry and itchy skin – the two main symptoms of eczema - have always existed although many skin diseases in ancient times were lumped together if they had a similar appearance – for example psoriasis, eczema and even leprosy. As early as 400 B.C., Hippocrates (considered the father of western medicine) discovered that the mucus of the ordinary land snail was effective in hydrating dry skin while Emperor Octavius Augustus of the Roman Empire was known to suffer from "extremely itchy skin, seasonal rhinitis, and tightness of the chest". There was even a family history of eczema and other allergic conditions as both his grandson and nephew suffered a variation of the same allergic condition. So eczema is not a modern disease although it is becoming more common.
The most recent research points to the majority of those suffering from eczema as experiencing leaky gut syndrome, a problem in the digestive tract. When the intestinal wall can more easily be penetrated with this syndrome, toxins pass into the blood stream which triggers an inflammatory response. Allergies and food reactions follow, along with eczema. Unfortunately, this whole cycle taxes the immune system.
So the first line of defence when dealing with eczema outbreaks is to mend the gut and reduce permeability.
- Adopt an organic whole food diet including lots of veggies, fiber and freshly juiced greens while avoiding processed and gluten-containing foods, dairy, meat from factory farmed animals, grains and sugar.
- Fermented foods are an excellent choice as are probiotics like those found in kefir and yogurt. Bone broth, with its high collagen content, also assists in healing the gut, making sure to use organic grass-fed ingredients.
- The amino acid L-glutamine will strengthen the intestinal lining and boost the immune system while reducing allergies and improving overall nutrient absorption.
- Add flax, borage, hemp and pumpkin seed oils to supply essential fatty acids and balance inflammatory response. At the same time, evening primrose and sunflower seed oils (non GMO) are first-rate sources of gamma linolenic acid which plays a strong role in skin health.
- Chia seeds will supply plenty of omega-3 fats. Cat's claw is a herb that will clean the digestive tract of dangerous pathogens, reducing those reactions that exacerbate eczema.
- Yet another helpful medicinal herb is persimmon leaf extract, offering many anti-inflammatory properties that clarify the skin and minimize discomfort.
Eczema in Babies
Many babies develop eczema in their first year, particularly in the skin folds of the arms, neck or legs. It can also appear first on a baby's forehead, cheeks and scalp before spreading to other parts of the body. Affecting about 1 in 5 babies, eczema can be a warning of asthma to follow. Baby eczema has dry, thickened and scaly skin or sometimes tiny red bumps that can blister and ooze. Although not contagious, when babies scratch, the eczema can spread and even become infected.
- Eczema can be inherited from a parent or a close family member who suffers from hay fever, eczema, asthma or other allergies.
- Baby eczema can be triggered by certain allergens in the baby's diet or even in the mother's diet when breastfed.
- As with older sufferers, baby eczema can also be aggravated by heat as well as changes in temperature.
- Some babies are susceptible to irritants that come into contact with their skin. These can be chemicals in certain soaps, lotions and detergents as well as wool and synthetic fabrics.
By the age of 3 years, the number of children with eczema is usually halved and approximately 70% of all children completely outgrow this condition by their teens. Nevertheless, baby eczema is a condition that is chronic and needs to be managed as there can be intermittent flare-ups every few weeks in those that do not outgrow the condition.
Treatment for baby eczema includes identifying and avoiding skin irritations, avoiding extreme temperatures, and lubricating your baby's skin with natural bath oils, lotions, creams or ointments. Always try to use natural remedies to control baby's symptoms but your doctor may recommend an oral antihistamine to help lessen the itch and to cause drowsiness, which may be helpful for night time itching and discomfort.
What to Avoid
There is a lot that can be done to limit the occurrence of eczema outbreaks:
- Avoid scratching the skin by keeping busy with activities that involve the use of your hands. In the case of children, their nails should be kept cut short and covered in cotton mittens at night time. Scratching can actually trigger eczematous rashes. Some of these rashes completely disappear without any eczema home remedies if you can just stop scratching.
- When bathing, showering or washing the affected skin, be gentle and always avoid any excessive scrubbing.
- Too much heat and sweat can make your skin more irritated and itchy. When the body sweats, valuable water and moisture is lost from the skin so it is important to keep the skin as cool as possible. Avoid extreme temperature changes for your child.
- Eczema is aggravated by dehumidified air, especially during winter months when forced-air heat circulates in the home. As this heat is more drying than other types, it can be avoided by the use of a good humidifier covering a sufficient area of the home (to be beneficial) and in particular next to the bed when the affected adult or child is sleeping.
