Complementary Therapies for Eczema

LONDON – These are very popular among patients with atopic eczema. They include aromatherapy, massage, homeopathy, and some herbal remedies, to mention but a few. It is important to remember that although patients do report benefits, a lot of information one reads in books and on the internet is anecdotal. For therapy to be convincing, it should undergo proper clinical tests, usually carried out and compared to a placebo (dummy treatment). Before undergoing any complementary/alternative therapy, check it out carefully.

Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York reported that treatments consisting of Erka Shizheng Herbal Tea, a bath additive, creams and acupuncture, effectively treated patients with persistent atopic eczema. Their findings were presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Another study, carried out by Scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, found that a traditional Chinese herbal concoction, consisting of Flos lonicerae (Japanese honeysuckle), Herba menthae (peppermint), Cortex moutan (root bark of peony tree), Atractylodes Rhizome (underground stem of the atractylodes herb) and Cortex phellodendri (Amur cork-tree bark) may help people with eczema and reduced their needs for medications.

Bleach baths

Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reported that bleach baths offer an effective treatment for kids’ chronic eczema.

Emollients

An emollient is an agent that softens and smoothes the skin – it can be a cream, lotion or ointment. They keep the skin supple and moist. Emollients are an important part of atopic eczema treatment. The skin of people with eczema is usually dry; emollients help keep them moisturized, which helps prevent cracking and irritation.

Finding the right emollient may be a question of trial-and-error at first. The patient may have to try several different ones before hitting on a suitable one. Patients usually end up needing different types of emollients for different parts of their body.

Some emollients are specific for very dry skin, while others are aimed at less dry skin. Ointments are generally prescribed for drier skin, while creams and lotions are usually prescribed for other skin types.

It is not uncommon for patients to find that an emollient is not longer as effective as it used to be. Others may start experiencing skin irritation after long-term use. If either case happens to you or your child, you should see your GP.

    * Applying an emollient – apply smoothly to the skin, following the direction the hair grows. Do not rub it in as this may irritate the skin. Gently dry the skin after washing and apply the emollient as soon as the skin is dry. Emollients must not be shared.

    * Creams and lotions are generally used for red, inflamed areas.

    * Ointments are usually used for dry areas that are not inflamed.

    * Apply often – Frequency is the key for effective emollient use. Do not stop applying it when the skin seems to be clear. Frequent use on known affected areas will significantly reduce the number of flare-ups, as well as their severity. Patient’s whose skin is very dry should have repeat applications every two to three hours. During flare-ups frequency of use is paramount – this is when the skin needs the most moisture. Applications during a flare-up should be both frequent and generous.

      If your child has atopic eczema it is important that you liaise with his/her school. In the UK it is common for a child to have emollient supplies at home and at school.

    * Emollient instead of soap – emollient treatments should be used in place of soap. Soap irritates the skin if you have atopic eczema. In many countries it is possible to purchase emollient bath and shower additives. This measure will make a significant difference in the patient’s frequency and severity of flare-ups.

    * Side effects of emollients – some patients may develop a rash with certain ingredients in a specific emollient. That is why people commonly have to try out different ones when they first start. Some emollients contain paraffin and can be a fire hazard – store them carefully and do not use them near a naked flame. Emollients may make the surface of the bath and the floor of the shower cubicle more slippery.