Updated: Jun 27, 2020
Eczema can be a painful and frustrating situation, in both children and adults. Although more common in kids, we do see it affecting some adults and the distribution of areas on the skin can be quite different between these age groups.
In children, we commonly see eczema on the inner elbows, back of the knees, neck, face, ankles and diaper area. Whereas in adults, we tend to see it more on the face and hands. Why this difference exists, we are not sure. One common finding is that the rash in adults may actually be mis-diagnosed seborrheic dermatitis, which is treated a bit differently but can look a lot like eczema.
60% of those affected develop eczema within the first 2 months of life. 30% develop eczema by age 5 and only 10% between 6-10 years old. It's more rare after 20 years old - but we've seen it. It's slightly more common in males than females.
The topical treatments that are generally prescribed are unfortunately not a solution to the problem. Lotions, ointments, steroid creams, etc. The problem with eczema is not an external problem, but actually and internal problem, which if not addressed properly, may cause additional problems down the road.
The problem with eczema is not an external problem, but actually and internal problem, which if not addressed properly, may cause additional problems down the road.
Eczema, allergies and asthma often affect the same person and when seen together are called "atopy"(1). In Naturopathic understanding and experience, the eczema is usually the first problem to be seen which when treated only topically, doesn't resolve the underlying hyperreactive immune system which worsens over time into the development of severe allergies and even asthma. Our goal is to correct the over-reacting immune system earlier in hopes of preventing the later development of allergies and asthma.
So what causes eczema? There are a few common reasons...
Food intolerances or sensitivities (children and adults) - even in completely breastfed babies! (learn more below)...
Zinc or stomach acid deficiency (more common in adults)
Reduced liver and kidney detoxification.
Identifying and removing the foods that are irritating the system are the #1 thing we've seen improve skin conditions, especially eczema. There are a number of ways to find out which foods are a problem, including an elimination/challenge diet, food sensitivity testing or a food intolerance evaluation - learn more here.
Remember that 70-80% of your immune system is located in the digestive tract. If you're eating something that is irritating the system, the immune system is affected and quickly becomes hyperreactive to other foods as well as the offending foods (which creates food sensitivities and allergies). We often recommend identifying and removing food intolerances to help reduce the irritation to the digestive system and immune system which often helps reduce the severity of sensitivities and allergies.
We've had children come into the office for their first appointment with completely tomato red, irritated and itchy, miserable skin. Within a few weeks of removing the food intolerances, the skin was starting to heal and steroid creams were able to be weaned from use. These are some of the most satisfying cases to treat! When the skin isn't so itchy and irritated, those kiddos usually have a completely different demeanor and are so much happier, as are mom and dad! Normal skin is often the end result within a few weeks to months of initiating treatment.
In infants who are solely breastfed and experiencing eczema, we've seen relief when the mother identifies and removes her own food intolerance or sensitivities from her diet. Remember that breast milk contains immunoglobulins and white blood cells from the mother. If her immune system is hyperreactive and creating inflammation, that seems to pass through the breast milk and into baby's delicate digestive system (2-3)
Remember that breast milk contains immunoglobulins and white blood cells from the mother. If her immune system is hyperreactive and creating inflammation, that seems to pass through the breast milk and into baby's delicate digestive system.
Zinc or stomach acid deficiency:
More often seen in adults, zinc deficiency can create many skin problems, and we've seen both seborrheic dermatitis and eczema develop as a result of this mineral deficiency. Zinc is essential for skin health and deficiency often first shows as dermatitis (skin inflammation) (4-6).
Sometimes supplementing a little zinc picolinate with meals can be enough, but it's important to assess stomach function and acid pH as well because zinc absorption relies on healthy stomach acid pH levels. We've seen acne rosacea, eczema and seborrheic dermatitis be the result of incorrect stomach acid pH, which may be leading to or compounding the zinc deficiency.
A nice way to assess zinc levels is through a hair analysis, which can help us see if zinc deficiency is present.
Reduced liver and kidney detoxification:
The liver, kidneys and the digestive system are our main organs of detoxification. If they become burdened (i.e. from what we're eating and/or what we're exposed to), we then rely more heavily on our secondary organs of detoxification - which are the skin/lymphatics and the lungs (7), (perhaps this is why asthma commonly coincides with eczema? Food for thought...)
Herbal, homeopathic and nutrient support of the normal detoxification organs can be helpful - but only if we remove as much of the toxic burden from the diet and the environme