Eczema, medically referred to as Atopic Dermatitis, is a chronic, itchy, superficial inflammation of the skin, frequently associated with a personal or family history of allergic disorders such as hay fever or asthma.
Eczema often presents in the first few months of life, with red, weeping, crusted lesions on the face, scalp, diaper area, and extremities. Eczema commonly appears after vaccination or antibiotic use. In older children or adults, it may be more localized and chronic, typically appearing as redness and thickening of the skin in the front of elbow and back of knee, as well as the eyelids, neck, and wrists. The course is variable; flare-ups and aggravations are common during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.
The itching is constant, with subsequent scratching and rubbing leading to an itch-scratch-rash-itch cycle. If the underlying cause is not addressed, the eczema may become generalized and spread over entire limbs, or through the whole body. Secondary bacterial infections and regional lymph node infections are common. Frequent use of prescribed drugs exposes the patient to many topical allergens, leading to contact dermatitis which may aggravate and complicate the eczema. The generally dry skin that is common in eczema patients also complicates the disease progression. Eczema patients are frequently hyper-allergenic, reacting to many environmental irritants, emotional stress, ambient temperature or humidity changes, bacterial skin infections, fragrances, fabric softeners, and wool garments.
Patients with long-standing eczema may develop cataracts while in their 20s or 30s. Cataracts may be a feature of chronic hypersensitivity reactions or may result from extensive systemic and topical corticosteroid use. A coinfection with the Herpes simplex (the cold sore virus) may induce a generalized painful skin eruption and sometimes a severe febrile illness (eczema herpeticum) in eczema patients.
Typical medical treatments are aimed at suppressing the itching and skin thickening symptoms of eczema. These may be temporarily effective, however the eczema and all its symptoms return upon discontinuation of treatment. To effectively treat eczema, Naturopathic Medicine seeks to identify and remedy the underlying cause of the illness.
Effective treatment of eczema requires relief from and prevention of itching while addressing and fixing the underlying problem. The above mentioned over sensitivity of eczema sufferers points to the fact that the immune system of the eczema patient is overreacting. The causes of the immune system’s overreactions should be identified and addressed. Usually they are an overreaction to something being introduced into the body (typically a commonly consumed food), lack of molecules that calm the immune responses down, or a “leaky gut” commonly caused by antibiotics.
The treatment of eczema at the Noumena Naturopathic Clinic focuses on identifying the offending food allergen, and eliminating it from the diet for a short period of time (studies show that 3 very common foods are responsible for 81% of cases of eczema). This gives the immune system a chance to reset, and desensitize from the offending food allergen. While giving the immune system a break, we also work to calm and normalize its reactions.
Immune reactions are a vastly complex web of interactions between hundreds of enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and other crucial molecules. Some molecules increase the immune systems’ responses, while others decrease or calm the immune system down. Every time there is an immune stimulation, the molecules that calm the immune system are used up. Over time, due to chronic over stimulation, the body becomes depleted in these immune balancing molecules. To address the underlying cause of eczema, the immune system must be provided with the molecules that will calm it down and normalize the reactions.
Eczema is also characterized by a variety of physiological and anatomical abnormalities of the skin. The type of abnormality determines the manner in which eczema is manifested in each patient. The major abnormalities are:
- a lowered threshold to itch stimuli
- hypersensitivity to stress molecules (alpha-adrenergic agonists and cholinergic agents)
- dry, thickened skin (hyperkeratotic), which has decreased water-holding capacity
At the Noumena Naturopathic Clinic we can assess which abnormality exists in the skin metabolism, and address it. Commonly, the underlying skin abnormality is a result of a deficiency of certain vitamins, minerals or other nutrients necessary for proper skin metabolism. These are easily corrected by supplementation of the appropriate nutrient for a short period of time, leading to full skin healing and proper metabolism.