Childhood Eczema: An Environmental Scan
Table of Contents
3.2.7 Alternative Therapies
A plethora of natural and herbal or alternative therapies in print and electronic information pertaining to eczema is available. There exist large discrepancies in both the academic and gray literature surrounding the effectiveness of alternatives therapies such as homeopathic treatments. Although much work remains in scientifically examining the effectiveness of alternative therapies, a study published in 2008 which was a comparator investigation of the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment versus conventional approaches demonstrated that both treatment approaches were effective in improving the symptoms of eczema and the quality of life as reported by the patients and/or parents in the study (52). Particular herbs, teas and food supplements state claims of relieving eczema symptoms even curing the condition all together. It is beyond the scope of this report to either back any claims of such alternative items or refute the possible role they may play in managing and treating eczema. However, the following discussion will outline the more common or popular natural/herbal approaches in eczema care along with highlighting certain other alternative therapies such as Chinese medicine.
For sufferers of eczema and their caregivers, one of the most important points to consider is that any product that is labeled ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ may cause serious side effects if taken even when the product relieves eczema symptoms. Such effects can include liver toxicity and kidney damage. Furthermore, reactions are not isolated to items that are ingested, topic applications; especially those that contain corticosteroids have long term adverse effects. The use of chamomile tea remains poorly understood and has shown severe allergic reactions in some individuals. Many people prefer chamomile tea to oolong, green or black tea as they contain caffeine, which can intensify feelings of sleeplessness and anxiety that may already be heightened among eczema sufferers. Conversely, the benefits of oolong tea had been reported in Japan without implications to date and improvements in eczema of those who participated were seen as early as 2 weeks. Overall, there is sparse research in this area.
Much discourse in the area of cleansing the body through diet surrounds the treatment of eczema. Depending on the age of the person with eczema cleansing diets such as eating only fruit for a period of time is recommended to ‘cleanse’ the body of toxins and restore homeostasis. Furthermore, the use of enemas for the same purpose is thought to cleanse the bowels of any matter which may produce a toxic effect leading to an eczema break-out. Similarly, taking wheatgrass juice clears the blood of particular toxins and improves the alkalinity of the blood. The opposing condition, acidity in the body is not only thought to predispose the body to certain eczema symptoms but is associated with a host of poor health outcomes. Finally, wheatgrass is also known to contain vital enzymes that assist in optimal functioning of the immune system. It is quite feasible that as more and more research focuses on diet and food allergies, the connection between what we ingest and skin disorders will become evident and many people have already found success in adhering to cleansing regimes and identifying foods that both hinder and assist in managing their eczema.
Other natural topical approaches include: hydrotherapy; hot mud, chickweed and sand baths; calendula, wild pansy, jewelweed and witch hazel applications; benzion, geranium and hyssop oils and Dead Sea bathing salts. Particularly interesting is the long-term decline in sensitivity some people experience with the use of the Dead Sea salt bathing. The DMZ Clinic at the Dead Sea provided climatotherapy and of the patient population at the clinic, approximately 21% have eczema. Encouragingly, a recent study done at the clinic showed that 95% of both adults and children who attended the clinic for climatotherapy for a minimum of 4 weeks had dramatic improvements. Additionally, since there are no medications thus no side-effects along with a successful treatment outcome, Dead Sea climatotherapy is deemed a highly effective treatment (53)
Chinese medicine has shown very promising in treating eczema and often in very stubborn and difficult cases to treat using conventional approaches. Commonly, a tea is prepared for the patient and tailored specifically to meet their needs. Usually this would contain approximately 10 different Chinese herbs. All the elements used are listed in the Chinese pharmacopoeia and considered within the accepted practice of Chinese medicine. The elements work by affecting the immune response, providing anti-inflammatory properties along with a sedative effect. Of the studies completed that examined the benefits of Chinese medicine, many have shown a decrease in eczema symptoms and flare-ups. Treatments were found to be temporary lasting on average for 12 months and patients also often relapsed after discontinuing the approach. Importantly, the issues of toxicity, such as liver and kidney problems were identified. Recommendations out of the UK suggest that the use of Chinese medicine may have a place, especially among cases of severe eczema where all other forms of treatment are unsuccessful but in all cases, anyone undergoing Chinese medical treatment should seek medical supervision from both a trained Chinese medicine doctor in conjunction with their primary care provider.
The amount of information can prove overwhelming in this area. Understandably the longer an individual has suffered with eczema or a parent has endured their child’s suffering, the more appealing alternative methods may become. And, it is possible that some element of natural and herbal remedies will work, likely as part of a holistic treatment plan. However, it is imperative that the use of such therapies be in consultation with a health care provider and under the supervision of a trained caregiver as serious even life-threatening side effects can and do happen. Moreover, the added emotional and financial stress of constantly searching for a cure, often without positive outcomes may be further detrimental rather than providing beneficial outcome for managing and treating eczema.