Let me tell you a story about Josh. When he was a kid he suffered from eczema. And, when I say suffered, I mean he really suffered. He had an unbearable urge to scratch nearly every minute of every day of his childhood. In fact, about one in every three children with eczema suffers from moderate to severe eczema.
The medical term for eczema is called atopic dermatitis. It is an irritating skin condition that is thought to affect up to 15% of the entire population. Among children, 20% to 40% will continue to be affected with eczema into adulthood.
For Josh, his eczema disappeared at age eight; however, the excruciating itchiness returned shortly after he graduated from university, and it has become a problem once again.
What Are Eczema Symptoms?
Eczema also runs in Joshâs family. This makes sense, since two-thirds of eczema patients have a family history of the skin condition. So just how bad were Joshâs symptoms? As a child, he had inflamed patches of skin as well as rashes around his face, behind the knees, and inside the elbows.
Eczema on face in adults and adolescence will often develop and reoccur in mostly one or a few spots on the skin, but especially the hands, upper arms, behind the knees, and in front of the elbows. Other eczema symptoms include:
- Very thick, scaly, red, and dry skin.
- Â Skin that oozes, blisters, and crusts over
What Are the Causes of Eczema?
Joshâs itching increases from dry air, emotional stress, exposure to certain allergens, and contact with various irritants, such as perfumes, dyes, soaps, wool, pollutants, metals, plants, topical medications like steroid treatment, and even sunlight. In other words, Josh has to be careful what touches his skin. Other causes of eczema in adults that are thought to trigger the condition include:
- Compromised immune system: A compromised immune system is one of the key causes of eczema. The allergy-related antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) increases in up to 80% of eczema patients from the activation of the white blood cells called type 2 T helper cells. Specialized white blood cells called mast cells are also found to be abnormal on the skin of eczema patients. The mast cells will release higher histamine levels and other allergy compounds when compared with those without eczema. Eczema patient immune systems also have an issue killing bacteria, and they are especially susceptible to severe Staphylococcus aureus infections on the skin.
- Â Food allergies: In a study published in the journal Allergy, researchers suggest there is an association between eczema and common food allergies, such as allergies to eggs, wheat, milk, and soy. Food additives also cause a reaction, especially tartrazine (food dye), sodium benzoate, and sodium glutamate. Further evidence suggests that other common allergy food should be avoided, including peanuts, seeds, nuts, tomatoes, cereals, fish, chocolate, and citrus fruits.
- Â Candida: Candida overgrowth is also considered a factor in eczema. High levels of candida-related antibodies in people with eczema will help indicate an active yeast infection. The journal Allergy found in 1999 that the elimination of candida with various antifungal agents can help improve eczema symptoms.
- Other possible causes of eczema: Factors related to poor digestion are also associated with eczema, including low levels of stomach acid, poor detoxification, and low levels of good intestinal flora. Some people also have deficiencies in important nutrients, such as vitamin A, zinc, and the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. Other eczema triggers include prolonged exposure to water, taking long showers or baths, sweating before becoming chilled, being too cold or too hot, and low humidity during the winter.
Treating Adult Eczema Naturally
Many doctors will often prescribe a combination of medical therapies and self-care techniques. For example, Josh was advised to wear cotton clothing instead of wool. He would also moisturize and take lukewarm baths every day. The doctor also suggested drugs such as steroid ointments and creams to help relieve eczema symptoms (i.e. inflammation and itching). Other drugs used for eczema in adults include antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral drugs, antihistamines, and immunomodulators like topical calcineurin inhibitors.
However, Josh has had limited success with these methods, and the steroid creams would often have adverse side effects, like skin thinning. Luckily, there are many other ways to treat eczema in adults naturally:
1. Deal with the diet
It is very important to deal with possible food triggers, especially food allergies. The first step is to determine what possible food allergies, sensitivities, or additives may be an issue. Food allergies and sensitivity methods include a food elimination diet, bio-meridian testing, bio-analysis with bio-energetic testing, and the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) blood test. A food diary can also help you find out what happens when you eliminate a suspect food.
Overall, the diet should be anti-inflammatory and antifungal. The diet will be void of sugar, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods. It will also not contain potential food allergens, including gluten, wheat, tomatoes, and shellfish. Consider eliminating any other foods that contain yeast, mold, or sugar, including pickled vegetables, peanut butter, ketchup, processed meats, and artificial sweeteners.
2. Supplement with essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids are important for adults with eczema. The anti-inflammatory effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) are thought to improve eczema symptoms. The sources of EPA and DHA include fish oils like cod liver oil, wild salmon, and other cold-water fish.
Good sources of GLA include evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil, and borage oil. In a four-month, double-blind, multicenter study published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 1994, omega-3 fatty acid blood levels were greater in people taking six grams daily of fish oil supplementation. Ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil are also other great food sources of essential fatty acids, especially omega-3.
3. Probiotic supplements
Probiotic therapy is necessary to help maintain a healthy balance of intestinal flora, especially for those with eczema. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology in 2010, researchers discovered that a probiotic mixture could significantly improve eczema symptoms.
At least five billion colony forming units per day are recommended for adults with eczema. Good flora such as Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus are probiotic strains vital for proper immune function, detoxification, and digestion.
4. Take a magnesium bath
People with eczema should avoid hot showers or baths, and opt for lukewarm water to help moisturize the skin. A magnesium bath is a good option for soothing and relaxing the skin. It can help your skin heal by simply adding the following to your bath: one to two cups of Epsom salts or magnesium flakes, a half cup of Himalayan or Celtic sea salt, a half teaspoon of natural vanilla extract, and 10 to 15 drops of essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, or geranium.
