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January 2006

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Health and Wellness News

Eczema: Causes & Preventions

by Justin Rassner, Health & Wellness Staff

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a chronic, inflammatory skin disorder. Most often it occurs as blisters that dry become scaly, itchy rashes. When too much moisture is lost from the skin’s upper layer it becomes dry and itchy, leaving skin vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. The disease occurs episodically, ranging from severe flare-ups to remission. Eczema is not contagious, but is a relatively common disorder affecting over 15 million people in the U.S. alone. The rash usually appears because part of the immune system is overly sensitive to irritation.

Symptoms

Symptoms of eczema occur repeatedly. When trying to identify signs of eczema look for:
• Dry, extremely itchy skin
• Blisters with oozing and crusting
• Redness of skin around the blisters
• Raw areas of the skin from scratching which may even lead to bleeding
• Dry, leathery areas with more or less pigment than the normal skin tone
Causes of eczema
The cause of eczema is thought to be a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Exposure to certain irritants and allergens in the environment can worsen symptoms, as can dryness of skin, exposure to water, temperature change and stress.

Preventing eczema conditions

From a naturopathic point of view, it’s about what one doesn’t do as much, or more so, than what is done. It’s important to examine what dietary factors could be contributing to the proliferation of an ailment. What one avoids or includes in the diet can have a direct effect on the extremity of a break out. Potentially provoking (trigger) foods commonly include peanuts, milk, soy, fish and eggs. Foods that are high in saturated fats (like meat and full fat dairy) and trans-fatty acids (such as fried foods and hydrogenated oils) may stimulate inflammation, as might sugar and highly processed foods. Trying to identify and eliminate these trigger foods from one’s diet is a good start to address the situation. There are also foods that when consumed may help reduce inflammation in those without sensitivities to these foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables (preferably organic), whole grains and foods rich in omega-3’s (such as nuts, flax seeds and cold water fish) are some examples of such foods. There are also specific dietary supplements that have helped some in their struggle with eczema. Some of these better-known supplements are:
• Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
• Probiotics
• Sulfur
• Zinc
• Selenium
• Vitamin C
• Rhus toxicodendrum (homeopathicfor contact allergies)
• Urtica urens (homeopathic-for large rashes that itch intensly)

There are also certain herbs that have been used traditionally to alleviate symptoms of eczema.
• Evening Primrose oil (rich source of GLA)
• Lavender (used topically)
• Aloe Vera (topically and orally)
• Burdock root (topically)
• German Chamomile
• Red Clover (topically)
• Goldenrod (topically)
• Stinging nettles
• Calendula (topically)

It might also be necessary to make some lifestyle adjustments. Avoid anything that aggravates the symptoms, such as allergens and irritants to the skin. Common allergens include pollen, dust mites and animal dander. Common irritants include wool, synthetic fibers, soaps and detergents, perfumes, cosmetics, lanolin and chemicals (such as chlorine, solvents, and cigarette smoke) as well as dust and sand. Relaxation techniques (stress reduction), exercise, homeopathy, massage and physical therapy are elements that have been utilized with success by individuals.

Many people notice an increase of eczema during the winter months. This is most likely connected to the lack of humidity in the air. The resulting dry skin often makes conditions worse. Remember to:
• Avoid hot baths or showers; lukewarm water is best.
• Wash or bathe as quickly as possible to lessen water contact
• Use a mild soap, non-soap cleanser, or less soap than usual
• Moisturize. After bathing, it is important to trap the moisture in the skin by applying lubricating cream to the skin while it is damp (within 3 minutes of bathing)
• Don’t forget to hydrate; dry skin is associated with water deficiency.