Monthly Newsletter July 2008
Randall Neustaedter OMD
Eczema, like its sister asthma, has become an increasingly common problem of today's children. The obvious cause for the increasing incidence of both these symptom patterns is undoubtedly the increasing number of vaccines today's children receive compared to kids in times past. This is one of the prices we are paying as a society for our efforts to eliminate childhood infectious diseases.
Fortunately, holistic pediatric treatment can address and effectively treat eczema in children. The treatment plan should be holistic and it must treat the problem from the inside, not just topically. Creams and lotions and moisturizers may be useful and soothing, but they will not solve the problem. Steroids applied to the skin will only worsen the problem. Generally, the more that parents have applied hydrocortisone or other topical steroids to a child's skin, the longer it will take for the symptoms to resolve with holistic care.
Like most illnesses there are many degrees of eczema severity. Often the problem begins in infancy with redness and roughness of the baby's cheeks. There may be patches of dry rough skin scattered over the trunk or limbs, and rashes in the flexures of elbows, wrists, or knees. These may be itchy. Babies sometimes rub their faces in the bedding or against their parents' clothing. Older children are often kept awake at night by intense itching. Other children may not have itching at all. As symptoms worsen the skin may become raw with oozing of fluid from the eruptions and bleeding. Sometimes infections in the eruptions complicate the picture as well.
Whatever the severity of the symptoms, the holistic perspective will be the same. Treatment will focus on diet, exposure to potential allergens and irritants, addressing immune system function, constitutional treatment, and medications that relieve symptoms in the short term.
Nutritional factors include maintaining a clean, whole foods diet. Infants under 12 months of age should not eat any grains. Early introduction of grains into a baby's diet has been associated with the development of eczema. Some children will need to avoid other allergenic foods depending on their sensitivities. Testing for food allergies using an IgE skin or blood test and IgG tests for individual foods may be helpful in pinpointing specific foods that aggravate the condition.
Skin irritants should be eliminated, including harsh laundry detergents. Lotions, moisturizers, soaps, and shampoos that contain petrochemicals, parabens, lauryl or laureth sulfates, and other irritating chemicals can aggravate the skin. Usually organic skin products will be well tolerated, but parents may need to try different products to find the one that works best. Washing and bathing can aggravate the dryness and inflammation accompanying eczema. This is because bathing opens the pores and allows water to evaporate from the skin, drying it out. Using an oil based lotion after a bath will prevent this drying effect. Soothing products such as Florasone (Cardiospermum) for rashes/itching and calendula products for raw skin can also be useful.
The most important aspect of eczema treatment is addressing the immune system imbalance that underlies the skin inflammation. This can be accomplished in a number of ways depending on the type of practitioner and the modalities he or she provides. Constitutional treatment with homeopathy and/or Chinese medicine (herbs and acupuncture) is essential to strengthen and balance the body's immune function. A good supplement program is also important. Omega 3 fats in adequate doses are a mainstay. The therapeutic dose of cod liver oil is 1 tsp per 25 lbs body weight or at least 450 mg of DHA in fish oil capsules. Vitamins A and D should be added if children are not taking cod liver oil (10,000 IU of A and 400 IU of D from a fish oil source). Other supplements to support digestive function will fortify the immune system, especially in children with leaky gut and impaired intestinal integrity. Supplements may include digestive enzymes, probiotics, and glutamine to support the intestinal lining. The pediatric formula Grow and Thrive will accomplish this in younger children as well (www.kanherb.com). Investigation of gut function with specific laboratory tests can also provide valuable information (parasites, infections, inflammation, and enzyme adequacy).
Calming inflammation is also an integral part of treatment. This can be accomplished with Chinese herbs (e.g. Fire Fighter pediatric formulation, www.kanherb.com). Other anti-inflammatory treatment may include specific homeopathic medicines (e.g. Mezereum or Graphites). Vitamin C is a useful addition to the supplement program as well. Acupuncture can be very beneficial to calm inflammation using typical points to purge heat (e.g. LI 11, Sp 10).
Parents can expect that symptoms of eczema will gradually improve over a period of several months. Healing the immune system takes time. The more severe a child's symptoms, the longer they have been present, and the more topical steroids or antibiotics used, the longer parents should expect treatment to continue before seeing significant results. Often in babies the symptoms improve dramatically in a short time. Older children may experience some aggravation of symptoms at first, since the body is being encouraged to dispel toxins, and this will often occur through the skin. If vaccines are given during the course of therapy, then parents should expect relapses and much slower progress. Holistic care provides excellent results in eczema, but patience is a key factor.