Natural Remedies for Eczema
Eczema is term for a group of medical conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed or irritated.
The most common type of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema. Atopic refers to a group of diseases with an often inherited tendency to develop other allergic conditions, such as asthma and hay fever.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the prevalence of atopic eczema is increasing and affects 9 to 30% of the U.S. population. It is particularly common in young children and infants. While many infants who develop the condition outgrow it by their second birthday, some people continue to experience symptoms on and off throughout life. With proper treatment, the disease can be controlled in the majority of sufferers.
What Are the Symptoms of Eczema?
No matter which part of the skin is affected, eczema is almost always itchy. Sometimes the itching will start before the rash appears, but when it does the rash most commonly occurs on the face, knees, hands, or feet. It may also affect other areas as well.
Affected areas usually appear very dry, thickened, or scaly. In fair-skinned people, these areas may initially appear reddish and then turn brown. Among darker-skinned people, eczema can affect pigmentation, making the affected area lighter or darker.
In infants, the itchy rash can produce an oozing, crusting condition that occurs mainly on the face and scalp, but patches may appear anywhere.
What Causes Eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it's thought to be linked to an overactive response by the body's immune system to unknown triggers.
In addition, eczema is commonly found in families with a history of other allergies or asthma.
Some people may suffer "flare-ups" of the itchy rash in response to certain substances or conditions. For some, coming into contact with rough or coarse materials may cause the skin to become itchy. For others, feeling too hot or too cold, exposure to certain household products like soap or detergent, or coming into contact with animal dander may cause an outbreak. Upper respiratory infections or colds may also be triggers. Stress may cause the condition to worsen.
Although there is no cure, most people can effectively manage their disease with medical treatment and by avoiding irritants. The condition is not contagious and can't be spread from person to person.
How Is Eczema Diagnosed?
Eczema can be diagnosed by a pediatrician, allergist, immunologist, dermatologist or your primary care provider. Since many people with eczema also suffer from allergies, your doctor may perform allergy tests to determine possible irritants or triggers. Children with eczema are especially likely to be tested for allergies.
What Is the Treatment for Eczema?
The goal of treatment for eczema is to relieve and prevent itching, which can lead to infection. Since the disease makes skin dry and itchy, lotions and creams are recommended to keep the skin moist. These solutions are usually applied when the skin is damp, such as after bathing, to help the skin retain moisture. Cold compresses may also be used to relieve itching.
Natural Remedies for Eczema
Probiotics, or "good" bacteria, are live microbial organisms naturally found in the digestive tract. They are thought to suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, influence immune function, and strengthen the digestive tract's protective barrier.
Studies suggest that babies at high risk for allergic disorders such as eczema have different types and numbers of bacteria in their digestive tracts than other babies, and that probiotic supplements taken by pregnant women and children may reduce the occurrence eczema in children.
A large, long-term study examined whether the use of a probiotic supplement or a placebo could influence the incidence of eczema in infants. Researchers randomized 1223 pregnant women carrying high-risk babies to use a probiotic supplement or a placebo for 2 to 4 weeks before deliver.
Starting from birth, infants received the same probiotics as their mothers had plus galacto-oligosaccharides (called a "prebiotic" because it has been shown to help multiple strains of beneficial bacteria flourish) for 6 months. After 2 years, the probiotics were significantly more effective than placebo at preventing eczema.
In addition to the use of probiotics to prevent eczema, probiotics have also been explored as a treatment for infants and children who already have eczema. Some studies have found that probiotics alleviate symptoms of eczema only in infants and children who are sensitized to food allergens.
Researchers are testing different strains of bacteria to see if one particular strain is more effective for eczema. One of the most commonly used probiotic strains used in eczema studies is Lactobacillus GG. Other strains used include Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-033 PCC, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Bifidobacteria lactis. The prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides has also been used.
Consult a qualified health professional before using probiotics. Children with immune deficiencies should not take probiotics unless under a practitioner's supervision. For more information about probiotics, read Acidophilus and Other Probiotics.
2) Topical Herbal Creams and Gels
Gels and creams made from herbal extracts of chamomile, licorice, and witch hazel have been explored to reduce symptoms of eczema. The following are results of some of the preliminary studies.
- A double-blind study compared a 1% and 2% licorice gel compared to a placebo gel for eczema. After two weeks, both the 1% and 2% licorice gels were more effective than the placebo gel, and the 2% gel was more effective at reducing redness, swelling, and itching than the 1% gel.
- A study compared chamomile cream to 0.5% hydrocortisone cream or placebo. After two weeks, the chamomile cream was more effective than the hydrocortisone cream, but was not significantly more effective than the placebo cream. This study was not double-blind, so it cannot be used as proof that chamomile cream is effective for eczema.
- In a German double-blind study, 72 people with moderately severe eczema used either a placebo cream containing witch hazel extract, 0.5% hydrocortisone cream, or the cream alone for 14 days. The hydrocortisone was more effective than witch hazel. Witch hazel was not significantly more effective than the placebo cream.
Consult a qualified practitioner before using any topical herbal applications. Some herbs, such as chamomile, are known to cause allergic contact dermatitis.
3) Gamma-linolenic Acid
Gamma-linolenic acids (GLA), such as evening primrose oil and borage oil, are a type of essential fatty acid. GLA has been shown to correct deficiencies in skin lipids that can trigger inflammation, which is why it is thought to help with eczema. However, recent, well-designed clinical studies with GLA have generally found that it does not help with eczema.
For example, one double-blind study examined the use of borage oil (500 mg a day) or placebo in 160 adults with moderate eczema. After 24 weeks, the overall effectiveness was not significantly better with borage oil compared with the placebo.