“Dr. Linda, my child has eczema and he is itching all the time. He can’t sleep and is tired and cranky all the time. What can I do to help him? Can you recommend some holistic treatments?”
In last week’s blog, we talked about eczema and its symptoms. This week we’re going to talk about the holistic treatment of eczema.
The holistic treatment of eczema includes:
- Keeping your baby’s skin well hydrated.
- Avoiding symptom triggers.
- Treating inflammation of the skin.
- Controlling the itching.
Keeping Your Baby’s Skin Well Hydrated:
Keeping your baby’s skin well hydrated is key in the holistic treatment of eczema.
- Giving your baby a lukewarm (not hot) bath/shower every day for 10-15 minutes will help keep his/her skin hydrated and will decrease the itching.
- If you have hard water consider installing a water softener for the house because the Calcium carbonate in hard water may increase eczema symptoms.
- Avoid using soaps and harsh chemicals. Use very small amounts of dye-free fragrance-free soaps or non-soap cleansers like Cetaphil.
- Use mild fragrance-free shampoos designed for babies. Try to avoid getting the suds on your baby’s body.
- Consider adding a small amount of sunflower oil to your baby’s bath water, it’s moisturizing and may have some anti-inflammatory effects on the skin.
Moisturizers are the most important component of the holistic treatment of eczema. Creams and ointments are better than lotions as moisturizers.
Apply moisturizers right after the bath to seal in the moisture. Dab your baby dry, leave his/her skin a little moist and then apply a thick layer of moisturizer.
Reapply the moisturizer once or twice a day.
You have many different options:
- Avoid creams and lotions that contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate because it can weaken the skin barrier.
Avoiding Triggers of Eczema Symptoms:
Eczema symptoms tend to flare up when your baby is exposed to certain triggers. Avoiding these triggers when possible, or managing them in proactive ways, is very important in the successful treatment of eczema. The most common triggers are:
- Heat and sweating. Try to keep your baby as cool as possible when it’s hot by dressing him/her in light clothing, using a fan when needed and avoiding staying outdoors for too long when it’s very hot.
- Rapid changes in temperature may cause flare-ups so be ready to apply moisturizer more frequently!
- Stress and anxiety can cause eczema symptoms to get worse. There are a variety of things you can teach your older child to help him/her manage stress and anxiety. For younger children, and as your older children learn to practice stress management skills. Sipping chamomile tea throughout the day can be quite calming as is sniffing some lavender essential oil. Put a couple of drops on something your child can smell, but please don’t rub it on your baby’s skin because it might irritate it.
- A dry environment. Talk to your doctor about using a humidifier, especially in your baby’s bedroom. Make sure to clean the filter regularly.
- Exposure to certain substances known to cause flare-ups:
- Soaps and detergents with color and fragrance. Use fragrance-free, dye-free products. Do your best to avoid phthalates and parabens.
- Cigarette smoke.
- Wearing wool and synthetic fibers like polyester can cause flare-ups. Dress your baby in cotton clothes when you can.
- Dust and sand.
Preventing and Treating Inflammation of the Skin:
Prevention of inflammation in your baby’s body (and skin) is a key aspect of the prevention and the holistic treatment of eczema.
Using Diet to Prevent/Treat Eczema Symptoms:
If you have a young baby at risk of eczema symptoms, breastfeeding him helps prevent inflammation by encouraging the development of healthy gut flora (the microbiome). A healthy microbiome is tremendously important both to your baby’s overall health and to decrease his eczema symptoms. Make sure you have good sources of probiotics in your diet as you breastfeed. If you don’t consider adding fermented foods to your diet or talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet:
The Mediterranean diet with its variety of vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and fish and healthy fats is much less inflammatory than the Standard American Diet. There is mixed evidence as to whether it prevents or decreases skin inflammation but definite evidence that it is healthier for our bodies than the Standard American Diet so it is definitely something to consider.
