Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an inflammation of the skin and occurs in up to 25% of children and some adults. The term eczema is used as a blanket term for numerous skin conditions, but is primarily used to describe dry, itchy, red, flaky skin. The acute form of eczema includes fluid filled blisters that may become scaly, form a crust or can result in thickening of the skin. The chronic form also includes redness, crusting, scaling and a thickening of the skin. The skin can become so dry that it often cracks and bleeds. This is known as the weeping stage of eczema. Individuals affected by eczema will notice that it occurs predominantly in parts of the body where flexing occurs, but it is not limited to these areas and can occur all over the body.
There is no single known cause of eczema and its origin is multifactorial; however, allergens are believed to play a huge role. Individuals who are hypersensitive to allergens and develop other diseases such as asthma, hay fever and pinkeye are more susceptible to developing eczema. There is a genetic component to eczema. Children whose mothers had asthma or eczema during pregnancy are twice as likely to develop eczema in their life. Some other factors that are known to trigger eczema include; stress, pollution, certain foods and chemical sensitivities. Liver toxicity also plays a role in eczema. The liver is the main organ of detoxification, if it is not working well, then the detoxification process is taken over by the skin and lungs. Both of which are not particularly good at detoxing and patients will then present with allergies, asthma and eczema.
The conventional approach to eczema is cortisone cream. It is an extremely potent steroid cream that is applied directly to areas affected by eczema. However, anything applied to the skin eventually finds its way into the bloodstream. The most common side effect is thinning of the skin. Overuse of steroid creams can damage your liver and kidneys. Additionally, cortisone can be damaging to your adrenal glands resulting in hormonal imbalances. The downfall of steroid creams is that it reduces inflammation by masking the symptoms of eczema and does not get to the root of the problem. So as soon as you stop using the cream your eczema will re-appear.
Naturopathic Doctors understand that inflamed skin is just a symptom of a deeper problem; therefore, treatment involves treating the root cause of your problem. To understand this, we must understand that eczema is caused by a hypersensitive immune system. A part of the immune system contains two types of T helper cells (TH); TH1 and TH2. TH1 cells actively kill viruses, bacteria, fungi, tumours and other invasive in organisms in your body. TH2 cells protect the body from allergens, chemicals and other things such as parasites. Those with a dominant TH2 immune response are more likely to develop asthma, hay fever, eczema. All infants are TH2 dominant while in the womb so that the mothers TH1 cells cannot reach the developing fetus. This carries into adolescence, but by adulthood TH1 cells should become dominant. However, this is not always the case and there are many hypotheses why this occurs.
There are many reasons for a hypersensitive TH2 response such as:
- Food intolerances
- Liver toxicity
- Gut dysbiosis
- Antibiotic use
- Environmental toxins
- Vaccinations (stimulate the TH2 response and inhibit TH1)
A child with a hypersensitive TH2 immune system has predictable symptoms that generally develop over time (1).
- In infants atopic eczema and food allergies are seen
- In childhood asthma and hay fever commonly occur
- During the teenage years development of season rhinitis and conjunctivitis occurs
The first step to treating eczema is determining what factors are causing the hypersensitivity reaction. Dr. Mason-Wood may perform various lab exams to find what these are. Tests can include blood, urine, hair, stool and saliva testing, hormone and adrenal testing or various other tests. The most common test that Dr. Mason-Wood recommends for patients with eczema is a Food Intolerance testing. This test checks to see if an individual is intolerant to certain foods. This intolerance is not life threatening, but does cause an immune response which may be a factor in eczema. Once the intolerant foods are discovered, removal from a patient’s diet helps reduce the symptoms of eczema. Further steps include addressing Leaky Gut Syndrome, treating gut dybiosis and then healing the gut with botanicals and supplements. Additionally, removing irritants such as soaps, detergents, scents and creams may be needed, as well as detoxifying toxins in the body. Finally, balancing the body’s TH2 dominance is important and ensures that eczema will not re-occur.
Since the development of eczema is multifactorial removing foods you are intolerant to may not be enough. Other factors may be involved and so other treatments may be necessary. Other common treatments for eczema include botanical medicine, environmental medicine, injection therapies, supplementation, lifestyle counselling, Traditional Chinese Medicine and homeopathy. Once Dr. Mason-Wood has assessed the root cause of your eczema he will work with you to choose the correct treatment plan for you. To rid yourself of eczema book an appointment with Dr. Mason-Wood today by calling 587-521-3595!
1. Douglas JA, O’Hehir RE. Diagnosis, treatment and prevention of allergic disease: the basics
MJA 2006; 185:228-233
2. Adapted from http://www.ccnm.edu/health_concerns_rsnc/eczema