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Eczema is a chronic skin disease that affects up to 25 per cent of children and a smaller proportion of adults. The term eczema is broad and describes numerous skin conditions. Most often it is meant to describe what clinicians call atopic dermatitis, which occurs when skin becomes dry, red, itchy, and flaky. Other skin symptoms can occur such as skin swelling, blistering, and bleeding. Usually, eczema occurs on specific areas of the body where flexing takes place.
Like most diseases, the cause of eczema is multifactorial. It can be caused by a genetic predisposition, immune system problems, environmental triggers, or metabolic problems. Stress also tends to aggravate skin conditions. This means that the ideal treatment will address all of these potential causes. If left untreated, eczema may worsen or become infected.
Conventional treatment of eczema typically involves using steroid creams. These creams have numerous problems associated with them. First, they have the potential for a wide range of side effects. The most common side effect is skin thinning. Another downfall of this approach is that it only works short-term. Because it only suppresses the inflammation, the causes of the eczema remain unchanged. This usually means that eczema patients need to undergo several rounds of treatment. Typically, each recurring cycle of eczema is worse than the previous one.
Naturopathic doctors utilize a wide range of therapies that are aimed at targeting the various causes of eczema. They use botanical medicine, nutritional supplementation, lifestyle counselling, traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy. From a botanical perspective, herbs such as Althaea officinalis are used to heal inflamed or irritated skin. The herb Borago officinalis is also utilized for its anti-inflammatory properties, to help promote healing of rashes, and post-steroid treatment.
From a nutritional perspective, naturopathic doctors may supplement with the mineral selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that helps decrease eczema symptoms, including inflammation. It prevents what is called oxidative stress due to its involvement with a specific enzyme in the body. Omega-6 fatty acids are also used because it has been shown that eczema patients may have a defect in their ability to create them. Omega-6 fatty acids seem to be very useful at decreasing itchiness.
Lifestyle counselling is extremely important in the treatment of eczema. Since stress tends to aggravate the skin, emotional support can be very useful. Naturopathic doctors listen to their patients and discuss stressful issues. Naturopathic doctors also promote healthy diet strategies that decrease foods that may be causing eczema.
Traditional Chinese medicine is often used to treat eczema. This therapy usually involves a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Finally, homeopathy is an energetic form of medicine that is poorly understood but appears to be effective in treating eczema, especially in children. It is prescribed based on symptom presentation, meaning that the same prescription is not used for everybody. Naturopathic doctors tailor each treatment plan so that it is appropriate for the patient.
Eczema is a disorder that causes significant discomfort to those affected by it. It has numerous causes and successful long-term treatment will target each of these causes. Naturopathic doctors utilize many therapies that have been shown to help with eczema. Each patient is treated uniquely and in a holistic manner to address the root causes.
Chris is a clinic supervisor at the RSNC. Find out more about Chris at chrishabibnd.com.