Eczema, also known as dermatitis, atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis, is common in children and may even appear on the skin of newborns. Many children will outgrow eczema as their body and immune system matures, and is better able to cope with both external and internal exposure to irritants. For other children it will be necessary to identify the specific triggers and monitor their exposure to these and/or address underlying nutrient deficiencies in order to reduce the incidence or severity of eczema.

Eczema often presents as a dry, red and sometimes flaky lesion, commonly appearing on the face (including eyelids), trunk, limbs and/or flexures of the knee and elbow.

Atopic dermatitis is often the type of eczema that occurs in a child with a family history of eczema, asthma and allergic rhinitis (hayfever). This pattern often presents in the individual as childhood eczema which disappears as asthma becomes apparent, which is followed by the development of hayfever as a teen or adult. 

Recent research is suggesting that supplementing with probiotics in the last month of pregnancy can significantly reduce the incidence of atopic allergies such as eczema developing in the new born. Supplementing children with probiotics (especially the L rhamnosus strain) has been shown to improve symptoms of eczema as well as reduce food related allergies. Allergic reactions such as eczema and asthma have been linked to gastrointestinal health and integrity, and it is suggested that an imbalance in gastrointestinal flora may contribute to the development of allergies.

Depending on the severity of the eczema, it can be stressful for both the affected child and parents. For young children the constant itchiness can be very disturbing, as well as contribute to sleep disruption. For parents, seeing their child in pain or disturbed by the itchiness, or covered in unsightly red patches can also be upsetting. It is therefore important to provide symptomatic relief as well as addressing the underlying cause of the condition.

The causes of eczema are varied and may include: exposure to external irritants such as soap, washing powder, synthetic material and chemicals; ingestion of food allergens (may include dairy products, wheat, citrus fruit, peanuts, soy or salicylate containing foods); stress and/or anxiety; nutritional deficiencies such as low zinc and essential fatty acids levels; gastrointestinal dysbiosis (incorrect balance of flora in the bowel).

Eczema may also be a result of an imbalance in the immune system, resulting in overactivity of one part of the immune system (T2 cells). A qualified naturopath can prescribe herbal medicine to support healthy balance of the immune system.

A naturopathic approach to the treatment of childhood eczema includes giving symptomatic relief as well as addressing the underlying cause of the condition. When it is suspected that the incidence of eczema is related to a particular food, treatment includes identifying and eliminating the trigger. A naturopath may recommend supplementing with specific nutrients when the eczema is considered a result of a nutrient deficiency such as an essential fatty acid or zinc deficiency. 

Symptomatic relief may include the prescription of a practitioner only supplied essential fatty acid supplement to help reduce the inflammatory response and reduce the severity of the eczema. The prescription of essential fatty acids may also be part of the treatment when addressing the cause in individuals who are deficient in these nutrients. Topical treatment may also be included to provide symptomatic relief whilst the addressing the underlying cause internally. It is essential to take the specific dosage professionally recommended for the individual to obtain the best results. For some children improvement is noticed within the first week of treatment, whilst for others consistent treatment is required for 6 weeks before improvement is seen.

A qualified and experienced naturopath can recommend an appropriate diet to determine potential food irritants. A well designed elimination diet and challenge program can help determine offending foods as well as providing valuable dietary advice to improve the health and vitality of the child. A family friendly meal plan should be given including samples of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Completing a diet diary with corresponding symptom notes is a very valuable tool in this process.

When it comes to the treatment of allergies or allergy related conditions in children or adults, it is worth considering a more wholistic approach to managing these conditions, rather than taking a pill or applying a cream to simply keep the symptoms at bay. Understanding the reason why the body is reacting is the key to embarking on a comprehensive and individual treatment plan, to address the incidence of allergy and increase individual health and vitality.

For further information or to make an appointment please contact Diana Arundell on 0410 465 900 or visit www.avocanaturopath.com