Eczema – Types, Triggers and Natural Treatments
Eczema is a broad term that is used to describe a general group of symptoms of the skin – dry, itchy, scaly, red and in some sever cases the skin becomes cracked, may weep, bleed and crust over or become infected.
The term dermatitis means ‘inflammation of the skin’ and there are many different types of dermatitis, eczema/atopic dermatitis being one of them. The term eczema and dermatitis are often used interchangeably but ‘dermatitis’ is a broader term that encompasses more than eczema rashes.
10-15 percent of the Australian population are affected by eczema, in fact more than half of all eczema sufferers show signs within the first 12 months of life and although eczema effects all ages, it usually appears in early childhood/infancy and disappears around six years of age. Most children can ‘grow out’ of the condition but a small percentage will experience eczema long into adulthood.
Types of dermatitis
Each dermatitis case is unique with its own triggers, symptoms, and characteristics. Here are some common types of dermatitis:
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) – the most common type of eczema. Common symptoms include dry, itchy, red, and swollen skin. It is often associated with other allergy type symptoms such as hay fever and asthma.
Contact Dermatitis – when the skin comes into contact with an irritant (e.g., chemicals, detergents, acids or solvents) or allergen (e.g., latex, fragrances, cosmetics or plants).
Seborrheic Dermatitis – affects areas of the skin rich in oil glands, most commonly the scalp and chest and causes red dandruff like patches.
Perioral Dermatitis – affects the skin around mouth and nose creases. It can be painful, easily irritated and look like a rash with small red raised bumps. Topical steroid use will often make this worse.
Nummular Dermatitis (Discoid eczema) – will look like round, coin-shaped patches of red, irritated, flaky, sometimes ooze.
Dyshidrotic Dermatitis – affects the feet and hands and causes fluid filled blister that are itchy.
Stasis Dermatitis – affects the lower legs and is associate with circulatory problems that leads to swelling, redness and itching of the skin.
Neurodermatitis – caused by repetitive scratching or rubbing in response to itch and leads to thick leathery patched on the skin.
Common triggers for Eczema
The exact cause of eczema is unknown – it appears to be linked to the following internal and external triggers:
Gut and skin microbial imbalances or gut dysbiosis.
A family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever - if both parents have eczema, there is up to 80 per cent chance that their children may also develop eczema.
Certain foods - Dairy, wheat products, alcohol, gluten, citrus fruits, eggs, nuts, seafood, chemical food additives, preservatives, and colourings.
A stressful or traumatic event or chronic long-term stress can trigger a flare up or may even be the first time you experienced eczema.
History of autoimmune or thyroid conditions.
Irritants: Vape or tobacco smoke, chemicals, weather (hot and humid or cold and dry conditions) and air conditioning or overheating / sweat.
Allergens: house dust mites, mould, grasses, plant pollens, foods, pets and clothing, soaps, shampoos and washing powders.
Managing your eczema requires a holistic approach of dietary, lifestyle and nervous system support. By understanding the root cause and triggers of your eczema, you can manage flare-ups and achieve remission.
Effective and soothing topical preparations
Keep it simple – too many active ingredients, alcohol and chemicals used topically can make eczema worse. Stick to gentle, non-drying cleansers, gentle anti-inflammatory serums or oils and a moisturiser (face and body).
Dead sea salt baths with apple cider vinegar. Add 1 cup of Dead Sea Salt to the bath and 1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar to luke-warm water and sit in for no longer that 20 minutes before bed.
Oat soak bath – oats can help to reduce itch associated with eczema. Add 1-2 cups of organic rolled oats (or you can purchase oat soak Bath preparations) to luke-warm bath water and sit in for 20 minutes.
Keep your body moisturiser and face creams in the fridge, the cooling sensation on the skin can give some relief to hot and itchy skin.
Avoid exfoliating. With eczema the skin barrier is compromised and requires gentle moisturising to protect the barrier from external irritants.
Dietary and lifestyle essentials that nourish skin from within
Consume a diet rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs) – think salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, avocado, chia seeds, olive oil. EFAs are anti-inflammatory and help to support moister content in the skin.
Aim for 25g of fibre daily. Fibre rich wholefoods will support your gut health and support daily bowel motion and remove toxins.
Restore depleted nutrients – an existing skin condition like eczema can mean we lack nutrients essential for skin health such as zinc, vitamin C, Bs, A, D and E. A diet rich in plant-based foods including vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, herbs, nuts and seeds is a good way to replenish these vitamins and minerals.
Increased water loss is associated with skin conditions, especially eczema. Replenish water loss by drinking at least 2.5L of water per day.
Aim to consume 120g of protein per day (around 30g per main meal). Protein provides us with the building blocks for new skin cells.
Daily exercise and regular movement help to improve our lymphatic circulation. Lymphatic circulation is required to help eliminate toxins from the body that may be exacerbating your eczema flare ups.
Meditation (your way) – weather that’s dancing, singing, reading, journaling, yoga or sitting quietly, whatever helps you to de-stress and relax. Aim for at least 10-20 minutes per day.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with eczema is unique and what works for one person may not work for another. Working with your healthcare provider to develop a personalised treatment plan is key in managing any skin condition effectively.
Abby is a degree qualified Naturopath specialising in Skin health, acne, dermatitis and rosacea. She is available for face to face and online consultations here at The Sana Co.