Do your kids suffer from red, dry, itchy and scaly skin? If they do, they may have eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. Eczema is essentially a skin condition that causes the skin to become inflamed and irritated. If infected it may become weepy and crusty.
As many as 10-12% of the population suffer from this condition and sadly for our little ones, this occurs predominantly in those under 5 years old. In kids, affected areas tend to be on the face, neck, buttocks, arms and legs.
This extremely uncomfortable condition is telling us that there is an imbalance in the immune system, who’s role it is to protect us from harmful substances. In the case of eczema, the immune system overreacts to substances that should be harmless, causing the body to attack itself.
Individuals with eczema tend to have structural defects in the top layer of the skin causing its function as a barrier to not work so well. This results in increased water loss, hence the dry skin. In addition it makes it easy for allergens and microbes to enter the body and aggravate the immune system.
Eczema can be caused by a number of things such as genetic predisposition, food intolerances and allergies, digestive problems, stress and environmental triggers.
Whilst there is no single definite cause, there are some great natural things to try if your child is affected:
1. Run a diet check and eliminate allergenic foods
Food allergies and intolerances have been shown to be a big cause of eczema. Finding out which foods are the culprit is probably the most important thing you need to do. It is best to work with a natural health practitioner to identify these food triggers.
Common foods found to exacerbate eczema include gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs, fish, nuts and soy as many people are unable to digest the proteins found in these foods properly. Foods containing artificial colours, flavours and preservatives also aggravate eczema. Elimination of the foods your child is allergic or intolerant to will help greatly in treating this condition. Breastfeeding mothers will have to eliminate these from their diet too as they are passed to the baby through the breast milk.
2. Give them probiotics
Probiotics increase good bacteria in the gut. Our digestive systems are home to trillions of microorganisms, known as gut flora – these play a big part in balancing our immune systems as 80% of our immune system resides there! There have been several studies that support the benefit of probiotics in the treatment of eczema, one showing that the use of the lactobacillus rhamnosus strain reduced the incidence of infantile eczema by 39%.
Interestingly, babies born naturally have a more robust immune system compared to C-section babies who have a higher risk of developing allergies. Babies born naturally get their gut flora from the vaginal canal as they are passing through so have a good balance of bacteria giving them a healthy immune system.
Breastfeeding too can help to protect against eczema as breastmilk provides babies with these immune-building good bacteria and makes the immune system less sensitive.
3. Feed them good fats
Not all fats are bad. Essential fatty acids are the good fats that your body needs. They are ‘essential’ because we can’t make them in our body so we have to get them through our diet. They are important for normal skin function and appearance and they are crucial for our immune system. EFAs also reduce inflammation. A deficiency in EFAs has been linked to eczema and a study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the condition was improved by increase in EFAs.
How can we increase these good fats? The following foods are high in EFAs and should be included in your child’s diet: avocado, nuts and seeds, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines, egg yolks, and cold pressed plant based oils such as coconut and flax seed. You do, however, need to be cautious of allergies here.
4. Detox’ their environment
There are many environmental triggers that could be playing a part in irritating your child’s skin. Firstly, there are dust mites. Like it or not, our homes are a paradise for these pests who feast on dead skin, loving our mattresses and carpets for this reason. Dust mites often become airborne as they are light enough to remain in the air so a good air purifier will help to capture them and clear the air in your home.
Secondly there are all the chemical based toiletries and detergents our skins come into contact with everyday. Avoid topical application of moisturizers that contain perfumes, plant extracts and mineral oils as these can irritate your child’s skin. Instead try this herbal cream mixed by your naturopath: Licorice, chamomile and St John’s wort. This combination is soothing, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and promotes wound healing.
Bathe your child with just water, no soap, or give your child an oatmeal bath; the anti-inflammatory properties in oats will help to soothe your baby’s skin.
Thirdly, minimize your child’s exposure to chemicals found in household cleaning agents by opting for more natural, non-toxic cleaning products and laundry detergents.
With regard to clothing it’s worth switching to cotton and avoiding synthetic fibers.
5. Take them sunseeking
Go outside and let your baby get some sun. Some sun exposure can improve eczema. Our body can make its own vitamin D when it is exposed to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light found in sunlight (UVAs and UVBs). Vitamin D is important for the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers have concluded from numerous studies that vitamin D can help to treat eczema.
6. Treat your baby to a massage
Even though they don’t have a massive to do list, little babies can get stressed out too. With this in mind, it’s very much worth giving baby massage a go. A controlled trial showed significant symptom reduction following 4 weeks of 20 minutes a day of parent-administered massage. It’s also a lovely way to bond and enjoy those precious baby days.