Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that affects over 31 million people in the U.S. It causes inflamed skin and rashes, dry, itchy and flaky skin. Eczema also has a range of triggers from environmental and food allergies to stress and poor sleep. Read on to discover everything you need to know about eczema.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition which most commonly appears as an itchy rash or inflamed skin. The three key things to know about eczema are:
- It can develop at any point in life, from childhood to old age;
- Its triggers are irritants, allergens or toxins that flare up your immune system; and
- It is not contageous, so it does not spread through touch or other human contact
Symptoms of Eczema
The main symptoms of eczema are:
- Dry, itchy, or crusty skin
- Redness and sensitivity on the skin
- Scaly or leathery skin
- Swelling or oozing
- Skin discoloration
- Rashes or other skin inflammations
Note: These symptoms are quite similar to psoriasis, which is an autoimmune disease. Get the right diagnosis from your doctor for the right course of treatment.
Factors That Trigger Eczema
The main eczema triggers inlcude:
Soaps, shampoos and detergents, household disinfectants, hand sanitizers, cosmetics, jewelry, certain clothing fabrics or medications.
- Environmental allergies:
Mold, pollen, pets, dust mites and dandruff.
- Temperature changes:
Very high temperatures of over 80F, or very low temperatures of 30F, and even sweat can trigger eczema.
- Mental and emotional stress:
Stress links to lowered immunity, which can increase your sensitivity to the above triggers.
- Certain types of food:
The most common food triggers for eczema are gluten, eggs, nuts, sugar, dairy, corn and soy.
- Hormonal changes:
Some women experience eczema before or during menstruation.
Bacteria like candida, Staph and E. coli, or certain viruses can disrupt your immune system and lead to eczema.
Note: Eczema is not a 24/7 condition. Patients often go through long periods without any symptoms until their immunity gets a trigger.
The Allergy Triangle
If you struggle with eczema, you probably also experience other allergy-related conditions. This is the Allergy Triangle, comprising of eczema, asthma, and allergies.
The link is a 2015 publication in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, which found that 50% of eczema patients developed asthma within the first year of diagnosis.
According to two other 2012 studies, there’s a link between eczema and the compound thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP), which comes out when your skin undergoes damage. TSLP triggers an immune response in the body, travels through the bloodstream, and may lead to an asthma attack once it reaches the lungs.
The first course of treatment is usually to avoid eczema triggers, along with using topical medications to sooth the symptoms. Other drugs include immunity suppressants, biologic drugs, and phototherapy. In addition, some physicians may also recommend natural products, vitamins, and therapy, acupuncture and relaxation techniques to help restore your immunity.
Root Causes of Eczema
A 2011 study showed a link between eczema and the FLG gene which encodes the skin barrier protein, filaggrin. Another 2013 study showed the link between eczema and the SPINK5/LEKT1 gene, which is part of normal skin shedding.
- Leaky gut and gut inflammation:
Gut flora has a huge influence on skin health, such as producing fatty acids and sebum. Inflammation in the gut lining can therefore lead to skin infections. Small intestinal overgrowth (SIBO) can also contribute to skin inflammation.
Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) in particular links to eczema due to high serum levels in the EBV antibodies.
Mold is the top underlying cause of eczema because it lurks undetected in moist areas of the home.
- Food allergies and environmental allergies:
There may be a link between eczema and food allergies due to the Allergy Triangle. Over 80% of eczema patients had a food allergy, and 66% had food sensitivities, according to a 2016 review.
- Chronic stress and poor sleep:
Psychological stress can compromise your immunity and gut health, which contributes to eczema.
Vitamin D lowers the risk of developing eczema. Taking Vitamin D supplements can soothe eczema symptoms as well.
Natural Support Strategies for Eczema
Eczema is manageable through improved diet and lifestyle choices. As you’ll see below, natural eczema management is an elimination process—takes away all potential triggers from your environment to reduce your symptoms. The best evidence-based natural solutions to keep eczema under control are:
- Anti-inflammatory diet:
Fill your menu with fresh greens and vegetables, herbs, spices, grass-fed and free-range protein sources.
- Low histamine diet:
Mast cells, which release histamine, can lead to high inflammation in different body tissues including the skin. A low histamine diet can improve eczema symptoms, especially if they flare up due to seasonal changes.
- Intermittent fasting:
A 2003 case study indicated that short-term fasting may improve eczema symptoms, mainly through slowing down cellular renewal. The easiest fast is overnight: eat nothing after dinner, and have breakfast 12 hours later.
- Omega-3 supplements:
This is especially ideal for children, since omega-3 lowers the risk of eczema, hay fever and allergies in early life.
- Glutathione supplements:
Glutathione is a natural antioxidant produced in the liver to modulate the immune system. You can boost it through supplements and natural dietary sources.
- Zinc and selenium supplements:
Pregnancy and breastfeeding have links to reduced zinc and selenium levels. These mineral supplements can help reduce the risk of inflammatory disorders like eczema.
Both oral and topical probiotics can decrease skin sensitivity and regulate the immune response.
- Anti-inflammatory herbal compounds:
Resveratrol and quercetin are strong anti-inflammatory compounds found in red wine, and the skins of grapes and berries. These may help sooth itching and reduce other eczema symptoms. Curcumin found in turmeric can help with eczema and other skin disorders.
If you struggle with eczema, there are medical, dietary and alternative routes to soothe your symptoms. Eczema is a very common skin condition, and you can manage it if you eliminate the triggers from your surroundings, and boost your immune system from the inside out. For a holistic treatment approach to eczema, contact your nearest Kansas City physician today.