Another option is to take a short, lukewarm bath with colloidal oatmeal to help ease the itching associated with eczema. Soak in your oatmeal or magnesium bath for 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Oolong tea
Drinking oolong tea can help calm allergic reactions from eczema flare-ups. In a 2001 study published in the journal Archives of Dermatology, researchers found that drinking oolong tea three times daily improved eczema symptoms in 63% of patients after the first month of treatment. The oolong tea was still effective in 54% of the patients six months later. The anti-allergic polyphenols found in oolong tea are responsible for the protective effect against eczema.
Similar results may also come from consuming five to six cups of green tea per day, or 200 to 300 mg of green tea extract three times daily. Other teas that can help treat eczema include black tea and chamomile tea.
6. Licorice root
Topical or internal use of licorice root is considered effective for treating eczema in adults. However, the glycyrrhetinic acid in licorice root is thought to be responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects. Atopiclair is a hydrophilic cream that contains glycyrrhetic acid. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology suggested that Atopiclair cream safely and effectively treated mild to moderate eczema in adults during a five-day trial.
The study observed 218 patients between the ages of 18 to 84. Another study found that glycyrrhetinic acid improved eczema symptoms in 93% of patients compared with 83% among those using the anti-inflammatory drug cortisone.
7. Homeopathic remedies
A combination of homeopathic remedies can also help treat eczema in adults. Arsenicum album is a good remedy for that chilly person with very dry, swollen, and itchy skin. The eczema will also be worse in the winter, and at night between midnight and 2 a.m. Other effective homeopathic remedies used for eczema include natrum muriaticum, petroleum, sulphur, mezereum, graphites, medorrhinum, psorinum, calcarea carbonica, and rhus toxicodendron.
8. Vitamin D and E combination
Certain anti-inflammatory vitamins can help reduce eczema symptoms, including the combination of vitamin D and vitamin E. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment in 2011, researchers found that the combination of vitamin D and vitamin E reduced eczema symptoms by 64%. Taking vitamin D and vitamin E separately also reduced eczema by 35%.
Using honey on the skin can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Honey has antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties that are effective against eczema. Evidence suggests that a mixture of honey, beeswax, and olive oil is useful in the treatment of eczema.
In a 2005 study published in the journal Archives of Medical Research, researchers found that honey and the honey mixture could also inhibit the growth of Candida albicans and Staphylococcus aureus. Candida and staph infections can deplete the immune system and lead to eczema. Manuka honey in particular is thought to be the strongest honey for eczema in adults.
10. Decrease Stress
Since stress is a strong trigger of eczema in adults, stress relief is a must for treating eczema naturally. There are several alternative relaxation methods that can help, including yoga, deep breathing, meditation, hypnosis, aromatherapy, visualization techniques, listening to music, and acupuncture. Make sure you set aside time each day to unwind and reduce stress.
Other Effective Natural Remedies for Eczema
Other herbal remedies recommended for treating eczema include burdock root, turmeric, neem oil, dandelion root, grape seed extract, pine bark extract, Oregon grape root, herbavate, red clover, and St. Johnâs wort.
Certain herbs can also effectively reduce swelling and itching, such as witch hazel, aloe vera, chickweed, and calendula. In regards to other nutrients, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12, quercetin, and vitamin C with bioflavonoids all have anti-inflammatory effects to treat eczema. Topical oils that can reduce inflammation include coconut oil and sunflower seed oil.
Sources for Todayâs Article:
Murray, M., et al., The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Third Edition (New York: First Atria Paperback, 2012), 582-585.
Van Bever, H.P., et al., âFood and food additives in severe atopic dermatitis,â Allergy, 1989; 44(8): 588-594.
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 229-234.
Javanbakht, M.H., et al., âRandomize controlled trial using vitamins E and D supplementation in atopic dermatitis,â Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 2011; 22(3): 144-150.
Al-Waili, N.S., et al., âMixture of honey, beeswax and olive oil inhibits growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans,â Archives of Medical Research, 2005; 36(1): 10-13.
Rakel, D., et al., Integrative Medicine: Third Edition (Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2012), 636-641.
â7 Natural Remedies for Eczema,â Wellness Mama web site; http://wellnessmama.com/12065/natural-eczema-remedies/, last accessed September 10, 2015.
Uehara, M., et al., âA trial of oolong tea in the management of recalcitrant atopic dermatitis,â Archives of Dermatology, 2001; 137(1): 42-43.
Gerasimov, S.V., et al., âProbiotic supplement reduces atopic dermatitis in preschool children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial,â American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2010; 11(5): 351-361.
Adachi, A., et al., â[Role of Candida allergen in atopic dermatitis and efficacy of oral therapy with various antifungal agents],â Allergy, 1999; 48(7): 719-725.
Abramovits, W., et al., âA multicenter, randomized, vehicle-controlled clinical study to examine the efficacy and safety of MASo63DP (Atopiclair) in the management of mild to moderate atopic dermatitis in adults,â Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2006; 5(3): 236-244.
Van Bever, H.P., et al., âFood and food additives in severe atopic dermatitis,â Allergy, 1989; 44(8): 588-594.
âEczema,â Healthline web site, December 12, 2013; http://www.healthline.com/health/eczema#Overview1.
Soyland, E., et al., âDietary supplementation with very long-chain n-3 fatty acids in patients with atopic dermatitis. A double-blind, multicenter study,â British Journal of Dermatology, 1994; 130(6): 757-764.
âEczema: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments,â Medical News Today web site, July 27, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/14417.php.