What is eczema?
The word eczema describes a group of rash-like skin conditions . Atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, is a chronic skin disease that is characterized by dry, itchy skin and rashes on the face, hands, inside the elbows, behind the knees and on the buttocks and feet [1-3]. Symptoms can worsen with scratching, as the skin becomes even more red and sore, and continues to swell and itch. Scratching can also lead to cracking, a clear liquid leaking from the rash, which eventually causes crusting and scaling [1,2].
Atopic dermatitis usually occurs in infants and children, and they either grow out of it as they get older or this condition stays with them for life. Adults can develop it as well, even if they did not experience symptoms during childhood [1-4].
Over 30 million people nationwide suffer from eczema, so it’s much more common than people may realize . Despite the uncomfortable and painful symptoms that come along with it, eczema is actually very manageable. It is not a communicable disease, meaning it’s not contagious and can’t be spread through person-to-person contact!
What causes it?
There are theories regarding the cause of eczema, and research has shown that it might be a combination of genetics as well as certain triggers from the environment, such as stress [1-4]. Food allergies as well as GI overgrowth of Candida albicans seem to play major roles in eczema. Eliminating trigger foods and/or participating in anti-Candida therapy often can significantly improve atopic dermatitis symptoms. In our office, we often do food allergy testing with our clients to find hidden food allergies. If you are interested in having a food allergy test done, submit a request here. Common factors that may lead to flare ups include but are not limited to:
- Household cleansers
- Certain soaps, shampoos, and lotions
- Allergens such as animal dander & saliva and dust
- Certain food allergies
- Profuse sweating
Over recent years, several research studies have shown that eczema, like psoriasis, may actually be an autoimmune disease [5-7]. In other words, the body’s immune system attacks its own cells. With eczema, the target cells are skin cells. This would explain why most people with eczema have sensitivities to common foods (dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, nuts and seeds) that are typically eliminated in treatment for other autoimmune disorders. It would also explain why stress causes eczematic flare-ups, since stress is a trigger for inflammatory episodes in other autoimmune conditions .
Various forms of therapy exist for limiting flare ups and decreasing eczema symptoms including:
- Supplements such as fish oil, licorice root, and St. John’s Wort
- Natural skin creams and ointments that reduce itching, swelling, and decrease allergic reactions
- Corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation in extreme cases
- Antibiotics to treat bacterial infections (we use herbal anti-bacterial agents)
- Natural antihistamines to limit nighttime scratching
- Light therapy
That being said, targeting the underlying cause, rather than just treating symptoms, proves to provide more effective treatment than simply managing eczema with drug therapy. If you or someone you love is struggling with eczema or other unfavorable skin conditions, the nutritionists at Starkel Nutrition can help! Previously seen clients can schedule by clicking here. New clients can submit an appointment request here.
Written by Leila G., student intern
1. Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis. Accessed 2018 June 29. Retrieved from: https://familydoctor.org/condition/eczema-and-atopic-dermatitis/?adfree=true
2. Eczema. Accessed 2018 June 29. Retrieved from: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/
3. Eczema. Accessed 2018 June 29. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/eczema.html#cat_78
4. Atopic Dermatitis. Accessed 2018 June 29. Retrieved from: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/atopic-dermatitis#tab-overview
5. Getting to the Root of Eczema. Accessed 2018 June 29. Retrieved from: https://blog.designsforhealth.com/node/795
6. Altrichter, S. et al. (2008, September). Serum IgE autoantibodies target keratinocytes in patients with atopic dermatitis. J Invest Dermatol., 128(9), 2232-9.
7. Tang, TS. et al. (2012, May). Does “autoreactivity” play a role in atopic dermatitis? J Allergy Clin Immunol., 129(5), 1209-1215.e2.