Monday, August 6, 2012

Infants & Eczema

Eczema is a non-infectious inflammatory skin disorder which is relatively common in Australia, thought to be found in 1 in 3 Australians. It is often diagnosed as dermatitis as the signs and symptoms are thought to be similar. The most common form found is atopic eczema, where the skin becomes red, dry, itchy and scaly and causes much discomfort for the sufferer; it can also present as weeping, although this presents more in sub-acute and chronic cases. Eczema usually begins in childhood, somewhere between 2-6 months, and most children grow out of it by the age of six, thus being quite prolific amongst children, with an estimated 1 in 5 children having atopic eczema by the time they start pre-school.

It's bad enough to suffer from this as an adult, but it can also be quite nasty for an infant, as they have no way of uderstanding the discomfort, or even able to communicate that discomfort - thus putting a lot of stress and anxiety on parents as they struggle to comfort their baby. Infants and toddlers usually show therash on their face, elbows, and knees, but is not necessarily confined to there, depending on the severity. The complication for seriousc ases is that the lesions can become infected.

Eczema is linked with a family history of asthma, hayfever, or eczema, and with reactions to certain foods such as dairy, wheat, citrus, eggs, nuts, and seafoods. However irritants such as chemicals and tobacco-smoke, allergens such as house-dust mites, moulds, pollen, and soaps can also cause flare-ups. Even the weather, or air-conditioning can irritate the skin into developing the eczema rash.

If there is a family history of asthma or eczema, mums-to-be are strongly advised to breast-feed babies exclusively for at least six months, with no additions of formula or cow's-milk. If there is an issue with breast-feeding and formula-feeding is required, there are formulas out there which have been developed specifically for babies with allergies, and will need to be discussed with a paediatrician, maternal/child health nurse, and your pharmacist. Of course, breast-feeding issues are always common, which a qualified lactation consultant or Chinese Medicine practitioner are able to help you with.

Adjusting your diet whilst breast-feeding can also help - anything mum eats, baby eats too! Generally speaking, patients with eczema should avoid sugar, sweets, and any 'fermented' foods (including yeast). Foods should be cooked (not raw), warm, and 'clear'. Lots of fresh green vegetables and soups and broths full of nourishing ingredients. Grains should be avoided, or at least kept to an absolute minimum. Alcohol, coffee and tea are also something that should be avoided. Anticandidal and hypoallergenic diets are beneficial. So for breast-feeding mothers should also look at eating this way, as it is passed on through the breast-milk. The digestive system in infants plays a pivotal role, as children are born with an inherent digestive weakness - hence why breast-milk is so important, as it is the only thing they can digest (it is considered 'warm and clear'). When digestion is weak, it can lead to many types of illnesses. The skin is the outermost layer of the body, but the quality of it shows a Chinese Medicine practitioner what is occurring on the inside.

Chinese herbal medicine has been shown to be quite effective at relieving the symptoms, and there are known medicinals to treat both the weeping "wet" type of eczema, or the dry, scaly form. As with most issues, Chinese Medicine practitioners assess the individual and make a diagnosis according to pattern, so there are no 'one-size-fits-all' treatment. Herbal formulas can be administered to an infant using a small syringe, or if that is difficult, the mother can take the medicine, with its effects being passed on through the breast-milk. There are also probiotic formulas available which aid the digestive tract by rebuilding beneficial gut flora. Dermatology texts also describe poultices, washes, and powders made from certain herbal combinations; these are designed t alleviate the itch and settle the more annoying symptoms at the skin level. When using any skin creams, be very careful as to the ingredients - oil-based products can make the condition worse, as could various chemicals; natural and organic substances are best. Infants' skin is very sensitive, and if you wouldn't put that stuff in your mouth, then chances are you wouldn't rub it onto your baby's skin!

There are also teas which can be made at home that can help with eczema, using ingredients such as Job's Tears (Pearl) barley, corn-silk, azuki beans, mung beans, or dandelion. Choose 2-3 of these ingredients and place in a pot of water and boil for about 10 minutes, then administer (cooled down of course) to the child.

Eczema doesn't have to be something that one has to live with, or suffer from. As mentioned above, in most cases of childhood eczema, it is self-limiting and the child will grow out of it. However there are the cases where it will become chronic. Treating it early, and beginning to make dietary changes to improve the health of the gut will ultimately lead to better results down the track!

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