Dr Julie Durnan

Q: Dear Dr. Julie – My 3 year old daughter suffers from eczema on her arms, backs of knees and face. As a baby, she had cradle cap and often had diaper rash. Her skin had always been dry and flaky. My husband also has eczema and it runs in his family. Are there any natural supportive measures we can take to soothe her irritated skin? Sincerely, A Mama Itching for Solutions, Laura

Thank you for this question, Mama Itching for Solutions – I’m so happy you asked. Eczema is one of the most common reasons for a visit to the clinic. And occurs in about 25% of the people in Canada and the US.

Though it tends to resolve in the summer months for some children, exposure to chlorine and chemically based sunscreens can sometimes make eczema skin rashes worse for others.

So what is eczema?

There are a few forms, but the most common form is officially called Atopic Dermatitis.

Atopic Dermatitis (AD) often occurs in infancy. It involves itchy skin that leads a rash. Children with AD often scratch their rashes which can cause the rash to scale, thicken, occasionally bleed, and there is a risk of infection.  AD often occurs in children under age two, often affects their “flexor surfaces” of elbows and knees (front of elbows, back of knees).

Since atopic dermatitis is a genetic disorder, it makes sense that your husband also suffered from eczema. Later on in childhood, some children with AD may also suffer from runny noses, sinus trouble and asthma.

Conventional treatment of AD often involves hydrocortisone cream. While this does reduce the inflammation of the skin, it doesn’t get to the cause or provide a long term solution.

My naturopathic treatment approach to eczema involves three key steps:

1) Heal the gut

2) Anti-inflammatory agents

3) Soothe skin topically

Here are the details:

1)   Heal the gut

What I mean by this is that we need to address any underlying food allergies or intolerances to take the load off the child’s system so it can heal.

It’s important to reduce your child’s intake of any aggravating foods and encourage proper digestion and elimination of toxins. See your naturopathic physician to have your child’s food intolerances diagnosed. There are a few ways to do this – I often recommend a quick in-office blood test to check which are the food culprits that are causing skin flare-ups. In addition to food allergies, it’s important to provide children with a good quality probiotic supplement to ensure optimal digestive capacity. (5 to 40 billion organisms depending on age and weight).

2)   Anti-inflammatory agents

There is good research showing that GLA (gamma linolenic acid) from borage seed and evening primrose oil can reduce inflammation and calm flared skin reactions. Also, omega 3 fish oil is an excellent anti-inflammatory and can work to quickly soothe irritated skin when taken orally. These days fish oil is flavoured and tastes much better than it did in the days of our grandmas. Look for a molecularly distilled, pharmaceutical grade fish oil with a high EPA content to ensure freshness and potency.

3)   Soothe skin topically

This is an especially important step in infantile and childhood eczema. Often their scratching is what causes skin to flare and the skin is then at risk for secondary infections, primarily infections like Staphaloccocus aureus, otherwise known as a Staph infection. It’s important to soothe skin and relieve itching so the skin has a chance at healing and so that skin is not left broken and open, vulnerable to bacterial invaders.  Three herbs that have been well-studied in clinically trials to soothe skin in eczema, especially AD, are Chamomile, Licorice, and St John’s Wort. You can add these herbal liquids to a natural cream base or buy them ready made.

Be patient and have faith

I know eczema can be incredibly frustrating for many parents. We feel awful that our children are itchy and just want to provide them some relief. All of the above recommendations can be extremely helpful and while it may takes a few months to truly see a big shift, you should start to see some improvement within only a few weeks. When implementing these steps, make sure to involve your child in the process. When little ones learn and see for themselves which foods and herbs heal their body, you will be amazed at how quickly they comply and enjoy the process. I have seen these treatments make a different in the health of so many children – and I hope they do for yours too.

If you have a burning health question or would like my opinion on a health topic, please send me an email at info@drjuliedurnan.com or contact me on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DrJulieDurnanND.