If you or your child are eczema sufferers, you know very well how annoying and sometimes activity limiting these ailments can be. There is also an aesthetic aspect of eczema which is very important to many people, esp. young adults and teenagers.
As a Mum of a child who in his early years suffered with eczema after an instant allergic reaction to the MMR vaccine, after the initial emergency treatment in a hospital, I faced the dilemma which route to take to sort his very itchy, and sometimes even bleeding skin from scratching out.
GP offered topical steroids which I was reluctant to use on a 15 month old baby because I knew, while they could provide some relief, they would not address the cause of the eczema. They are toxic, have long term impact on the immune system, adrenal glands and the skin itself.
I decided to take my son to a local homeopath and after every visit I was seeing improvements. By age of 3 my son’s skin was clear but every now and then a few little spots appeared, depending on the diet he had.
I followed his homeopathic treatment still and by the age of 4 he could eat all the food which would previously aggravate his symptoms.
I did lots of research and later on as a homeopath myself learnt that there are many aspects to many skin issues, including eczema.
What is eczema?
Eczema encompasses a range of skin problems and is most common with people who suffer from other allergies including hay fever and asthma. Up to 80% of affected children start to see symptoms before they reach 5 years old with many develop the condition as a baby.
Main types of eczema
Atopic eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis is the most common form and is now commonly accepted that hypersensitive reactions are triggered by contact with an allergen, either surface contact, inhaled, ingested or even after some medication, including vaccines, in cases an individual is allergic to certain substances in them.
Common symptoms of eczema in children and adults include:
- itching of the skin
- warm, tender skin
- skin that becomes scaly and raw
- burning sensation or pain on the skin
- red bumps on the skin that may weep and crust
- skin that becomes dry, red, or rough
Atopic eczema can improve significantly, or even clear completely, in some children as they get older. Up to half of the children with eczema see great improvements by the time they reach secondary school with more than 65% seeing similar improvements by the time they finish their secondary school education..
Although atopic eczema is by far the most widespread type, there are some other lesser known variants of eczema which include:
Varicose eczema – a type of eczema that most often affects the lower legs with the problems predominantly arising from blood flow in the legs.
Seborrhoeic eczema – a type of eczema which mainly affects the areas where there is an abundance of oil producing glands.
Discoid eczema – a type of eczema that occurs in circular or oval patches on the skin
Contact dermatitis – a type of eczema that occurs when the body comes into contact with a particular substance
Dyshidrotic eczema – a type of eczema that causes blisters on the sides of fingers, palms and the soles of your feet.
Common causes behind eczema in children
The exact causes of eczema are still not fully understood, however there are various factors that are believed to play a role in its onset. There can be a hereditary predisposition which develops alongside other conditions such as asthma and hay fever but often there are other triggers which can include the following:
Poor gut health
Overall health of your gut is central to the health of your whole body. In the case of eczema this is no different. Skin and digestive tract are so closely connected which was known by Chinese medicine practitioners for millennia.
In order to maintain a healthy gut and therefore a healthy body, we ideally need an 80% – 20% ratio of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ bacteria. If bad bacteria is promoted through having a diet that lacks fibre and includes too many sugary foods, this can cause a condition known as ‘Leaky Gut syndrome’. Toxins and food antigens are then able to enter the body and trigger inflammatory immune reactions.
This then has the additional effect of putting the skin under an assault of bad bacteria and toxins as the body uses the skins to expel bacteria which hasn’t been eradicated in the gut.
An Increased risk for children
It was believed that infants were born sterile. However, further research suggests that gut microorganisms are being passed onto the baby in the womb and with it bad bacteria which is transferred during and after pregnancy.
A number of factors may compromise this early development of good gut microbiota– e.g. a mother’s poor diet, antibiotics use during and/or after birth and caesarean births.
The infant’s developing digestive system can get the best start if the mother pre and during pregnancy eats a diet rich in prebiotic foods (i.e. fibre), and low in sugar.
It has long been known that immune activation is involved in eczema – with many patients having increased levels of IgG which is the antibody most associated with a delayed food intolerance and reactions, and IgE antibodies which cause the most problems. IgE antibodies bind with white blood cells in the body and cause inflammation with the release of histamine.
More recently eczema has been described as an autoimmune disease by a team working at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. They discovered Interleukin-4 and Interleukin-13 involvement. Interleukins are types of immune proteins which heighten the body’s defences against viruses and other invaders, causing inflammation, and in some cases targeting and destroying healthy body cells by mistake.
If you have a genetic predisposition to atopic eczema, then exposure to certain environmental factors may cause the condition to flare up, such as certain allergens, including pets, food, toiletries, disinfectants, pollen, dust mites and moulds.
Out of all the allergens, food is the most common in children with over 30% of eczema sufferers being allergic to one or more foods and drinks including, dairy products, nuts and seeds, wheat, meats, vegetables, and juices from certain fruits.
Immediate reaction from food: Itching and redness of the skin will start or get worse within around two hours of eating the food.
Delayed reaction from food: Symptoms will get worse over a one to two day period. This form of reaction is thought to be due to immune cells in the skin reacting against the food.
Sleep deprivation and stress are inflammatory and can also have a direct impact on the skin barrier function – which is crucial in reducing the development of atopic eczema.
Food is very important in eczema cases and may help to support any alternative therapy or even conventional treatment alongside:
While an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in vegetables may help relieve symptoms, excessive sugar in foods and bad fats known as trans fats may have the opposite effect.
Bacteria relating to eczema
Native Live Bacteria (formerly known as Probiotics).:The strains of Native Live Bacteria being investigated for eczema include Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus species such as Rhamnosus, L. Plantarum, L salivarius and L acidophilus.
In terms of your diet, you can test whether certain foods are making symptoms worse by systematically removing them from your daily intake to see if you notice any improvements.
Beneficial vitamins and fatty acids
Essential Fatty Acids – omega-6 and omega-3: The omega-6 fatty acid Gamma linolenic acid (GLA. It has been suggested eczema sufferers could be lacking the enzyme which changes linoleic acid to GLA. Evening primrose oil is high in GLA and is an area of investigation in the management of eczema. Trials showed that the introduction of omega-3 could lower the developing risk of eczema during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Researchers observed an 8% prevalence of eczema in the omega-3 group compared to 24% prevalence in the placebo group.
Vitamins C and B6 has a significant impact on the biochemical reactions in the body as well as reducing histamine, also consider B12 and L-methylfolate
Vitamin D3 has lots of studies connecting vitamin D to allergic disease and describing a beneficial effect of vitamin D on eczema.
Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan has immunomodulatory effects and its ability to reduce the symptoms of allergy is described by Dr Paul Clayton in ‘The Science of Beta Glucan & Understanding the Innate Immune System’, part of our technical information series.
Eczema is a complex skin issue but there are many ways to treat it and support the sufferer all the way to full recovery. Homeopathy has been shown to be a very effective method in treating eczema in children as well as adults, and is sought by many people who want to follow a natural way of healing without side effects.
Marketa Kropacova – L.C.P.H., MAT, BAC