Eczema. Natural Remedies for Eczema Relief
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition characterized by inflamed, itchy, and red skin. It is a common condition, affecting up to 20% of children and 3% of adults worldwide. Eczema can be hereditary and is often associated with other allergic conditions, such as asthma and hay fever.
The exact cause of eczema is not known, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Triggers for eczema can include irritants, allergens, stress, and changes in temperature or humidity.
Symptoms of eczema can include dry and scaly skin, intense itching, redness, swelling, and oozing or crusting. Eczema can occur anywhere on the body but is most commonly found on the face, hands, feet, and joints.
Treatment for eczema typically involves moisturizing the skin, avoiding triggers, and using topical or oral medications to reduce inflammation and itchiness. In severe cases, phototherapy or immunosuppressant medications may be recommended. Although there is currently no cure for eczema, with proper management, most people with the condition can control their symptoms and lead a normal life.
Symptoms of Eczema
Symptoms of eczema can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the condition but commonly include:
- Itching: The most common symptom of eczema is intense itching, which can be persistent and difficult to control.
- Dryness: The affected skin may appear dry, scaly, or flaky.
- Redness: Eczema often causes redness of the skin, which can be mild or severe.
- Swelling: The skin may become swollen, particularly around the affected area.
- Crusting or oozing: In more severe cases, eczema can cause the skin to crust over or ooze.
- Thickened skin: Over time, eczema can cause the skin to thicken and become tougher than normal.
- Sensitivity: The affected skin may become more sensitive to various substances, such as soap, detergents, and certain fabrics.
- Skin discoloration: In some cases, eczema can cause the affected skin to become darker or lighter in color.
Causes of Eczema
Eczema can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most commonly found on the face, hands, feet, and joints. The symptoms can come and go, and they may be more severe during certain seasons or in response to specific triggers.
The exact cause of eczema is not known, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some of the factors that may contribute to the development of eczema include:
- Genetics: Eczema often runs in families, and research has identified specific genes including genes involved in the immune system, skin barrier function, and inflammation, that may increase the risk of developing the condition.
- Immune system dysfunction: Eczema is believed to be caused in part by a malfunction of the immune system, which leads to inflammation and other symptoms.
- Environmental triggers: Certain environmental factors can trigger or exacerbate eczema symptoms, such as exposure to irritants, allergens, changes in temperature or humidity, and stress.
- Skin barrier dysfunction: The outer layer of the skin acts as a protective barrier against the environment, and dysfunction in this barrier can lead to eczema.
- Bacteria and viruses: Some types of bacteria and viruses can cause or worsen eczema symptoms, particularly in people with compromised immune systems.
- Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or puberty, can trigger, or worsen eczema symptoms.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as antibiotics, can cause an allergic reaction that leads to eczema symptoms.
Causes of eczema can vary from person to person, and in many cases, the exact cause may not be known. However, identifying and avoiding triggers can help to manage eczema symptoms.
Eczema can lead to several complications, including:
- Skin infections: Due to the breakdown of the skin barrier, people with eczema are at an increased risk of developing skin infections. Scratching can also introduce bacteria into the skin, leading to infection.
- Allergic reactions: People with eczema are at an increased risk of developing allergic reactions to certain substances, such as fragrances, preservatives, and certain foods.
- Sleep disturbances: Itching and discomfort from eczema can interfere with sleep, leading to fatigue and reduced quality of life.
- Emotional distress: Eczema can cause emotional distress, including anxiety and depression, due to the impact on daily activities, self-esteem, and social relationships.
- Chronic eczema: In some cases, eczema can become chronic, with symptoms persisting over a long period of time. Chronic eczema can lead to thickened, scaly skin and may be difficult to treat.
Laboratory Tests for Eczema Diagnosis
There is no specific lab test to diagnose eczema. A diagnosis is typically made based on a physical examination of the affected skin and a review of the patient's medical history and symptoms. However, a doctor may order certain tests to rule out other conditions or to identify potential triggers for eczema.
Some of the tests that may be ordered include:
- Allergens testing: These blood tests can help identify potential allergens that may trigger eczema symptoms.
- Skin culture: A swab of the affected skin may be taken to identify bacterial infections that may be causing or exacerbating eczema symptoms.
- Eosinophil count: Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell that can be elevated in people with eczema and other allergic conditions.
- Skin biopsy: A small sample of skin may be taken for examination under a microscope to rule out other skin conditions.
