Eczema is an itchy eruption of the skin that is usually more common in children but can appear in adulthood. Eczema symptoms include discoloured patches of skin, itching which may be worse at night and can be quite severe, small, raised bumps that may leak fluid and crust over when scratched, and thickened, cracked, or scaly skin. Patches most often occur on hands, wrists, arms, feet, ankles, face, neck and upper chest, and behind the knees. Eczema typically flares up for a period of time and then subsides, often becoming a chronic condition.
The cause of eczema is unknown, though it is considered an immune system dysfunction that is aggravated by environmental factors and dry, irritated skin. Eczema frequently occurs with allergies and quite often runs in the family. Three out of four children who experience eczema later develop asthma or hay fever.
Eczema can be a very uncomfortable condition to live with and can cause additional problems, such as scarring and skin discolorations and can leave a person more vulnerable to skin and eye infections. Treatment for eczema may include anti-itch creams and medications such as corticosteroids and antihistamines to reduce inflammation, relieve itching, and prevent future flare ups. Light therapy is another option, which involves exposing the skin to controlled amounts of natural sunlight, or to artificial ultraviolet A or B light.
Prevention and lifestyle are a large part of managing eczema and focus on avoiding dry skin and skin irritants such as avoiding long, hot baths or showers, bathing less frequently, using gentle, mild soaps and cleaners, moisturizing skin, using a humidifier, and avoiding clothing that is rough, tight, scratchy, or woolen. It is also helpful to identify and avoid triggers, such as sudden changes in temperature, sweating, dust, sand, or cigarette smoke, or certain cleaning or body products. Stress and other emotional upsets can trigger or worsen eczema, so finding ways to manage stress is also helpful.
Acupuncture can offer another alternative to treating eczema, because of the different approach that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) brings to healing. Chinese medicine views eczema as an expression of a deeper imbalance in the body, and the idea is to correct the internal imbalance so that the condition will resolve. Eczema is most often caused by internal damp heat, however in chronic cases there may also be blood deficiency, which creates an environment of dryness in the body and an inability to nourish the skin. In a damp heat condition, if the heat is more predominant a person may also notice abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea, and dark, scanty urine, whereas if damp is more predominant, the eczema may be more weepy, and accompanied by fatigue, loss of appetite, loose stools and copious, clear urine. If blood deficiency is involved, it tends to be in chronic eczema conditions and may be accompanied by weak limbs, lower back ache, fatigue, dizziness, vertigo, pale, lusterless complexion, and problems sleeping.
Eczema can be difficult to treat but acupuncture can help. Treatment can help to reduce itching and to reduce the severity and length of time of eczema flare ups, and lessen the hot and dry condition of the skin which aggravates eczema. When treating eczema, people usually also find an improvement in the accompanying symptoms such as lower back pain, sleeping problems, and low energy, a sign of the underlying imbalance being corrected. By improving the overall health of the body and dealing with the contributing factors, acupuncture can offer positive results for eczema sufferers.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.