Eczema, or atopic dermatitis (AD), is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterised by itchy patches of red, scaly rash. It is common in infants, children and young adults. AD typically affects the face, scalp, inside of elbows, knees, ankles and hands. It often accompanies other allergic conditions, such as asthma and hay fever. Symptoms can be worsened by temperature changes and dry climates, as well as stress.
In some cases, certain soaps or detergents, metals, dust mites, and animal dander can trigger eczema. Dermatologists usually treat eczema with topical steroids or calcineurin inhibitors, but I believe these agents suppress the problem and may worsen it over time. Side effects are common and the long-term safety of these medications remains in doubt.
My patients find that simple measures can provide relief. Avoid triggers that seem to make your symptoms worse. Bathe or shower as quickly as possible with warm, not hot, water. Use non-perfumed moisturising soap sparingly and apply a hypoallergenic moisturising cream after patting yourself dry – don’t rub skin with the towel. Aloe vera gel, calendula lotion, and topical preparations of chaparral plant may be helpful, as well as topical virgin coconut oil.
Diet can influence inflammation in the body – follow an anti-inflammatory pattern of eating. Try eliminating milk and milk products, which may irritate the immune system. Supplementing the diet with fish oils and vitamin D has been associated with symptom reduction in some AD studies. One small trial found that a topical vitamin B12 cream offered symptomatic relief. Try taking 500mg of blackcurrant or evening primrose oil twice a day – they provide gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an anti-inflammatory fatty acid that is hard to come by in the diet. Six to eight weeks may need to pass for you to notice an improvement.
Stress-management techniques can also be effective for providing relief of AD symptoms, as skin disorders are strongly linked to psychological stress. Explore visualisation, hypnotherapy or regular breath work. Gentle massage therapy has been shown to reduce redness and itching for eczema sufferers. Traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and medicinal herbs, may help to relieve itching and improve sleep.
Lastly, many experts recommend daily mineral soaks for people with eczema.