Functional Medicine Lab Tests for Eczema
Functional medicine lab tests may be ordered to help identify potential underlying factors that could be contributing to eczema symptoms. These tests can help identify imbalances or deficiencies that may be affecting overall health and contributing to eczema. Some of the functional medicine lab tests that may be ordered for eczema include:
Gut health test with EnteroScan®: Gut health can play a significant role in overall health and can impact the immune system. Tests such as comprehensive EnteroScan®, urine indican test, and measurement of stool zonulin can help identify imbalances in gut bacteria and gut function that may be contributing to eczema symptoms.
Food allergy and intolerance testing with TrophoScan®: Food allergies and intolerances can trigger or exacerbate eczema symptoms. IgG food allergy testing and elimination diets can help identify problem foods.
Nutrient deficiency testing: Nutrient deficiencies, such as low levels of vitamin D or essential omega fatty acids, can contribute to eczema symptoms. Testing for nutrient deficiencies can help identify potential underlying factors.
Hormone testing: Hormone imbalances, such as low thyroid function, can affect the immune system and contribute to eczema symptoms. Hormone testing can help identify imbalances that may be contributing to symptoms.
Heavy metals testing: Exposure to toxins, such as heavy metals or pesticides, can impact overall health and contribute to eczema symptoms. Testing for heavy metals can help identify potential underlying factors.
It is important to note that functional medicine lab tests should be used in conjunction with a thorough medical history and physical examination and should be interpreted by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Eczema treatment can vary depending on the severity of symptoms and underlying causes. Some common treatment options include:
- Topical corticosteroids: These are anti-inflammatory creams or ointments that can help reduce redness and inflammation. They are often prescribed for short-term use during flare-ups.
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors: These are creams or ointments that can help reduce inflammation and itching. They are often prescribed for use in sensitive areas such as the face and groin.
- Topical immunomodulators: These are creams or ointments that help regulate the immune system to reduce inflammation and itching.
- Moisturizers: Keeping the skin moisturized can help reduce itching and prevent flare-ups.
- Oral antihistamines: These medications can help reduce itching and are often used at night to help with sleep.
- Phototherapy: This involves exposing the skin to controlled amounts of natural or artificial light to reduce inflammation and itching.
- Biologic drugs: These are injectable medications that help regulate the immune system to reduce inflammation and itching. They are often used in severe cases of eczema.
It is important to note that eczema treatment should be individualized based on the specific needs of each person.
Natural Treatment for Eczema
There are a variety of natural treatments that can be used to help manage eczema symptoms, including:
- Moisturize regularly: Keeping the skin moisturized is key in managing eczema symptoms. Use a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer to prevent the skin from drying out and reduce itching.
- Avoid irritants: Avoiding contact with irritants, such as harsh soaps, detergents, and fabrics, can help prevent eczema flare-ups.
- Lukewarm baths: Hot water can aggravate eczema symptoms, so taking lukewarm baths can help soothe the skin.
- Natural, non-toxic skincare products: Using natural, non-toxic skincare products can help reduce the risk of irritation and allergic reactions.
- Manage stress: Stress can trigger eczema flare-ups, so practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation or yoga can be helpful.
- Breathable clothing: Wearing loose, breathable clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton can help prevent irritation and reduce sweating.
- Identify and avoid triggers: Keep track of your eczema symptoms and identify any triggers that may be causing them, such as certain foods, environmental factors, or stressors.
- Natural remedies: Certain natural remedies such as chamomile, aloe vera, coconut oil, and calendula may help soothe and heal the skin.
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil has anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties that can help soothe and moisturize the skin. Apply a small amount of coconut oil to the affected area several times a day.
- Oatmeal baths: Adding oatmeal to a bath can help soothe and relieve itching. Blend 1 cup of uncooked oatmeal into a fine powder and add it to a warm bath.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe the skin and reduce redness and inflammation. Apply aloe vera gel to the affected area several times a day.
- Chamomile: Chamomile has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can help soothe and heal the skin. Brew a strong chamomile tea and apply it to the affected area using a clean cloth.
- Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation and prevent infection. Dilute apple cider vinegar with water and apply it to the affected area using a clean cloth.
- Calendula: Calendula has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe and heal the skin. Apply calendula cream or ointment to the affected area several times a day.
It is important to note that while natural treatments can be helpful in managing eczema symptoms, they should be used in conjunction with medical treatment and under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.
Vasilis J. Sideris
Medical Doctor, Biopathologist
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, CFMP