If you've ever had itchy skin trouble, you know horrible it can be, keeping you up all night and driving you bonkers during the day. And everyone loves being covered in raised red scaly bumps.
One extremely common skin condition is eczema, or dermatitis, a group of skin conditions that come with fun differentiations like "atopic," "allergic," "irritant," "infantile seborrhoeic" and "adult seborrhoeic" and can affect people at any age but are most prevalent among children. Poor little things.
Research shows that 60 to 70 per cent of kids get over it by the time they reach their mid-teens, but there's no guarantee of that. An interesting study of the incidence of atopic (inherited) dermatitis by ethnic group, by Dr. Robert D. Baker, found the highest incidence among Filipinos and the lowest among Hispanics.
The bad news is, there's no cure, although dietary changes, emollients, and steroids, both oral and topical, might ease the itch. (FYI, topical corticosteriods, also known as cortizone, may relieve symptoms but they can also thin the skin, worsen infections and possibly trigger more itching, burning and redness.)
"The treatment in Ayurveda is to clean the [affected] patch daily with warm water boiled with the bark of the neem tree , then apply a neem paste and let it dry. Avoiding constipation is very important for prevention; therefore, it is recommended that Triphala be taken. Salt must be reduced. Sour things like pickles and curd are strictly prohibited. Bitter things like turmeric are good, added to food and/or taken internally with the guidance of an Ayurvedic physician. Turmeric mixed with ghee can be applied and left until dry twice a day. Synthetic fibres should be avoided. Use coconut oil with a drop of lavender and ravensara essential oils on patches that are more on the wet side. For dryer patches, I massage in sandalwood oil with ghee."
Andrea Olivera , Ayurvedic practitioner, Toronto
"In Chinese medicine, eczema is thought to be caused by an inability to handle external factors of wind, damp and heat in the skin and superficial tissues. Damp causes tissue swelling, exudate and weeping. The redness seen in an eczema rash is the heat trapped in the tissue, and the itch is the wind trapped. An example of a wind-clearing herbal medicine formula would be Xiao Feng San , with such herbs as Jing Jie, Chan Tui, Fang Feng and Niu Bang Zi. An example of a heat-clearing formula would be Liang Xue Chu Shi Tang , with such herbs as Sheng Di Huang, Mu Dan Pi, Chi Shao and Chi Xiao Dou. The damp formula example would be Chu Shi Wei Ling Tang , and Sha Ren to eliminate the swelling. I have had great success with these treatments."
Robert McDonald , Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto
"Eczema is often caused or exacerbated by stress, dietary deficiencies and gastrointestinal imbalances. The skin is the biggest organ of detoxification, so many things out of balance internally will show up through the skin. What this means is that putting a cream on your skin may help the condition but most often does not cure it, because you have to work from within the body to treat the underlying disorder. I treat eczema using many things, depending on the patient's history as well as on how the skin presents. I find using dietary changes, essential fatty acid supplementation , herbs and/or acupuncture very helpful. Eczema can be stubborn, so it often takes a few different approaches to finally get rid of it altogether."
Morgan Winton , naturopath, Toronto
"Figuring out when a rash started is helpful. Sometimes in babies it comes on after a vaccination, which could indicate that the body isn't coping well. If the liver isn't working properly, the skin is the next excretory organ. It could be an intolerance to the egg that's present in vaccinations. Milk is the most common underlying cause in both children and adults, but often adults have been drinking milk all their lives, so doctors don't necessarily think of it. Wheat is another possible but less common cause, as is corn. Unfortunately, that list applies to just about any health concern. You can try eliminating suspected foods, taking sensitivity tests and increasing your omega 3s and 6s, which are anti-inflammatory.
Lianne Phillipson-Webb , registered nutritionist, Toronto
"Atopic dermatitis (AD), often called eczema or atopic eczema, is a very common skin disease. It affects approximately 10 per cent of all infants and children. The exact cause is not known, but AD results from a combination of family heredity and a variety of conditions in everyday life. Other rashes can start at any time, but most disappear within a few days to weeks. AD tends to persist. If both parents are atopic, the child has a greater than one in two chance of being atopic. AD is included in [the same category as asthma and hay fever] because it often affects people who either suffer from asthma and/or hay fever or have family members who do. Physicians often refer to these three conditions as the "atopic triad." Research at the University of Dundee in Scotland has found a gene that's linked to eczema and asthma."
Joanne Langeraar , administrative director, National Eczema Association, San Rafael, California