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Eczema: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Eczema is a broad term for inflammatory skin issues that cause itchy, dry patches on the skin that are irritating and can be painful. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema and affects people of all ages. It is often recurring and if you rub or scratch your skin where it is, it may develop into a larger rash.

On light skin tones, the area of skin affected may look red. For people with darker skin tones, the areas may look more purple, gray, brown or ashen. Both skin tones will have an inflamed appearance.(12) Sometimes eczema will ooze clear fluid and other times it is more scaly and rough.

Our skin is our largest organ and is a protective barrier between us and the outside world. Through our skin we interact with the world through the sense of touch, but our skin is also exposed to what we encounter in our environment. 

That outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis, completely replaces itself about every month.(1) The epidermis has cells that are antigen presenting cells that play an important role in immune function.(2) The other two layers of our skin are the dermis and the hypodermis (subscutis) which is the deepest layer. Fascia is below the hypodermis and is a system of tissue that surrounds muscles and organs throughout the body.

On the skin's surface is a community of bacteria,fungi and viruses making up the skin’s microbiome. Some parts of our skin are more moist than other areas, think feet and armpits, some parts are more dry like our hands and other areas more oily like our face or torso. Different microbes live on different parts of the skin. Different skin conditions tend to happen on particular areas of our skin. Keeping the good bacteria thriving can help protect undesirable pathogens and strains from taking over and penetrating into the deeper layer of skin leading to issues like eczema.(3)

Our skin is a window into what is going on with the rest of the body. There is a connection between our skin and gut health. Babies inherit their gut health from their parent’s. The mothers flora is passed to her baby in utero, during birth, with skin-to-skin contact and during breastfeeding. Compromised gut health of the mother, birth interventions, mom's diet and feeding practices all impact the baby’s immune system and susceptibility to conditions like eczema. 

Your baby’s skin microbiome is also affected by their environment and anything put on their skin. The white coating of vernix on your baby’s skin after birth offers a layer of protection as they adjust to the outside world. Leave their vernix on the skin rather than wash it away. As it absorbs into your baby’s skin, it keeps their skin hydrated and soft.

Symptoms of eczema

  • Rashes and redness or brown, gray or purple skin discoloration
  • Skin looks inflamed
  • Small raised bumps on the skin
  • Itching 
  • Blistered looking skin

What triggers eczema?

  • Food sensitivities
  • Low humidity during colder weather
  • Sweating 
  • Perfumes
  • Detergents
  • Stress 

Where does eczema appear?

  • Inside the elbows
  • Behind the knees
  • Tops of the feet or hands
  • On the neck or torso
  • Cheeks, forehead and chin

What increases the risk of having eczema?

  • Family history of asthma
  • Family history of seasonal allergies
  • Born by cesarean section
  • Antibiotic use
  • Compromised gut health of the mother
  • Vaccine sensitivity
  • Formula use(10)

Finding relief for eczema

  • Heal the gut - improving gut health of the mother is critical in resolving the root cause of eczema. When the mother’s gut health improves, her baby’s gut health recovers.(13) Remove all food sensitivities both mom and baby have and add in foods and herbs to help heal the gut.
  • Low histamine diet - when someone has eczema, their body may be reacting to everything, not just true sensitivities. Histamine is released by our immune system when you are exposed to allergens.(4) The body sees the food or trigger as an invader and is released to help fight the invader. When our system is out of balance, it may overreact, seeing everything as a threat.
  • Vitamin D - Many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. There is some evidence that shows people who have eczema have lower levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important to the function of the epidermal barrier of our skin as well as our immune system and immune responses. Supplementing with Vitamin D may help reduce the risk and severity of eczema.(8) 
  • Zinc - deficiency in zinc is associated with skin issues including eczema. 
  • Probiotics - Feeding the gut with strains of good bacteria help restore gut health and balance in the body. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus paracasei are two strains of probiotics that may reduce the severity and occurrence of eczema.(5) It has been shown that when mom takes a probiotic with Lactobacillus rhamnosus during pregnancy and lactation, it can reduce the risk of their baby having eczema.(11)
  • Homeopathic remedies - based on the premise of like-cures-like, the right homeopathic remedy for one person may be different from another. To find the remedy that is the best match, look to the symptoms. Common remedies include Sulphur, Graphities, calcarea carbonica, and Hepar sulph.(6)
  • Coconut oil - With its anti-inflammatory properties, coconut oil can help soothe skin and may help reduce the severity of eczema while you address the underlying cause.(7)

Standard eczema treatment

Steroid creams are often prescribed for eczema flare ups. If the prescribed mild steroid doesn’t help, a stronger one will be prescribed. Steroids can deplete vitamins and minerals including calcium, chromium, potassium and Vitamin B6.(9) They may seem to initially reduce the appearance of eczema, but unless the root cause is addressed symptoms return and sometimes become worse. Steroids are addictive and can be hard to wean off even when used topically. Long-time use of steroids can make your skin thinner and reduce the ability of the skin to repair itself. 



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