- Avoid antiperspirants as the active ingredients in many of these are known to cause irritation in people with sensitive skin. Look for deodorants made from natural ingredients. For example, there is one on the market made from milk of magnesia and said to be very gentle and allergy free.
- Avoid all synthetic clothing and bed linen as well as itchy type fabrics and tight fitting clothing. Clothing worn next to the skin as well as bed linens and towels should be pure cotton. Even the labels on clothing can be the source of irritation.
- Avoid and eliminate any foods that can aggravate eczema. Traditionally eggs, orange juice and dairy products have been found to aggravate eczema in children but it may be other foods that trigger an attack such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, soy beans, fish, nuts, wheat, salty food, refined fats, white sugar, coffee, alcohol, red meat or raw garlic. Allergy tests will ascertain if diet is contributing to the eczema.
- Avoiding house dust mites can be very important as many sufferers are affected by the allergens in the droppings of the house dust mite. These mites thrive in warm and moist environments and like to live in bedding, mattresses, curtains and carpets. The effective and regular use of a vacuum cleaner as well as damp dusting and the washing or airing of bedding will help with this. If you can change from carpeting to another form of flooring, even better. Feather, pollens and other allergens may be also be a contributing factor.
- Avoid toxic vaccinations that can aggravate eczema.
Although natural remedies are much preferred and safer, listed below are the various pharmaceutical medications used by some medical practitioners for patients with eczema.
- Corticosteroid creams or ointments. Some low-potency versions can be bought over the counter but the side effects of long-term or repeated use can include skin irritation or discoloration, thinning of the skin, infections and even stretch marks on the skin.
- Some doctors may recommend taking antibiotics for a short time to treat an infection or for longer periods of time to reduce bacteria on the skin and to prevent recurrent infections. Unfortunately, the overuse or misuse of antibiotics has been a big problem in recent decades.
- If itching is severe, oral antihistamines may help although they may make you sleepy. In some cases, this can be helpful at bedtime. In the case of cracked skin, the doctor may prescribe mildly astringent wet dressings to prevent infection.
- For more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, or an intramuscular injection of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and to control symptoms. When frequently treated with steroids, the immune system can be further compromised, inflaming the dermis and creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. There are severe side effects including cataracts, loss of bone mineral (osteoporosis), muscle weakness, decreased resistance to infection, high blood pressure and thinning of the skin.
- A class of medications called immunomodulators, such as tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel), affect the immune system, helping maintain normal skin texture and reducing flares of atopic dermatitis. This prescription-only medication is approved for children older than 2 and for adults but even the FDA is concerned about the effect of these medications on the immune system when used for prolonged periods.
- A non pharmaceutical treatment is light therapy (phototherapy) using natural or artificial light. While controlled sunlight is the easiest method, other forms include the use of artificial ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB) light or the more recently available narrow band ultraviolet B (NBUVB).
There are many home remedies that sufferers have found to be helpful, some of which have been passed down from generation to generation while others are newly discovered:
- If a baby is 6 months of older, twice a week add half a cup of bleach to a full standard sized bath for a 5 to 10 minutes soak as this has been found to be 5 times more effective than plain water in treating eczema. Your child's limbs and torso should be immersed leaving the head and neck above water. Pat dry and apply a heavy covering of moisturizer afterwards.
- A soothing bath with warm chamomile and oatmeal is a good home remedy for children with eczema. Add 4 tablespoons camomile flowers and half a cup of oatmeal to a "knee-high" stocking, and tie the open end of the stocking with a rubber band before placing under the tap as you fill the bathtub. While your child plays in the bath, the chamomile and oats concoction will help to ease any itching.
- Or for an additional soothing treat and eczema home remedy, add colloidal oatmeal like Aveeno to the bath, and even use oatmeal as a soap substitute. For the bath, pour 2 cups of colloidal oatmeal into the lukewarm water. This oatmeal is a fine powder that will remain suspended in water.
- Let the skin breathe by using cool natural fabrics such as cotton for both clothing and bed linen. Avoid wool as this can be scratchy and irritating to the skin. Use natural fragrance-free detergents for washing clothes and bed.
- Apply cool compresses to the area for a few minutes at a time to soothe and discourage scratching too. Babies and children cannot control the urge to scratch and if they do, this can result in bacterial infections, bleeding and major discomfort. Scratching not only disturbs sleep but can worsen the itch and cause further inflammation.
