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Coping with irritated skin

Life can be a misery if you have constantly irritated skin, usually known as eczema. It can also be an expensive time when sufferers buy creams, tablets, special clothes and household items to, hopefully, avoid the condition worsening.

The solution does not always come from the external application of creams and lotions, but from what is happening inside the body
- Kathryn Borg

Sufferers can become so desperate that they visit doctors, therapists, Chinese herbalists and anyone, in fact, who promises a solution. Generally, the solution is to look inside oneself. The solution does not always come from the external application of creams and lotions, but from what is happening inside the body.

Today, I want to take a different approach to eczema to offer new ideas and solutions to this irritating condition. The characteristic symptoms of red, dry, scaly skin and intense itching can irritate during the day and night. Some treatments are often worse than the condition and can cause further side effects without really treating the eczema.

However, before looking at some possible solutions, let’s look at the possible causes of eczema. Obviously not everyone’s cause is the same; it will depend on lifestyle, medical history and other issues. The following are the most common factors known to be related to the condition.

• Irritants in the home or at work, such as dust mites, animal hair and some plants. It is estimated that around five per cent of the human population are sensitive to dust mite allergens (Ann. Acad. Med. Stetin., 2006).

• Common allergens in food include eggs, peanuts, milk, fish, soy and wheat. In one landmark study, 63 per cent of children with eczema showed a food hypersensitivity when challenged by these six foods in a double blind, placebo controlled study (Acta. Derm. Venereol. Suppl., 1992).

Following the food example are food additives, including preservatives such as parabens E214-218, sodium benzoate E211 and sorbic acid E200, antioxidants such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) E320 and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) E321, erythrosine E123 and amaranth E127.

• Stress and anxiety are well- known psychological factors in this condition. A Swedish study found that hand eczema was much more common in people who reported high stress levels (Br. Dermatol., 2011), while in a recent survey by researchers in Britain, it was reported by dermatologists that since the recession there was a surge in skin conditions and eczema.

Some of the drug-free alternatives to addressing the condition are:

In trials of sufferers who took omega-3 and omega-6, essential fatty acids (EFAs), there was a significant improvement in the condition compared to a control group (Br. J. Dermatol., 2008). In various other studies, the general results were that although there was no complete cure, a huge difference in the condition was seen and reduced the need to rely on medication.

Taking zinc, an essential mineral, has shown positive results in studies. A lack of this mineral is common among allergy sufferers and could play a role in the development of recurrent and chronic eczema (Br. J. Dermatol., 1984).

Applying topical vitamin B12 directly to the skin has proved to be better than a placebo in reducing the extent and severity of eczema in adults. A further study found it to be successful treatment for children too (Br. J. Dermatol., 2004).

Several reports suggest that hypnosis may be an effective treatment for eczema, especially where conventional treatments have failed. In one trial, 19 out of 20 children saw an immediate improvement, while more than half reported less itching and scratching after 18 months. Hypnosis also appears to work with adults, offering benefits which last up to two years according to one trial (Br. J. Dermatol., 1995).

Studies have shown that taking probiotics can be helpful for eczema. In one review probiotics reduced the severity of the symptoms by roughly half in the 13 high- quality trials being evaluated. There is evidence to suggest that taking probiotics can prevent eczema developing in the first place (Am. J. Clin. Dermatol., 2008).

The ancient Chinese technique of acupuncture could also be beneficial for the condition. A study carried out in Germany found that acupuncture helped prevent and relieve itching when eczema sufferers were exposed to an allergen stimulus, such as house mites or grass pollen (Allergy, 2010).

Japanese researchers found that drinking oolong tea can help relieve symptoms too. This is a partially fermented tea with a milder flavour than black tea. In a study, around 120 sufferers drank three cups of oolong tea each day after meals. After one month, two-thirds had shown an improvement in symptoms and some noted early improvements after just one week. Six months later, over half the sufferers were still showing a good response to the tea ‘treatment’ (Arch. Dermatol., 2001).

In conclusion, the best way to treat the condition is to find out what is causing your eczema in the first place. Where are the triggers in your life which make it worse? Be a detective to track down the cause.

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