They’re red, itchy and sometimes weepy patches of skin. Scratching worsens them, the patches become scaly, thickened and infected. They’re the calling card of eczema.
Although the medical name for eczema, atopic dermatitis, means allergic skin inflammation, researchers have not yet identified the precise role that allergies play in this condition. They do know that eczema seems to occur along with other allergic conditions, such as asthma and hayfever.
Research indicates that three types of allergens may contribute to eczema:
- Food Allergies: It may be best to remove the common foods that cause food allergies, especially milk, eggs and peanuts, for at least 4 days and watch for changes in your skin and overall health. Then reintroduce the foods, one at a time, no sooner than every three days. If a food recreates or worsens your symptoms it is at least partly responsible for your condition.
- Airborne allergens: Whether they’re inhaled or they come in contact with your skin, airborne allergens may be part of an eczema problem. The most common culprit is the common house-dust mite. Others are plant, pollens, animal danders and moulds.
- Microbes: Bacteria and yeast can aggravate skin allergies. Many people with eczema also have more bacteria, such as Staphyloccus aureus on their skin than do people without the condition. People with eczema are also more likely to develop fungal skin infections and allergic reactions to these fungi.
Eczema is generally a dry skin condition so it is necessary to keep the skin moist. Baths hydrate the skin but it is necessary to turn the hot water down as hot water may aggravate itching. Don’t soak too long or bathe too frequently – this will deplete the skin’s natural oils. On the few parts of your body that need soap (most do not), use a mild variety. Finally, after your bath, pat excess water rather than rub dry. Immediately apply plenty of body lotion or cream to hold the moisture. Avoid products with alcohol, synthetic fragrances or lanolin; use products that incorporate skin-soothing herbs.
Prevent further irritation by avoiding rough-textured clothing, wash clothing with mild soaps and rinse them thoroughly. Avoid exposure to chemical irritants and any other agents that may cause skin irritation.
Sunlight often helps to clear up eczema. Be sure to reduce the risk of sunburn by keeping exposure to the sun short and wearing a hypoallergenic sunblock. Go indoors if you start to feel hot and sweaty, which can aggravate itching.
Incorporate into your diet foods rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids. To boost your overall health and the health of your skin eat foods rich in these oils: cold-water fish (mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies), ground flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and dark-green leafy vegetables.
Gut health is key to eczema treatment. Work with a Sheena Hendon Health health consultant for an individual treatment plan
Oats have a soothing and moistening effect on the skin. Boil 2 litres of water, toss in 2 handfuls of oatmeal and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Strain into a bathtub of water or cool the solution and apply to your skin with a clean cloth. Alternatively, put 1-2 handfuls of oatmeal in a sock and drop it in the bath as the hot water is running. The oat bundle can then be used as a sponge on itchy areas. Don’t put whole oats directly into the bath – it will create a huge cleaning problem and isn’t good for the plumbing!