Eczema is a condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough. Blisters may sometimes occur. The word “eczema” is also used specifically to talk about atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema. “Atopic” refers to a collection of diseases involving the immune system.
Fast facts on eczema
- Certain foods can trigger symptoms, such as nuts and dairy.
- Symptoms vary according to the age of the person with eczema, but they often include scaly, itchy patches of skin.
- Eczema can also be triggered by environmental factors like smoke and pollen. However, eczema is not a curable condition.
- Treatment focuses on healing damaged skin and alleviating symptoms. There is not yet a full cure for eczema, but symptoms can be managed.
- Eczema is not a contagious condition.
The specific cause of eczema remains unknown, but it is believed to develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Environmental factors are also known to bring out the symptoms of eczema, such as:
- Irritants: These include soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, or vegetables.
- Allergens: Dust mites, pets, pollens, mold, and dandruff can lead to eczema.
- Microbes: These include bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
- Hot and cold temperatures: Very hot or cold weather, high and low humidity, and perspiration from exercise can bring out eczema.
- Foods: Dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat can cause eczema flare-ups.
- Stress: This is not a direct cause of eczema but can make symptoms worse.
- Hormones: Women can experience increased eczema symptoms at times when their hormone levels are changing, for example during pregnancy and at certain points in the menstrual cycle.
Treatment of eczema:
There is no cure for eczema. Treatment for the condition aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flare-ups of symptoms. Doctors will suggest a plan of treatment based on an individual’s age, symptoms, and current state of health.
There are numerous things that people with eczema can do to support skin health and alleviate symptoms, such as:
- taking lukewarm baths
- applying moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to “lock in” moisture
- moisturizing every day
- wearing cotton and soft fabrics, and avoiding rough, scratchy fibers and tight-fitting clothing
- using a mild soap or a non-soap cleanser when washing
- air drying or gently patting skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing the skin dry after bathing
- where possible, avoiding rapid changes of temperature and activities that make you sweat
- learning and avoiding individual eczema triggers
- using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
- keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking the skin
There are several medications that doctors can prescribe to treat the symptoms of eczema, including:
- Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments
- Systemic corticosteroids
- Antiviral and antifungal medications
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors
- Barrier repair moisturizers
Acupuncture for eczema
Acupuncture, as described by its own practitioners, is based on a system of meridians, or paths of energy, which flows throughout the body. When points in this path become blocked or weakened, the body responds by producing symptoms of illness, such as the symptoms of eczema, or the chronic pain of fibromyalgia. In order to restore the flow of energy, acupuncture uses the insertion of fine needles at specific points along the meridians. For skin disorders, acupuncture points are stimulated along the arms, legs and torso. The acupuncturist uses fine high-grade surgical steel needles, which are used only once, to stimulate those acupuncture points. The needles may remain from 10 minutes to one hour, depending on the desired effect. Heat or electricity may also be applied using three fire needles (heated needles) or wired small alligator clips attached to the needles, which passes a very mild electrical charge from a small battery.
“The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for patients with atopic eczema: a systematic review and meta-analysis”:
A total of eight RCTs (with 434 participants) were included. The results of one included RCT showed that acupuncture was better than no treatment at reducing itch intensity measured using a visual analogue scale in patients with AE. The combined results of six RCTs showed that acupuncture was better than conventional medicine at reducing the eczema area and severity index. Acupuncture might be effective at reducing itch intensity and may be more effective than conventional medicine at reducing EASI and improving the global symptoms of AE.
Anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effects might be the reasons behind peripheral antipruritic actions. In an animal study, acupuncture reduced serum IgE levels, as well as mRNA expressions of IL-4, IL-8, and TNF-α pro-inflammatory cytokines. The anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture could also contribute to the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Increase in blood flow to local needle insertion sites, as well as the structures that are related to the area, have been demonstrated in previous studies. These factors could be responsible for healing lesions, as well as normalizing of the thickening of the skin.