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Eczema- An Eastern Medicine Approach

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a debilitating skin condition that affects many people of all ages, but more commonly in infants, with an estimated 20% of children affected under 2 years old (Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergies). While the condition tends to improve over time, it can last for a lifetime for some individuals.

Eczema can present in many different forms and symptoms, such as:

  • Moderate to severe itchy skin

  • Red rash with either dry, patchy, weep, thickened, cracked skin, bleeding and/or scales

  • Papules, vesicles, crusts

  • Commonly found on flexors of knees and arms, and can also occur on the hands, feet, neck and other parts of the body.

Accompanying symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Stress, irritability, moodswings

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Thirst

  • Poor digestive and bowel function

  • Insomnia

  • Poor concentration and focus

What causes eczema?

People with eczema often have an overactive immune system, which leads to an increased inflammatory response, and increased vulnerability to many bacterial, viral and fungal skin infections (NCBI). Accompanying symptoms such as stress and anxiety can trigger the condition.

From the Eastern Medicine perspective, any skin condition is a result of an internal imbalance within the body, causing a disruption of Qi, and preventing it from functioning harmoniously. The pathogenic factors that cause eczema are Wind Heat, Damp Heat, Toxic Heat and/or Blood Deficiency causing Dryness and Wind, and disrupting Qi.

How do we diagnose eczema?

The body, especially the skin, is an amazing diagnostic tool. In Eastern Medicine, there are 4 methods of diagnosis- observing, questioning, listening and palpating. We observe for signs and symptoms of the skin condition, and ask detailed questions about the body’s health. This will give us a good idea of what is causing the imbalance from the detailed information we gather, and allow us to form a holistic diagnosis of the root cause of eczema. We also look at the tongue and perform pulse analysis, to complete our diagnostic picture of the body’s condition.

How do we approach eczema?

In Eastern Medicine, each person has a unique body type, so the treatment involving acupuncture and herbal medicine will be approached differently according to the individual presentation. External application such as ointment or salve made from Chinese herbs may be recommended as well to relieve the skin symptoms.

When will I see some results?

With regular treatments, the skin will see some form of improvements such as reduction in flare ups, itchiness and redness within 3 months. The duration often depends on the severity and chronicity of the eczema. Other accompanying symptoms will greatly improve as well.

What ingredients do you use in herbal medicine?

Herbs such as Cortex Moutan Radix (Danpi), Radix Paeoniae Alba (Bai Shao), Potentilla Chinensis Ser (Weilingcai) and Radix Glycyrrhizae (Gan Cao) are common treatments for people with eczema that is related to allergy (NCBI). Flos Lonicerae (Jingyinhua) and Herba Menthae (Bohe) clear 'damp-heat' from the exterior, Cortex Moutan (Danpi) clears 'heat' from blood while Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cangzhu) and Cortex Phellodendri (Huangbai) clear the 'damp-heat' from the interior. Pharmacological studies show that these herbs have anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and sedative action for itchiness (NCBI).

How does Eastern Medicine help with getting off topical corticosteroids?

We follow a gentle, gradual approach, by first reducing the potency of the corticosteroids, while using Eastern herbal medicine and acupuncture to manage and relieve the symptoms. Overtime, the use of corticosteroids can be reduced and eventually be eliminated, which will be replaced with herbal medicine and acupuncture.

What can you do to help yourself?

Many people who suffer from skin conditions find that avoiding certain types of food and using a natural skin care product can help relieve the severity of the condition.

Foods to consider avoiding are sugar, dairy, alcohol, processed food, deep fried and greasy food. Warming spices such as turmeric, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and cardamon should be minimally used to avoid adding Heat to the body. In Eastern Medicine, redness and inflammation are seen as Heat, Heat can dry out fluids that moisturise the skin, which can cause dry, cracked and itchy skin. Natural skin care are recommended to keep the skin moist.

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