Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is characterised by inflamed, itchy and cracked patches of skin. It is estimated to affect 5.8 million people worldwide (including 1 in 5 school-age children).
Although 90 percent of child sufferers grow out of it by the age of 12, eczema is fairly common in adults and tends to be recurrent.
Eczema ranges from mild to severe and can be a debilitating condition, triggering stress, anxiety, and depression, impacting mental health and overall quality of life.
How can we help?
Chinese Medicine has a high success rate in safely treating a wide range of skin disorders, including eczema and related conditions, such as stress, depression, and food allergies.
A few small studies seem to suggest the therapeutic potential of Chinese Medicine for eczema. Although more research is needed, results are promising, showing that Chinese Medicine modalities can be extremely effective at clearing eczema flares and vastly improving the condition over the long term, either on their own or alongside more conventional approaches.
According to a 2018 review, Chinese Medicine may work by stimulating several body systems, including the nervous and immune systems, helping to restore balance and encouraging healing.
Treatments, particularly Acupuncture, seem to increase blood flow, potentially lowering inflammation, relieving pain, healing skin lesions and repairing the skin barrier.
The same research also found that Chinese Medicine may, in some cases, reduce the severity and size of areas of the skin affected by eczema.
Additionally, Chinese Medicine has been shown to have a positive effect on stress levels and emotional well-being.
Chinese Medicine treatments for eczema are customised for each patient, based on their unique combination of symptoms, the severity of the condition and its progress over time. Typically, they will consist of a highly personalised blend of Acupuncture and Medicinal herbs, to either brew and drink, take as capsules, or apply as lotions, creams, and baths, alongside dietary therapy and lifestyle advice.
How quickly will you see results?
Generally, the minimum course of treatment we recommend to start seeing improvement is about 4 weeks.
Chinese Medicine is not a quick fix and both Chinese Herbal medicine and Acupuncture require consistency and regularity to show effects but can provide successful and long-term results without harsh side effects or having to stay on treatments indefinitely.
That said, the skin frequently does improve much more rapidly than other disorders that are being treated. Changes in the skin, such as reduction of flare-ups, itchiness and redness might be seen within a few months of consistent acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Eczema, also known as Dermatitis, is a particularly distressing and uncomfortable but not contagious skin condition.
It causes inflamed, dry, itchy, cracked and flakey skin and can affect either small patches or larger areas of skin anywhere on the body. Most typically, it’s found in the folds of the skin where limbs bend, the creases of the elbows, knees, wrists, ankles, and feet.
It can affect people at any age, although it’s most commonly seen in children during infancy and early childhood years. In most cases, symptoms will decrease and usually disappear by about the age of 12.
Eczema can present in many different forms, often alongside other allergic disorders such as asthma, hay fever, allergic rhinitis and food allergies.
It can be caused by a number of different factors and triggered by diet and certain foods, such as nuts and dairy, or environmental allergens, including smoke, pollen, soaps, chemicals and fragrances, or nickel and rubber.
Symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, include dry, scaly skin, itching, open, crusted, or weeping sores and papules, potentially leading to bacterial and viral skin infections.
Accompanying symptoms include fatigue, stress, irritability and mood swings, depression and anxiety, insomnia, poor concentration and focus, and poor digestive and bowel function, among others.
Depending on the severity of the skin lesions, rather than the progression, eczema is generally differentiated into three stages: acute, subacute, and chronic stage.
- Acute Stage: it’s characterised by different types of primary skin lesions, usually symmetrical – macule, vesicle, pustule and papule – arising simultaneously and in different areas of the body. Itchiness at this stage is usually quite intense and can be easily triggered or worsened by scratching, using soap and hot water, consuming alcohol and spicy food and other irritants.
- Subacute Stage: it usually develops due to delay of treatment or progression of the condition. Skin lesions tend to become milder, with more papules, crust and scales. Itchiness at this stage is still intense, especially at night.
- Chronic Stage: it usually develops either from the acute or subacute stage, due to delay of treatment, mishandling of lesions or the natural progression of the condition. Leaking wounds might appear and skin lesions might become thick and rough. Sudden and intense flare-ups are common at this stage, tend to get worse at night and get triggered by stress, alcohol and consumption of spicy food or other irritants.
Although most people outgrow the condition, others will continue to have it throughout adulthood, with periods of time when their symptoms worsen and reoccur in acute episodes, followed by periods of time when their symptoms will improve or clear up.
