Eczema is a chronic, itchy, inflammatory skin disease, which affects up to 20% of people worldwide, but most especially those living in industrialized nations, such as Australia and New Zealand. Even though eczema can impact anyone, it is most common in children, with 50% of cases being diagnosed by the age of one.
Eczema symptoms can have a negative impact on quality of life, and for children it can also result in fatigue, sleep deprivation, activity restriction, social exclusion and anxiety.
What are the signs and symptoms of eczema?
Initially, skin feels dry, rough and becomes itchy. This leads to increased irritation, cracking and a scaly appearance. Lesions vary depending on the stage and severity of the eczema, but at worse, the skin weeps, bleeds and may become infected by bacteria and viruses.
In children, eczema usually affects the face and scalp from around three months of age and moves to the wrists, the back of the elbows, behind the knees and to the front of the ankles at 2 -3 years of age, however, it can appear on any part of the body.
What causes eczema?
The cause of eczema is multifactorial, with environmental factors, socioeconomic issues, genetic predisposition and immune dysfunction all playing a role in its development and progression. Th-2 immune dysfunction is a major mediator along with reduced skin barrier function.
The skin is a crucial barrier between our body and our environment. It prevents excessive water loss and prevents the entry of allergens, irritants and pathogens into the body. Poor skin barrier is directly linked to the onset and severity of eczema.
This loss of an effective skin barrier increases skin dryness, alters the skin microbiome, changes pH levels, and allows greater permeability for pathogens and irritants.
Naturopathic treatment for children with eczema.
Improving the condition of the skin and reducing itching are the first crucial steps in treatment. Creams that improve the epidermal barrier, reduce dryness and potential cracking, limit overgrowth of bacteria, reduce inflammation and balance pH levels are essential.
The skin microbiome
Just like the gut, the skin has its own specific balance of bacteria that keep it healthy and functioning. Recent research has shown that the majority of eczema suffers have an overgrowth of a specific pathogenic skin bacteria that produces a toxin and takes advantage of the immunological and structural dysfunctions of eczema. Topical application of specific prebiotics strains have been shown to improve the balance of the microbiome and improve the integrity and function of the skin barrier reducing the eczema symptoms and severity.
Lactoferrin is a protein found in cow’s milk and human milk, is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and immune modulating. Topical treatment has been shown to improve eczema symptoms and enhance wound healing.
The use of chamomile to treat eczema dates back to the Greeks and Egyptians who used it for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Studies comparing chamomile flower extract cream with a 0.25% hydrocortisone found the two products comparable in managing eczema and the chamomile was more effective than 0.75% fluocortin butyl treatment, without any negative side effects.
Glycyrrhetinic acid and glycyrrhizin are major bioactive ingredients in licorice root that have also been found to be beneficial in treating eczema due to their anti-inflammatory and immune regulatory properties.
When applied topically licorice root can have a cortisone-like effects on the skin.
Topical aloe vera is antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It increases collagen synthesis, improves skin elasticity, promotes wound healing and softens and moisturizes the skin.
An important factor when treating eczema is keeping the skin soft and moist. Emollients alone have been found to cut the symptoms of eczema in half in infants. Popular products include vitamin E cream or oil, almond oil, coconut oil, borage oil, sea buckthorn oil and shea butter.
An imbalance of good gut bacteria leading to gut dysbiosis and leaky gut can be contributing factors in eczema and should be considered as part of any treatment plan. Poor gut health leads to reduced absorption of nutrients and may lead to nutrient deficiencies and food allergies, which are a factor in eczema.
Naturopathic treatment may also recommend short-term supplementation with nutrients such as probiotics, vitamin E, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, in combination with dietary advice and topical applications to restore balance to the skin microbiome and successful manage eczema.
If you have a child struggling with eczema we recommend starting with our eczema protocol or booking a consultation with our Naturopath Jean Jarrett. If you would like to know more about how Jean can help you and your child book a discovery call.