Eczema is a common childhood condition that has grown in prevalence in the last several years. It is thought to be a hereditary condition, and it tends to run in families where there is a history of eczema, asthma or hayfever. Eighty percent of children born to parents who have had or do have eczema will also have the disease. However, it can affect a child in a family where there is no known history of these conditions. Eczema often presents itself in the first few months of life with red, weeping, crusted lesions on the face, scalp, diaper area, and extremities.
Creams just cover up
The most common strategy for eczema is to smother it with creams. Moisturizing creams will help retain the water in the skin. Hydrocortisone creams reduce the inflammation a little bit, and the stronger steroids will reduce the inflammation even more. Unfortunately, steroid creams are harmful to the skin if used over a long period of time. However, none of these creams solve the underlying problem, but rather provide a band-aid solution to reduce the inflammation.
What is really going on?
Eczema responds quite well once the underlying cause of the imbalance in the body has been identified. Children with eczema often have asthma and/or allergies as well. These are all inflammatory issues, and the key to managing them naturally is to find the root cause that is allowing the inflammation to affect the skin, lungs or upper respiratory tract.
Naturopathic doctors believe that eczema is most often related with bowel health. The digestive system regulates inflammation, and if there is an issue in the digestive tract such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating and/or food allergies, the result will be the body storing inflammation in the skin.
One of the first signs of inflammation in an infant is cradle cap. If the cause of the cradle cap is not addressed, the next sign is often eczema. If the cause of the eczema is not identified, the next sign is often allergies and/or asthma. We know that these early inflammatory signs identify children who are at higher risk for heart disease as adults so it is very important to work at figuring out the underlying root cause of eczema, repairing the digestive tract, and removing the inflammation from the body.
Using food allergy testing is often very useful to determine food allergies or yeast imbalances that can contribute to eczema. Common food offenders include baby formula (dairy or soy), dairy, wheat, eggs, corn, soy and citrus.
Natural supplements to help manage eczema
- Omega 3 fatty acids with adequate doses of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important for increasing circulation and decreasing inflammation in the digestive tract and skin.
- Probiotics help reestablish healthy gut flora, inhibit the growth of yeast and boost immune function.
- Glutamine is an amino acid that provides energy specifically for intestinal cells and encourages healing of these cells. It is often used in treating intestinal absorption diseases. Glutamine also has immune boosting properties.
- Vitamin A is a general skin healing supplement and is found in fish oils, milk products, egg yolks and carrots. Beta carotene, which can be converted to Vitamin A in the body, is found in yams, carrots, squash, red pepper, broccoli, dark leafy vegetables, pink grapefruit, mangoes, apricots and grapes.
- Zinc is one of the most important nutrients for immune function, hormonal function, and bone, skin and joint health. It is vital for wound healing which is especially important when treating eczema. Dietary sources of zinc include shellfish, oysters, poultry, nuts, seeds, pumpkin seeds, egg yolks, ginger, split peas, fruits, asparagus and spinach.
*Please check with your healthcare practitioner to determine individual treatment plan and dosage.
Natural Topical Treatments
Bath oils or creams that contain calendula, nettle (urtica) or chickweed (stellaria) are soothing on the skin. A few drops of lavender essential oil in the bath can relieve burning skin. For skin that is especially dry, try adding oatmeal to the bath. Castor oil applied topically helps many children with eczema – this should never be given orally because it causes severe diarrhea.
Skin diseases such as eczema generally take time to resolve completely, especially when there are other imbalances to deal with. When following a healthy skin and diet protocol, it's definitely worth the wait. Healthy skin equals healthy and happy child.
Image via Peter Dedina