- Apply coconut oil to the affected area to keep the skin smooth and soft, both sealing and protecting the skin while taming inflammation. Antibacterial and anti fungal action prevents infection in open sores.
- Make a paste of 1 teaspoon sandalwood and 1 teaspoon camphor and apply to the eczema.
- Another paste can be made of 1 tablespoon each of turmeric powder and bitter neem leaves.
- Just the simple use of water can be helpful by applying cold compresses or cold water. Cold, wet dressings can help soothe and relieve the itching associated with eczema.
- Cold milk can be used instead of water as this may be a lot more soothing. Put milk into a glass with ice cubes and let it sit for a few minutes. Then pour the milk onto a gauze pad or thin piece of cotton and apply it to the irritated skin for 2 or 3 minutes. Re-soak the cloth and reapply, continuing the process for about 10 minutes several times per day.
- A daily bath helps to moisturize the skin, using moisturizing aqueous cream (natural if possible) rather than ordinary soaps for cleaning. The temperature should be just warm and it is good to soak for 15 to 20 minutes so that the skin's outer layer can absorb moisture. The skin should be dried by gently patting with a towel to remove excess water. While keeping the skin damp, apply an emollient cream.
- Emollient cream is used for added moisture to the clean skin. The best moisturizer is a basic fragrance-free one that is more greasy than creamy such as Vaseline but as this is a petroleum product, you will find below a recipe for a natural Vaseline-type jelly. Such emollients are especially important to use if you are working or living in an air conditioned or heated workplace or home. Use twice a day and more often on the hands.
- Calamine lotion is good for many types of rashes that ooze and need to be dried out.
- Mashed papaya seeds will reduce itching when applied to the eczema.
- Another suggested home remedy for eczema is to dab some witch hazel on the affected area with a cotton ball.
- Raw honey has been used effectively in the treatment of eczema
- Regular sunlight and the vitamin D it produces in your system are a healing combination. Not being deficient in Vitamin D (the feel good hormone) is imperative when treating any condition so it is always worth while to be tested for your levels so that, if you are unable to get sufficient sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes (closest to noon) several times per week, you can top up with a vitamin D3 supplement. Vitamin D is equally important in children whatever age and they should also spend time in the sun without sunscreen while supplementing with vitamin D3 in colder months.
- Oat flour and slippery elm powder can be used in warm baths to coat and calm the skin.
- Sea salt when added to warm baths gives welcome relief from inflammation and pain. If you live by the ocean, then a daily dip in the salty water will also be beneficial.
- Bentonite clay detoxifies and comforts the skin when dissolved in a lukewarm bath.
- Essential oils have been used down the centuries as a successful home remedy for eczema and other skin conditions. Now H-Eczema is specially formulated from pure essential oils to provide the perfect healing eczema home remedy that is gentle, safe and successful to use whatever age.
Recipes for all natural home remedies
Here are two recipes for suitable and natural moisurizers to use for eczema.
1. Home lotion for eczema - Ingredients
- ½ cup distilled water
- ½ cup oil - almond, grapeseed or olive
- 1 tablespoon lecithin
- 6 to 8 drops geranium oil
- Add some Vitamin E oil as this is a good antioxidant.
Mix all these ingredients in a blender. You will have a thick creamy lotion which you can dilute with a little water if you want it thinner. Store in a container ready for daily use.
2. Another recipe is for an all-natural Vaseline-type jelly but minus any petroleum
- Place 1 oz. of beeswax in the top of a double boiler and heat slowly until it melts. Don't put beeswax in the microwave or in a standard saucepan, as it is flammable when exposed to direct heat.
- Remove the melted wax from heat and squeeze the oil from six x 400 IU vitamin E capsules into the wax. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties which nourish and protect your skin while acting as a natural preservative to prolong the shelf life of your petroleum jelly.
- Stir in 1/2 cup of extra virgin or cold pressed sweet almond oil. Stir the ingredients constantly as the mixture cools and thickens. While still slightly warm, scoop the jelly mixture into a dark glass jar and leave unsealed to cool completely.
Keep in a cool, dark place or in your refrigerator. These lotions are even more important to use if you are working or living in an air conditioned or heated workplace or home. Use as you would use commercial jelly twice a day and more often on the hands.
There is so much information about eczema, its symptoms and its treatment that it would seem that everyone who suffers from this skin condition or who has a child with eczema needs, by trial and error, to find the right combination that works for them. If you are a parent of a child with eczema, you will suffer with them and want to do everything you can to relieve the symptoms.