Eczema is one of the top concerns that brings children into my office. About 20% of
children are given this diagnosis by their medical doctor (and some by Dr. Google:)).
The medical term for eczema is Atopic Dermatitis and it is defined as a chronic
inflammatory skin condition that involves itching, dryness, and potentially white flakes,
scales, and / or redness. It commonly affects specific areas of the body called the ‘flexor
surfaces’, like the cheeks, the inside of the elbow crease, and behind the knees, neck,
and ears. Of course, it can affect other parts of the body as well. Eczema appears from
infancy all the way up to school age, but is most often seen in kids from just after birth to
5 yrs of age. It varies greatly in severity and appearance making it sometimes hard to
Atopic Dermatitis is also part of an ‘allergic triad’ alongside asthma and
hayfever. About 30% of children with eczema develop asthma later in life.
I think of eczema as a vague diagnosis. Unfortunately it doesn’t actually tell us about
the root cause, something I, as a naturopathic doctor, care deeply about. From a
naturopathic standpoint, root causes of eczema include diminished skin integrity, allergy
(food / environmental), a deficiency of omega 3 oils, a disrupted microbiome (balance of
healthy and harmful microbes on and inside the body), genetic predisposition, and
more. A detailed history including information about the family’s medical history, the
pregnancy, delivery, and first 6 months of life are needed to understand the individual
picture, and sometimes lab testing is also indicated.
When it comes to treatment, there are various approaches (and they depend on the
individual). It goes without saying, but I always recommend consulting with a
professional licensed to practice naturopathic medicine instead of treating it yourself.
Firstly, I often recommend liberal use of a topical moisturizer. This is because some
eczema is simply a lack of skin hydration. Studies show that frequent use of creams,
lotions, ointments, and salves of various kinds treat, and prevent mild / moderate
eczema in some kids. I recommend choosing products that are free of harsh chemicals
and fragrances. You get bonus points if they include healing botanical herbs like
calendula, manukah honey, chickweed, slippery elm, red clover as examples. This is a
low invasive, safe option, so a good place to start.
Next I look at the diet (either the mom’s in a breastfed child, or the child’s otherwise).
There are various laundry lists of foods to avoid for eczema sufferers floating around the
internet. I find those often conflict and stress out parents. If I had to start with just one
food that has the most impact for most of my patients, it is the removal of cow’s dairy. If
that doesn’t help, we need to get more specific.
Third, I often recommend oral remedies in many of my eczema cases. Some of the top
ones include omega 3 oils, probiotics, zinc, antimicrobial herbs, and more. Once I have
understood more about that root cause I discussed above, then I know what route to
take. Of course I am always sensitive to the flavour and the form of the remedy as most
kids in my practice don’t do well with pills.
Conventional medicine often uses topical steroids to control eczema symptoms. These
often provide relief of severe symptoms (which is sometimes absolutely needed), and
are not inherently wrong or bad, they just don’t address the root cause. As my mentor used to say, eczema is not a deficiency of steroid cream! This means the eczema might
just continue to flare up again and again, which is not ideal.
So, if your child has a diagnosis of eczema, don’t fret, I h