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By Rebecca Ong-Sutherland (See bio below)
Eczema affects millions of Americans in varying degrees. From mild unnoticeable cases to uncomfortable and unsightly skin irritations, people have been looking to Western medicine to heal this condition for decades. Countless medications and products have emerged that offer temporary relief, but few provide lasting results. There’s hope in an often overlooked and underutilized resource in skin care – traditional Eastern medicine and acupuncture for eczema relief.
Eczema – The Basics
People with eczema have patches of skin that become inflamed, red and itchy. These patches can appear anywhere on the body and range in severity from mild irritations to skin that can become extremely dry, cracked and painful. The most common type of eczema is Atopic Dermatitis. This type of eczema is a genetic condition that’s triggered by allergens and is often seen in people who also suffer from asthma. The correlation between eczema and allergies is very strong, and children that are born with Atopic Dermatitis are much more likely to develop allergies as they grow.
Other types of eczema
- Contact Dermatitis is a condition where eczema is caused by contact with irritating chemicals or allergens like soaps, cosmetics or poison ivy.
- Dyshidrotic Dermatitis is specific to the hands and feet, and can cause painful blisters.
- Nummular Dermatitis, most common in men over fifty, which arises as coin-shaped red marks that usually show up on the legs, arms, hands and lower back.
- Neurodermatitis is caused by excessive scratching.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis is dandruff.
- Stasis Dermatitis is caused when leg veins don’t properly support circulation.
Most commonly, people treat any eczema with a variety of oral and topical medications. Cortisone steroids are often used to relieve painful symptoms and reduce inflammation, but they do little to heal the skin and virtually nothing to prevent further irritation. Temporary relief from discomfort can be achieved but when medication is stopped, symptoms return or worsen.
What causes this irritating condition?
Eastern medicine’s approach to eczema is based in its understanding that the body is a holistic system. Everything from the conditions in your gut (caused by diet) to the flow of energy (Qi) through the body’s energy channels (the meridian system) affects the health of the skin. For example, the lungs are primarily in charge of the skin’s health. Excess heat and dampness in the lungs are common causes of skin irritations like eczema. When the Qi of the lungs is in harmony they can regulate the amount of heat and dampness that builds up in the skin. Because the lungs’ energy channels lead directly to the skin on the face and chest, they can help to regulate skin eruptions by effectively opening and closing the pores, releasing heat and dampness that causes problems. The spleen and stomach play similar roles in managing levels of heat and dampness on the skin. Also important is the liver as it regulates the detoxification of blood. When blood has high levels of toxins, red itchy patches will become more inflamed. Through acupuncture, the Qi of these organs is gently guided to flow more harmoniously. When they work together, surface skin problems dissolve without medications or negative side effects. In addition to disruptions in Qi and toxin build-up, it’s important to note that an unhealthy or inappropriate diet contributes to skin problems. The health of the gut is very strongly correlated to the skin. One option for eczema sufferers is the Paleo diet, which eliminates the unnatural level of inflammation in the body that can be caused by a typical Western diet. Any kind of processed food and foods containing grains, white potatoes and rice cause an inflammatory response in the body. When these foods are removed from the diet and inflammation is reduced in the gut, the result will be healthier skin. Many people with eczema have reported that certain foods seem to trigger their condition, while others can eat these foods without any obvious negative consequences. But commitment to a healthier diet of whole foods based largely on fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood can make a big improvement in skin and overall health. Learn more about the Paleo diet here.
Can Acupuncture Help Eczema?
Yes, often times acupuncture can help eczema. If you’re having trouble with your skin, the first thing we’d do if we meet or if you meet with another acupuncturist is evaluate the problem and get a clear understanding of how your diet and lifestyle may be impacting your overall health. From there, evaluating which areas of your Qi need strengthening will help in formulating an acupuncture plan that will boost Qi where needed. Sometimes, Chinese herbal medicines can also be incorporated into skin care regimens. Dietary recommendations will be made. A plan for regular acupuncture combined with herbs and dietary changes, if necessary, can provide lasting relief to skin that’s been suffering from eczema.
For skincare featuring Traditional Chinese Medicine, take a look at these natural remedies:
Have you tried acupuncture for eczema? What kind of results did you see?
Bio: Rebecca Ong-Sutherland Lic.Ac., MAOM runs a successful practice in Boston, Boston Alternative Health. Rebecca received her Master’s Degree in Oriental Medicine from the New England School of Acupuncture and is licensed by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. Rebecca studied Chinese and Japanese-style acupuncture as well as Chinese Herbal Medicine, a combination that few practitioners in the country possess. She has many clinical hours of experience treating digestive disorders, pain, injuries, stress-related conditions, allergies and Women’s Health concerns. You can find Boston Alternative Health on Facebook.