Eczema is an allergic inflammatory skin condition characterized by intense itching with lesions of symmetrical distribution. Rashes may occur on any part of the body, common locations being the front of the elbows or back of the knees, back of the hand, ear, breast and scrotum.
Lesions come in various forms including vesicles, papules, scales, ulcerations and lichenification. They often recur and have a tendency to become chronic.
Eczema usually begins in early childhood and is often associated with asthma and other allergic conditions or a family history. Contributing factors include emotional stress, food allergies, bacterial infections of the skin or changes in temperature and humidity.
How does TCM view eczema?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment of eczema involves a detailed analysis of symptoms to determine an appropriate treatment protocol. Age of onset, family history, type of lesion, location, degree of swelling, severity of pruritus (itching), changes in skin colour or temperature are key symptoms. Imbalances of the organ systems such as disturbances in bowel movements, appetite, sleep, thirst and sweating are also evaluated.
How is eczema diagnosed according to Traditional Chinese Medicine?
The most common patterns of eczema based on a TCM diagnostic model are as follows
1. Damp Heat – Lesions will tend to be on the lower part of the body, ears and groin. Rashes will have well-defined borders with discharge, swelling, crusting. There will be a tendency to sweat with little thirst, possibly dry stools and abdominal pain.
2. Blood Heat with Wind – There will be widespread redness on the upper part of the body with dry scales. Itching will be more intense especially at night which may lead to scratching causing scabs.
3. Fire Toxin – There will be a sudden onset of rashes with rapid progression. Itching will be severe with burning, pain with a tendency to become infected.
4. Spleen Deficiency with Dampness – The onset of lesions will be slow with itchiness, scales and crusts. Internally there will be poor appetite, loose stools, low spirit and fatigue.
5. Blood Deficiency with Dry Wind – This is a chronic condition with lesions of dark pigmentation and thickening of the skin. Itching may result in scratch marks with bloody crusts. This condition will be associated with poor sleep and spirit, body weakness including low backache, fatigue and dizziness.
What TCM treatments are used for eczema?
Herbal remedies, the primary treatment for eczema, will be prescribed according to the individual’s diagnosis using the above differentiation as a basis. These formulas will be taken in the form of a tea with adjustments being made as symptoms change. Externally washes, compresses or ointments may be used, also according to the individual’s diagnosis.
Acupuncture may also be performed using points to clear dampness or heat from the body, strengthen the spleen organ system which will help regulate the digestive system and stools. Points can also be chosen to support the body if there is weakness, aid sleep and calm the mind if itching is severe. Acupuncture treatment is most effective when used in conjunction with herbal therapy.
What are general diet and lifestyle recommendations for eczema?
Recommendations for diet and general care may also be made. It is advisable to avoid scratching and washing with hot soapy water. Certain foods that may aggravate the condition such as spicy, fatty foods, sweets and seafood should be eliminated. Chlorophyll rich foods like seaweed and leafy greens as well as foods rich in beta carotene like carrots, pumpkin and winter squash are good additions to the diet as they help to purify the blood and decrease liver toxicity. Keep in mind it is important to seek a registered practitioner when considering acupuncture or Traditional Chinese medicine to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.