Western Medicine view
In the Western medicine view, the definitive cause of eczema and its connection to other health conditions are still largely unknown.
Many health professionals believe that it develops from a combination of genetics, skin sensitivity, immune dysfunction and environmental factors. Some environmental factors, such as irritants and chemicals, allergens, microbes, bacteria, viruses and certain fungi, may also trigger the symptoms of eczema.
Conventional treatment for the condition mainly focuses on symptom management and primarily aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flares. Depending on each patient’s individual case, age, symptoms, and current state of health, a combination of topical and oral medication might be prescribed.
This might include:
- Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments to apply directly on the skin. These are anti-inflammatory medications intended to relieve inflammation and itchiness.
- Other medications, available as injections or tablets, such as corticosteroids, antihistamines and immunosuppressants. These are generally prescribed when topical treatments are not effective, and should only be used for short periods of time and under medical supervision.
- A course of antibiotics. This can be prescribed in the eventuality that a bacterial skin infection develops alongside and as a result of eczema.
Other treatment options that might be suggested include:
- Barrier repair moisturizers, to reduce water loss and repair the skin.
- Phototherapy, or exposure to PUVA or UVB waves, to treat moderate dermatitis and atopic eczema.
- Injected biological drugs, to limit immune system response.
Chinese Medicine view
Chinese Medicine views the skin as a reflection of the whole internal health of the person, hence any skin disorder is seen as an indication and the result of an imbalance within the body.
With eczema, there is no single cause as different types of eczema will likely be caused by different imbalances and affect different organ systems.
According to Chinese Medicine, people with an irritable body constitution that have poor eating habits, and over-consuming spicy, pungent, oily foods, are more likely to weaken their Spleen ZF and Stomach ZF which are thought to be the organ systems primarily impacted in the occurrence of eczema.
The Spleen ZF and Stomach ZF organs govern the digestive system and the conversion of food and drinks into the nutrients that nourish our body. When this fails to happen, an imbalance that Chinese Medicine refers to as Dampness-Heat is likely to arise, accumulating beneath the skin and turning into an itchy rash.
The main aim behind Chinese Medicine treatments for eczema is to clear heat, eliminate dampness, and relieve the itch, while also tonifying the Spleen ZF, increasing blood flow, regulating the immune function and boosting mental health.
As there is no one-size-fits-all approach in Chinese Medicine, treatment is tailored to each patient’s condition, presenting symptoms and diagnosed imbalance.
In eczema, herbal medicine and acupuncture are often prescribed to target the root cause of the imbalance whilst resolving symptoms derived from it. External applications such as ointment or lotions made from Chinese herbs may be recommended to aid the skin condition symptomatically.
There are several things you can start doing right now to support skin health, help relieve symptoms, strengthen immunity, and prevent flares.
- Learn and try to avoid your individual eczema triggers.
- Avoid scratching, rubbing and picking the skin. This not only aggravates eczema but may also lead to open wounds, infections and scars.
- Avoid irritants and use gentle soaps or non-soap cleansers when washing.
- Try to avoid overwashing which will cause irritation and long periods of exposure to the sun.
- Do not wash the skin using hot water. Rather, take lukewarm baths.
- Try not to rub the skin dry after bathing or taking a shower. Instead, gently pat the skin dry with a towel.
- Moisturise the skin frequently throughout the day using natural oils wich you have tested on other parts of your skin for reactions.
- When in a dry and cold environment, try to keep the skin well moisturised to prevent flare-ups of eczema.
- Try to wear cotton and soft fabrics when possible, as they are more comfortable for sensitive skin.
- Try to avoid tight-fitting clothing and rough, scratchy fibres, like wool and linen, that tend to irritate the skin.
- Avoid consuming or try limiting foods that might worsen the skin condition, such as spicy and greasy food, seafood and pungent spices. These might exacerbate skin disorders or slow down wound healing.
- Avoid or try to limit refined sugar and alcohol consumption.
- Eat a whole food diet, and foods high in zinc, vitamins A and E, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
- Stay hydrated with good quality water.
- Try some relaxation techniques. These may help to reduce stress and improve how you react to stressful situations. This is key in treating eczema, as stress contributes to inflammation and can trigger flares.
Rounding out your skincare routine with a whole food diet and exercise, coupled with the appropriate treatment will promote overall wellness, benefiting you, in the long run, in more ways than one.