The "Other" Way to Treat Childhood Eczema
Both of my children are wildly healthy, happy kids, but they also both had eczema. Eczema in children these days is insanely prevalent. I wish I could tell you exactly why, but I honestly don’t think anyone can. The theory I’ve heard that resonates most with me is that it is likely due to a mixture of the toxins in the environment and what we put into and on our bodies. My family eats an (mostly) organic, whole foods diet, yet still it’s impossible to avoid toxins. They’re in the air and our soil. Almost all food we eat touches plastic at some point, unless you grow your own garden. Even the cleanest of sunscreens comes in a plastic bottle.
Eczema can range from unsightly to unlivable. Some kids just have dry, scaly, light red patches; whereas others can be bright red and itch a lot. Itching for an adult may be annoying, but itching for a child is even worse. They can’t control the scratch (some adults can’t either!) and end us with bloody and oozing spots.
From a Western pediatric perspective, the go-to "solution" for eczema is to prescribe Aquaphor and/or steroid cream to deal with the dermatitis. The focus is solely on the visual ailment (dry, sometimes itchy, or red patches), but doesn't look at, or treat the root cause.
"Treating" topical eczema with Aquaphor or steroid creams is a Band-Aid, not a solution.
“Treating” topical eczema with Aquaphor or steroid creams is a Band-Aid, not a solution.
You'll hear me say this over and over again: Something appearing on the outside of the body is a sign that something is out of balance internally. This is where Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine differs from the Western approach - acupuncture works to treat the root cause of the skin ailment. It offers a safe and effective way to treat eczema, not just cover it up.
Here’s a look at how eczema is viewed and treated with Chinese Medicine:
WHAT CAUSES ECZEMA?
Western medicine often depicts that childhood eczema is genetic, but at 1 year old my son developed mild eczema with no prior family history. In traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are various causes of eczema. Two of the most common are Wind-Heat and Damp - Heat. This terminology may be foreign to you so let me explain...
In Chinese Medicine, terminology is often related to nature and can be caused by external factors (such as heat/humidity/wind, etc), or due to internal imbalances and weaknesses. Heat is probably the easiest to understand. Heat is hot, red and can cause dryness. Heat is the cause of a fever, but we can have internal heat without showing a high temperature. Dampness is like humidity within our bodies. It's thick, sluggish and moist. Wind is probably the hardest to explain. To understand wind, it's best to think of the qualities of wind in nature: It moves around and can appear quickly and disappear quickly. Think about how when a strong wind hits you, it can make you shiver - that shiver can appear internally too.
In TCM, eczema is a sign of Heat in the body and is usually combined with Wind or Dampness. Children in general carry a lot of heat (their body temperatures are higher), which is why eczema is so common in kids. It is also why eczema can be exacerbated by things such as fevers, really hot baths, or the season. "Wind" can be caused by an illness (common cold, flu, etc) and Dampness may be from environmental (humidity) factors, or due to diet.
In eczema caused by Damp-Heat, skin will usually be moist vs. dry and may be oozy. It’s often found in skin folds and the child may also experience diarrhea or loose stools.
In eczema caused by Wind-Heat, skin is usually dry and scaly. It may be itchy and usually appears suddenly and may spread quickly. It may also be accompanied by constipation.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE TREAT ECZEMA?
Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine work to establish and maintain balance of yin-yang and homeostasis of the organ systems in the body.
Just as every child is different, every case is different and the child is treated as a whole. Treatment for eczema will often include a combination of Acupuncture, dietary changes, topical herbal ointments and sometimes herbal medicine.
Acupuncture treatments for babies and children differ slightly from those of adults. Children are full of active energy (aka, qi) that is ready to be redirected into a healthy pattern of movement. Therefore, the treatments require less points and take less time. For infants, needles do not even need to be retained most of the time. For those who are afraid of needles, or don’t respond well to them other techniques are utilized such as a Japanese massage technique called Shoni Shin, the use of acupressure and magnets to redirect energy.
HOW DOES DIET AND THE INTRODUCTION OF HERBS USED TO TREAT ECZEMA?
Dietary changes are also usually necessary and the introduction of herbs may be beneficial. Both of my children have taken herbal tinctures for their eczema and strangely love taking them. They have helped a lot. Dietary changes are very important, but also very hard in toddlers. Try taking pizza Friday away from my 3 year old and we may start World War 3. That being said, there are changes that you can try to incorporate. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach, but do what you can. In eczema that is caused by Damp-Heat, it is important to avoid Dampening foods such as dairy, cold or raw foods, fatty foods, refined grains (white flour) and sugar. For eczema caused by Wind-Heat, it’s important to avoid hot foods such as spicy food, garlic, onion, shellfish to and to much meat. Healthy fats in moderation may be helpful for all types of eczema.
In cases where the eczema is causing the child discomfort or embarrassment, I often recommend Emily’s Skin Soothers. Emily’s Skin Soothers is a line of natural topical ointments meant to reduce inflammation and nourish the skin. As I mentioned, Acupuncture and Chinese medicine work to treat the child vs. the ailment. Eczema can be very complicated and it’s best to consult your local acupuncturist before undergoing treatment. If you have any additional questions, contact me.