By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
If you suffer from eczema, you probably know how uncomfortable and inconvenient the condition is.
Eczema is a common skin condition characterized by itchy, dry, and irritated skin. It typically starts during infancy or childhood but can persist into adulthood and it affects people of all ethnicities and ages. Complications of eczema may include:
- Sleep troubles. Persistently itchy skin can cause difficulty getting a good night’s rest.
- Skin infections. Frequent scratching of affected areas can leave the skin open to bacteria.
- Thick scaly skin. Scratching causes skin to harden and thicken.
- Asthma and hay fever. Eczema often leads to these upper respiratory conditions, especially in children younger than 12.
Eczema can appear anywhere but is normally seen on the arms, inner elbows, cheeks, and scalp.
Thankfully, the symptoms of eczema can be managed through simple home remedies and lifestyle changes.
What Causes Eczema?
The precise cause of eczema isn’t entirely known, however, research shows a few potential causes such as an overactive immune system, the inability to produce enough of a protein called filaggrin, which helps keep the skin moisturized and healthy, as well as poor gut health.
The gut-skin axis
When there is an imbalance in the gut or skin microbiome, it is known as dysbiosis. This can happen if there are too many bad species of bacteria in the gut, not enough good species or not enough diversity of species of bacteria in the system. In people with atopic dermatitis, which is a type of eczema, dysbiosis may play a role in the development of the disease.
Scientists believe that dysbiosis in the gut and on the skin may cause this. It may be that the immune system is detecting harmful levels of these bad microbes on the skin and so reacts to them. This may be why dysbiosis and eczema then create a cycle of inflammation that perpetuates symptoms.
Those who suffer with intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, may also experience eczema since they lack the beneficial species of bacteria that produce byproducts that help the intestinal barrier work more effectively.
When the skin is exposed to an external or internal irritant, the immune system overreacts. These common eczema triggers include:
- Chemicals or preservatives found in soaps or detergents
- Scented products
- Cigarette smoke
- Allergies to pollen, dust, mold or mites
- Rough and scratchy material such as wool
- Synthetic fabrics
- Temperature changes
- Food allergies
Natural Treatments for Eczema
During an eczema flare up, there are numerous natural remedies that can provide relief. Here are a few we recommend:
Coconut oil contains fatty acids that help add moisture to the skin. It also is known to protect the skin by combating inflammation and strengthening the skin barrier. Studies have found the use of coconut oil for eight weeks improves eczema symptoms.
Using coconut oil is simple. Just apply -pressed or virgin coconut oil to the skin after bathing, once or twice a day.
Aloe Vera is another topical treatment that can be beneficial for soothing eczema symptoms. Studies have found it to be antibacterial, antimicrobial, immune-boosting, and wound-healing. These properties will help promote healing on eczema skin.
You should aim to find an aloe vera product with few ingredients — avoid preservatives, alcohol, fragrance and dyes which may further irritate the skin.
Also known as avena sativa, it is made from oats that have been ground and boiled and is commonly used to treat irritated skin. Studies have found colloidal oatmeal to be highly efficacious at healing and soothing skin dryness, scaling, and itching.
Dietary changes and gut health assessment
Certain foods can cause inflammation in the body, which may in turn trigger an eczema flare-up. Making a few dietary changes can help prevent the occurrence of these flares.
Add anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, such as: fish, leafy greens, colorful fruits, turmeric and cinnamon.
Avoid inflammatory foods like dairy, eggs, soy, and wheat can be common triggers for eczema prone skin.
It is also highly recommended to get a thorough gut health assessment from a qualified practitioner – as mentioned earlier poor gut health is likely to be a trigger for eczema.
Vitamins and supplements
These can be useful for lowering inflammation and boosting the immune system. Common vitamins and supplements to manage eczema include:
- Vitamin D, an immune strengthening vitamin.
- Fish oil
- Prebiotics and probiotics
- Melatonin to ensure good sleep
- Primrose oil
Stress is another well-known trigger for eczema symptoms to flare up. Stress produces inflammation in the body, and inflammation underlies the condition. Try reducing stress through one or more of:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Listen to relaxing music
- Ensure you get a good night’s sleep
Use gentle soaps and detergents
Laundry detergents, body washes, and soaps often contain harsh detergents and lathering agents that can dry out the skin of people with eczema among other harmful, hormone disrupting ingredients.
Be sure to use natural, gentle, no-lather cleansers that have no fragrance. Many people who suffer from eczema find that this helps their symptoms.
Eczema is a common skin condition that can vary in severity. While there is not currently a cure, you can treat and prevent eczema flares using natural home remedies and simple lifestyle changes. Avoiding irritants, minimizing stress and addressing the root cause of your symptoms will help keep your eczema at bay and allow you to live comfortably in your own skin.
For more information on dealing with eczema the natural way, don’t hesitate to reach out!
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