Learn about eczema and natural treatment options for the condition.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common cause of eczema, which means that the skin irritation is a result of an allergic reaction. There are, however, several other types of eczema, including allergic contact eczema (caused by a foreign substance like poison ivy), contact eczema (skin irritation in one place on the body, due to direct contact with an allergen) and dyshidrotic eczema (affected the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet). Other types of eczema are neurodermatitis (caused by an insect bite or other localized irritation), nummular eczema (characterized by coin-shaped spots), seborrheic eczema (identifiable by the yellowish, oily patches) and stasis dermatitis (caused by a blood flow issue).
Atopic dermatitis usually affects children and is believed to be at least partly hereditary. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of infants have eczema. For many children, eczema clears up by adolescence, but for some it is a lifelong condition.
There are many things you can do to prevent flare ups or ease discomfort during an eczema outbreak. First, protect your skin. Clothes and personal care products like soaps, lotions, shampoos, makeup, shaving creams and perfumes are the two main things that come into contact with your skin. If you can eliminate irritation from those two sources, you’ll be less likely to have eczema recurrences.
When it comes to clothes, you may have to forego your fashion sense to keep your skin healthy. Don’t wear wool or man-made fibers like polyester or nylon. Cotton clothing is best for the skin. Also, avoid tight clothes that could cause chafing. Loose-fitting, non-restrictive clothing will cause less irritation. And remember that whatever you wash your clothes with will also come in contact with your skin. Look for “sensitive” or “free” detergents, or use one specially formulated for babies like Dreft.
You may have to do some research to replace all your personal care products with hypoallergenic, alcohol and fragrance free alternatives. Be sure to carefully read ingredients labels before you buy something.
Avoid overexposure to dry, cold weather by keeping your body well covered and insulated. Frequent application of a hypoallergenic lotion can also ease the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
When you exercise, do your best to keep your body dry. Sweat can be itchy and irritating. Keep a towel nearby to wipe away sweat and try not to overdo your workout, as overheating worsens eczema.
Many people with eczema have allergies to certain foods or to animal dander, pollen or mold that can provoke a flare-up. Try to learn what your triggers are by keeping an allergy log, and then do your best to avoid them.
There are some things you can do to relieve the itchiness associated with eczema. Cold compresses and frequent moisturizing on the affected area can ease discomfort. This is an especially important point for parents of children affected by eczema. Keep your child’s nails short and do what you can to soothe their itchiness. Talk to your doctor about giving your child warm (not hot) oatmeal baths to relieve particularly bad flare-ups.
Some “natural” remedies may be helpful to a degree while others may actually be toxic. The American Academy of Dermatology’s EczemaNet addresses the efficacy of alternative and complementary treatments like behavior modification, probiotics, dietary supplements and Chinese herbal remedies
In a February 2008 report published on PubMed, (the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Library of Medicine’s medical publications Web site), a study of 118 children over a 12-month period found that those treated with conventional medications had similar improvement to those treated with homeopathic medications. Individual treatments were not specified.