If your child is bottle fed or is weaned already, four weeks of supplementation with the probiotics Bifidobacterium bifidus and Lactobacillus salivarius have been shown to significantly decrease eczema symptoms in three studies.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs):
EFAs are important in the prevention and possibly the treatment of eczema. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding make sure you’re getting enough EFAs.If your child is eating solid food make sure you’re offering them good healthy sources of EFAs.
Two small studies have shown that giving babies with mild to moderate eczema 1000 Units of Vitamin D per day improved their eczema symptoms.
If you’re not sure what your baby’s Vitamin D level is talk to your doctor. You may decide to check a blood level or start a daily supplement.
Food Sensitivities and Eczema:
Since a large percentage of babies with eczema have food sensitivities, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor about this. Eliminating foods that your baby may be sensitive to and that may be causing leaky gut is another important part of the holistic treatment of eczema. I’ve had eczema clear up or improve significantly in quite a few children once we removed what they were sensitive to from their diet.
If you think your child may have a food sensitivity ask about doing an elimination diet. Elimination diets give much more accurate results than blood tests or skin prick tests when you’re dealing with eczema. See my blog on gassy babies for more details on the elimination diet.
Treating Existing Skin Inflammation:
Moisturizers are always the basis for treating your baby’s eczema symptoms.
Prescription Creams and Ointments:
When moisturizers aren’t enough there are prescription options available depending on your baby’s age, and the severity of the flare-up.
Immune modulating creams. These are creams that modify the local immune response in the skin and decrease inflammation such as Tacrolimus and Pimecrolimus
Oral medications (except anti-itch meds) are always the last thing to be used in the treatment of eczema.Both classes of oral medications that are used have serious side effects so they are only used in severe cases not responding to any other treatments. The medications include:
- Immune-suppressive (weakening) agents.
I had a young lady about 4 years ago come to my clinic to be cleared for use of an Immune suppressive agent. I convinced the mom to try an elimination diet, add EFAs to her child’s diet and do body wraps. She was very hesitant because nothing had worked in the past and was worried that these interventions wouldn’t work and they would be disappointed again. I convinced her to just try these interventions for 2 weeks.I have to say that even I was amazed at the improvement after two weeks! It was remarkable how the little girl’s body was able to heal itself once we offered it what it needed and took away what was irritating it!
Controlling the Itching:
The itching caused by eczema leads to poor sleep and starts up a vicious cycle of itching and scratching. The more your baby itches, the more inflamed the skin gets and the more your baby needs to itch.Controlling the itching is a very important part of the holistic treatment of eczema.
The best way to decrease itching is to keep your baby’s skin hydrated.
Body wraps are one of the best ways to add moisture to your baby’s skin. They also cool the skin off and increase the penetration of moisturizers and medicated creams into the skin.
How to do a body wrap:
- Sit your baby in a lukewarm tub for 10 minutes. Put wet towels over the dry areas as he soaks ( see image above).
- After 10-15 minutes get him out and pat him dry leaving some moisture on his skin.
- Apply a thick film of moisturizer or medicated cream on the affected areas as recommended by your doctor.
- Wet a snugly fitting long sleeved undershirt and long-sleeved pants in clean warm water and squeeze out the excess wetness.
- Put the moist clothes on your baby.
- Dress your baby in a layer of dry clothing over the wet layer so he doesn’t get cold.
- Leave the moist clothes on overnight (as long as your baby doesn’t get a chill), or apply the wet wraps one to three times a day, depending on how severe the flare up is.
Antihistamines given by mouth can help with the itching. Always consult your doctor before giving your baby any medications.
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) which you can get over the counter, hydroxyzine (Atarax) and cyproheptadine which are prescription medications, are the most effective antihistamines against itching but can make your baby drowsy.
Over the counter antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin) may also help with itching and they do not cause sleepiness in most babies and children.
As always I hope you find this blog helpful. Please share it with anyone who has challenges with eczema.
To your holistic health,
McClafferty, Hilary. Integrative Pediatrics: Art, Science, and Clinical Application (Page 272). CRC Press. Kindle Edition.