I once heard a doctor refer to eczema as “the itch that rashes.”
Eczema – the name given to a handful of dermatological medical conditions that affects far more infants and children than it does adults. The condition is fairly easy to identify. Generally appearing on the hands, feet, face, legs, or the inner creases of knees and elbows, symptoms typically include extremely dry or thickened skin, redness, swelling, and almost always an extremely unbearable itching, which, if scratched, causes the rash to appear.
The rash consists of oozing blisters which burst at the slightest disturbance, take around a week to heal, then turn back into a bigger patch of red, itchy, leathery skin. Eczema is often a chronic condition and hereditary, though for many it disappears before adulthood. Those who have had any form of eczema know that finding relief from its symptoms is paramount when they crop up.
While no one is quite certain of what causes this disorder, it is thought to be an overactive immune response to irritants coming into contact with the skin. Soaps, detergents, certain types of fabric, animal dander, excessive exposure to hot or cold, and other allergens may cause a flare-up. Stress can also be a contributing factor.
Treatments for eczema generally include steroid creams or orally administered steroids, antihistamines, UV light therapy, drugs that affect the immune system, and antibiotics if open blisters become infected. If all else fails, doctors may prescribe one of two topical creams – pimecrolimus (immunodepressant) or tacrolimus (immunosuppressant) – with a long list of possible side-effects. Some of which are pretty frightening, not only do they include things like nausea, fever, warts, hives and nose bleeds, but difficult breathing, swelling of the face, lymphoma, and even cancer.
Sounds like fun, right?
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom as there are plenty of natural alternatives to combat eczema, including these.
1. First Treat the Root Cause
The majority of eczema cases can be traced to the digestive tract of which there are two main culprits.
Some food allergies can develop over time, so even if you don’t believe that you are or if you had not previously been allergic to certain foods, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have an allergy. Try cutting out soy, dairy, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, and eggs, as well as any artificial food colorings or additives (MSG is a big one) from your diet. You can eliminate them one at a time to see which one is causing the irritation. Take notes on how you feel after meals during this process. It should be fairly obvious if you are allergic to one or more of these foods.
If you’ve recently taken antibiotics, had food poisoning, or if you have chronic digestive problems (characterized by irregular stool, frequent gassiness, and/or stomach aches); it’s more than likely that your intestinal microflora has been compromised. There are literally hundreds of species of bacteria living inside your gastrointestinal tract. When they become unbalanced, harmful bacteria may colonize in their place, impairing your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. What many people don’t realize is that this imbalance of microflora, called dysbiosis can also lead to skin problems such as eczema. Add more probiotic foods to your diet or start taking fermented cod liver oil on a daily schedule. Both are highly effective for reversing this common internal cause of eczema.
Of course, these treatments won’t heal your damaged skin overnight. While you wait for the internal solution to take effect, you will definitely want to turn your focus to the external symptoms of eczema. Soothing the dry, itchy, and painful rashes can be tricky. Apply the wrong thing, such as hot water, soaps, lotions with fragrance, etc., and you’ll only make it worse.
2. Dry It Up With Salt
While this advice may seem counterintuitive, treating the oozing blisters with sea salt spray may help to ease the terrible itching. Simply add a teaspoon of sea salt to a cup of warm water and stir to dissolve the salt. Add to a spray bottle and spray on affected skin. Or, if you’re within range of a beach, try taking a dip in the ocean. Many eczema sufferers have reported that being immersed in the surf gave them temporary relief from their symptoms.
3. Soak in a Salt/Essential Oil Bath
Assuming that you can physically tolerate being submerged in water during a flare-up, there are a couple of herbs and minerals that you can add to your bath to help clear up and reduce the irritation of eczema rashes. Try a salt bath to relax and soak up some minerals. Add Epsom salts to your water to give your skin a boost of magnesium. Himalayan salt mixed into warm bath water offers a powerful mix of trace elements that will absorb through and improve the health of your skin.