I knew that the redness in my 4 month old’s elbow creases wasn’t just a heat rash. I knew deep down that it was something more lifechanging than that.
A quick visit to the GP confirmed that it was “just childhood eczema” and I was handed a prescription and sent on my not-so-merry-way. This information wasn’t enough for me and I went digging further, to find out as much as I could about the condition so I could help my son no longer have to deal with it.
I know many others are in a similar situation, feeling like the information shared about eczema could be so much more.
So here’s my A, B, and C’s of Eczema (OK OK, I couldn’t stop at 3 – so it’s the A-G’s of Eczema)
A – Atopic Eczema
Atopic Eczema, also known as ‘atopic dermatitis’ or just plain ”eczema’, is a non-contagious condtion of the skin that results in dry, red and itchy skin.
The skin tends to flare up and settle down and is commonly seen in infants and young children, although for some it continues into adulthood and for a small number of people, begins later in life.
Eczema also can affect sleep and therefore energy and quality of life. This doesn’t only impact the child, but the entire family who also commonly experience sleep interruption too. Fatigue, lack of energy, and stress can be part of this picture too.
B – Basics
Basic fundamentals to our health is our sleep and our stress.
Nearly every eczema sufferer I have worked with acknowledges the role that these two play in their eczema. Not enough sleep and the eczema flares up.
Too much stress and the eczema flares up.
Getting adequate sleep and the management of stress (e.g. reducing worry, not taking on too much, importance of self-care, and strategies to cope when times are stressful) are vital pieces of the puzzle.
Click here to learn some quick and easy ways to manage stress.
C – Creams, creams, creams.
Hands up if you’ve bought more than one cream.
Hands up if you’ve searched on the internet for ‘best cream for eczema’ – or some other variation of the question.
Hands up if you have over a dozen creams in your cupboard.
(Me, Me, Me!)
Hands up if
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Now, creams and moisturisers are a mainstay of eczema management. Moisturising minimises the moisture loss from the skin and maintain an intact skin barrier.
Moisturisers can also help soothe the skin, however since they are often the main recommendation along with a prescription, there is a lot of focus on the perfect moisturiser that will fix it all.
Plus, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for all, either.
I always recommend cross-checking the ingredients on the EWG.org website using the Skin Deep Database to find out if the ingredients in your cream aren’t potentially carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting, skin irritating or a general health risk – and then use it if it is working
But… once you’ve found a moisturiser, move on to spending more time on addressing gut health, nutrition, and the triggers that you can do something about.
D – Diet affects the skin
The link between food and skin is confirmed by the many who find that some simple changes to their diet improves their skin immensely!
Yet, the topic of diet and skin is a controversial one!
Despite the controversy, a group of doctors lead by Guibas published a review in 2013 reporting on the disparity in eczema research published in dermatology compared with immunology (allergy) journals .
He found that there were 10 times the number of research papers on the relationship between eczema and food in the immunology journals than the dermatology journals. Research in immunology journals reported improvement in skin with the removal of certain foods.
Diet affects the skin
While there were appropriate cautions against removing foods without professional advice due to the potential for malnutrition, many research studies support the link between food as a potential trigger for eczema.
‘Food’ triggers include actual whole foods (e.g. dairy, nuts, wheat) as well as naturally occurring food chemicals (e.g. histamines, salicylates, oxalates), food additives (e.g. emulsifiers, preservatives, flavours), and the presence of pesticides and herbicides.
Many find that improving gut health and transitioning to a whole foods diet with minimal or no processed foods, find improvement in their skin and overall health.
E – Environment
Our Environment has a role to play in eczema as well.
Eczema is a condition that has a complex relationship between genetics and environmental factors .
Many find that the weather affects their skin – worse in Summer … or even dry in Winter due to indoor heating.
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Eczema is a condition
that has a
Have you ever noticed that eczema gets worse – or better – when you go away on holidays?
Aside from the typical reduction in stress one might experience on holidays, improvements may be due to environmental factors -e.g. washing detergent used on bedlinen, presence of mould in accommodation (or our own homes), dustmites, fragrances (think reed-diffusers, wall plug ins), and chemicals from off-gassing furniture… just to name a few. These can all add to the ‘toxic load’ on the body, which can often result in a flare up of the skin.
As an overall strategy to address eczema and health longer-term, consider addressing potential environmental triggers within your home to reduce flare ups and the toxic load on the body.
G – Genetics
Genetics Is often blamed for the development of eczema. Yes, researchers have found over 80 genetic variations associated with eczema . But having the genetic variation(s) that predisposes someone to having eczema doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily develop the condition. This has been shown in twin studies, with identical twins (who share the same genes) may have one twin with eczema and the other without . It is clear there are other factors contributing to the development of eczema.
“The prevalence of
eczema has been
increasing too rapidly to
be accounted for by
shifts in genetic
While we cannot change the genes we are born with, we can influence the way that our genes are expressed. This exciting field of science is known as Epigenetics. It means that even if your child has the genes that predispose them to having eczema – and they do have eczema – positive steps can be taken to enhance gene expression and cellular function.
Epigenetics means that our gene expression is influenced by lifestyle, stress, environment and diet/nutrition. These are areas that can be assessed and addressed. Furthermore, these factors, indoor air pollution, antibiotic use and low levels of vitamin D are also associated with eczema .
“The prevalence of eczema has been increasing too rapidly to be accounted for by shifts in genetic variation” , which encourages sufferers of eczema to address areas outside genetic variation.
The danger of not looking past genetics leads to a failure to address the bigger picture, including the known triggers. It does not give parents hope for improvement other than ‘growing out of it’.
G – Gut health
Gut health is impaired in those with eczema. And no…. gut health isn’t just related to ‘gut symptoms– e.g. reflux, constipation, bloating. While impaired gut health may lead to some of these symptoms, it is not always the case.
Our gastrointestinal tract contains many trillions of microorganisms that have a significant role in our immune system. These microorganisms are involved in many different functions in our body and are vital to health.
What’s gut health got to do with eczema? Well, children with eczema have a different gut flora than those without eczema. Improving gut health may improve eczema – it is certainly been our personal experience and those of many others.
Without addressing gut health with a knowledgeable health practitioner experienced in addressing gut health issues, then the management of eczema will likely include the continued search for the optimal symptom management.
PrEbiotics feed specific
beneficial gut bacteria
Probiotics are often the first things that come to mind when talking about gut health. These are live microorganisms that, when taken in adequate doses, induce a specific health benefit.
Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kim chi and sauerkraut also contain bacteria that when eaten, provide additional health benefits. Fermented foods are typically high in histamine, which for some, may flare up eczema.
Consuming prEbiotics are also another way to improve gut health. PrEbiotics are ‘food’ for specific beneficial bacteria in the gut. Colourful vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds feed our beneficial bacteria and improve gut health. PrEbiotic supplements can also be used to target specific bacteria in the gut that are known to be in low concentrations.
Long term restricted/elimination diets starve the beneficial bacteria in the gut and often lead to a worsening of health.
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STOP SCRATCHING THE SURFACE
So these are the A-G’s of eczema. It’s a condition with many complexities and many pieces of the puzzle. Addressing each of these areas is essential to long term improvement in skin.