Keeping Eczema in Check

Allergies are at the root of this itchy skin condition.

Image Licensed by Ingram Publishing

Image Licensed by Ingram Publishing

 

Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a skin condition that can affect anyone at any age, but often develops in early childhood. Even infants can suffer from eczema. It is characterized by the eruption of an itchy red rash that becomes chronic. Due to the intense itching and scratching associated with eczema, the affected skin can become thickened with visible deep lines in it.

In infants, this rash can erupt anywhere – hands, face, and skin folds – and can even be mistaken for diaper rash. As children get older, it’s more often found on the front of elbows, the backs of knees, and around the eyes. In severe cases, eczema can extend down arms and legs and around the mouth.

Considered to be an allergic reaction, eczema is often associated with the development of asthma. These types of allergies can be triggered by a number of things. Food allergy is often the primary cause. The most common foods associated with eczema and asthma are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, citrus and chocolate. If one of these is a trigger for your child’s eczema, try eliminating any or all for a two-week period. You should see some improvement. If your baby is getting only breast milk and still has problems with eczema, he may be reacting to foods that you are eating.

Children with eczema may also be allergic to laundry and hand soaps, lotions, and creams – especially ones that are scented or perfumed – and certain types of scratchy materials, such as wool. Generally speaking, eczema tends to be worse in winter when the air is dryer both inside and outside. Often eczema will clear up during the summer months, suggesting that a judicious amount of sunshine and moist air helps.
Improving skin health

Make sure your child gets plenty of foods that are rich in beta carotene, such as green leafy vegetables, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and squash. Beta carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A as needed. Both beta carotene and vitamin A are beneficial to the health of the skin.

Two other nutrients that are good for the skin are vitamin E and zinc. A diet rich in whole grains, such as oatmeal, and raw seeds, such as sunflower, hemp, and pumpkin, will provide your child with adequate amounts of these very healthy nutrients.
Vitamin D also helps heal most skin ailments. In this part of the world, it’s hard to get enough Vitamin D from sun exposure for most of the year, so a supplement is needed from September to May.

Infants and children should be getting 400 IUs of Vitamin D during the winter.

If your child is a picky eater, a good children’s multivitamin is in order. A multivitamin will contain the vitamins above as well as vitamin B complex and some vitamin C. Doses will vary according to the age of your child so be sure to get one recommended for his age group.

Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the most important supplements to take for relief of eczema. These can be found in flax or hemp seed oil. If your child’s eczema does not respond to the addition of these oils, you should try a fish oil supplement which can be more therapeutic. If you are breastfeeding a child with eczema, add these supplements to your own diet.

Recent studies have also supported the use of probiotics such as acidophilus and bifido bacteria in the treatment of children with eczema. In fact, such probiotics have been found to reduce allergic reactions in general. They are safe enough to be given to infants (in proper doses) and children alike.

For information on dosages for child and baby supplements and vitamins, ask your natural health care provider or check with your local health food store.

Reducing inflammation

During the winter months, make sure you have a working humidifier on the furnace as dry air is frequently a source of irritation to the skin. You can add some baking soda or oatmeal to the bathwater to soften it and reduce the redness associated with eczema. Have your child wash with gentle glycerine or olive oil soaps that are unscented.

Avoid using perfumed lotions and creams. Mild lotions that contain calendula, neem, or glycerrhyza (licorice root) can be used to soothe eczema. If your child’s skin is very dry, add a few drops of olive oil, calendula oil, or rosehip oil to a plain lotion to soften skin and reduce redness and irritation.

As well as making your child very uncomfortable, the constant itching and scratching of eczema can lead to bacterial and fungal infections in the skin. If your child’s eczema doesn’t respond to these suggestions or if the rash weeps fluid and begins to spread rapidly, take him to see your health care provider.

Author: Dr. Mary Welch

Dr. Mary Welch is a naturopath and chirporactor at Circle of Life Wellness Centre in Peterborough.

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