By: Jessica Carfagnini, ND, tbaynaturopathic.ca
Have you ever parented an itchy, unhappy child with an angry red rash? Perhaps your child had the rash with little bumps weeping fluid, or maybe she had the dry rash that cracked when she scratched it? Eczema is an increasingly common health issue among babies and children and can be an endless source of frustration. What is eczema anyway? There are two main types. Contact Dermatitis is an allergic reaction to laundry soap or another irritant in the environment. This type of eczema can be usually be “cured” by removing the irritant. The other type of eczema, atopic dermatitis, is an itchy red rash that may be inherited from one or both parents. Allergies and asthma are linked to eczema so you may see any of these conditions occurring in members of the same family. Eczema, asthma and allergies are genetically linked and are all the result of a malfunctioning immune system. For this reason, they are sometimes considered autoimmune conditions.
Eczema is often treated with topical corticosteroids, which are usually quite effective in the short-term at suppressing the red itchy rash. Unfortunately it thins the skin when used repeatedly. The rash usually returns, and in some cases the rash may go away with asthma appearing in its place. Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes a strong connection between the skin and the lungs, and Western Medicine is now starting to understand this connection via the immune system. Any type of steroid medication suppresses the immune system, and these medications have been a lifesaver for many people with autoimmune conditions. However, there are other options to balance and optimize the immune system and quell the fire of eczema.
To address your child’s eczema, first explore the role of food sensitivities. Conventional cow dairy products in a baby’s diet or in the diet of the breastfeeding mother are one of the biggest triggers for eczema. Casein, a milk protein is often the molecule that the immune system reacts too, so lactose free milk won’t work! This is usually not an issue of lactose intolerance. Casein can travel through mom’s digestive system and into the breast milk, triggering baby’s inflammatory immune response…itchy red skin. Baby may also experience gas, bloating, irritability and sleep disturbance, which are common food sensitivity reactions in all ages. If complete elimination of dairy does not help, explore gluten, egg or soy sensitivity. Your Naturopath can help you navigate this process skillfully and reduce frustration investigating the role of food sensitivities.
Probiotics are now getting a lot more attention as research reveals their important role in balancing our immune systems. Humans evolved in symbiosis with all kinds of bacteria and micro-organisms and in modern North American Society we have simply become too “clean”. (Research the “Hygiene Hypothesis” for more info on this). When antibiotics first started being used in the 1940s they were considered miracle drugs, and they have saved millions of lives over the past few decades. Now we understand that antibiotics have unfortunately been overused and misused which brings a host of new health crises with it.
Every time you take antibiotics for an infection, it kills all of your bacteria, not just the bacteria responsible for your infection, but also the “good” bacteria that naturally lives in your digestive system. Without this balance of good bacteria to keep our immune systems happy and healthy, we develop a susceptibility to future infections and sometimes autoimmune conditions like eczema. Bottom line – look into some dairy free-, soy-free probiotics for baby and for the breastfeeding mom, and avoid anti-bacterial hand sanitizers and sprays. Also, you may want to consider letting your child play outside in the dirt more and reduce the frequency of baths. Most kids will feel pretty happy about this!
There are Chinese herbal remedies that are safe and very effective for clearing up eczema in children and babies who have starting eating food. Also, homeopathy is an amazing tool when it comes to treating almost any health issue in a baby or child. When it comes to herbs and homeopathy, your best bet is to talk to a Naturopathic Doctor who has some experience in treating children with eczema. They will be happy to help you out and can offer some reassurance as you take on the challenge of eliminating eczema in your little one.
Photo: Baby Liam, who has great, soft skin because mom and dad work hard to limit contact with harsh chemicals and instead focus on natural products such as Natural Baby Care Ointment by Sacred Lotus.