If you were to ask a doctor this: what causes childhood eczema? Many of them would point to genetics, and tell you that there is no cure for eczema. Once you have it, it sticks around for the rest of your life, you can only try to manage it. I get a feeling they’re not very sure of eczema themselves.
But we do know the triggers, the causes for eczema flares are many. If we can address these and keep the triggers at bay, we can live practically eczema-free lives. The problem comes in when more than one cause or trigger is affecting the eczema warrior, then things get more complicated, as it is difficult to pin-point what exactly is creating the problem.
For us, we have learnt through many mistakes, many trials and errors. We have tried to address practically all the possible causes, and allergy tests have definitely helped us along the way, to eliminate food and environmental triggers. We have also learnt to open our eyes wide, attune ourselves to the eczema warriors’ reactions, so as to make sense of any causal effects and nip the problem in the bud.
It is in your genes
This is the first thing that doctors would always point to. It is true for our family. My two eczema warriors, son J and daughter M, had eczema since young. In fact, M started scratching her legs on the very day that she arrived in this world. That is how ingrained it is.
I had childhood asthma, which I grew out of. It is believed that eczema, allergies and asthma are all related. My husband has isolated spots of eczema on his legs, and sometimes on his hands. So it does seem that there is a link to genetics in the cases of J and M.
Having said that, there’s not a lot we can do about our genes. So we will just accept what life has thrown to us, and move on to other factors that we can have better control of.
This is something I personally believe in, that vaccines can trigger eczema flares. Because I saw it with my own eyes in my daughter M. Two days after her one-year old vaccination, she broke out in full body rashes and itch. It was such a drastic dip in her skin condition that I made a note in my diary. This helped us to make the link one year later, as it never occurred to us before, that vaccines could turn her immune system upside down.
Her full body rashes and itch never calmed back down, and became the new norm for the poor girl for one whole year while we scrambled to make things more comfortable for her and to find the cause but kept barking up the wrong tree.
This is such a controversial and highly debated issue, I will dedicate another article to discuss vaccines and eczema.
I also saw how homeopathy helped her to rid her body of whatever ill effects of the vaccines, and brought her healing to a whole new level.
Food allergies are definitely a trigger for eczema flares. So it is important to get tested, either through blood tests, or skin prick tests, or patch tests. We discovered M’s allergy to eggs and peanuts through a skin prick test. This gave us something concrete to follow up on: eliminate these food allergens.
The unfortunate thing is, eggs and peanuts are found in so many foods, processed and unprocessed, that we took the safest route of simply preparing all her meals from home. So she brings home cooked food in a thermos flask to her preschool everyday, where she spends the most part of the day. On weekends when we go out, she also gets her home cooked food.
We can’t be sure unless we prepare the food ourselves. Besides the obvious like baked goods, noodles, and such, eggs and peanuts can be found even in the most unlikely places, like sauces and dips, condiments, soups, etc.
An unhealthy gut is more permeable than normal, so allows substances to pass through into the blood stream that should not be there. The immune system sees these as foreign bodies, and go into fight or flight mode, producing hormones that cause inflammation.
In addition, if the other waste disposal organs (like kidney, liver, etc.) are not able to work effectively to clear out the excess waste, the skin will be taxed to do the job of purging out the unwanted stuff. Hence, we get this detoxifying effect as eczema on the skin.
Leaky gut should be addressed through diet – a clean diet of natural, wholesome food. Supplement with probiotics to heal the gut, go for natural ones if possible, rather than in pill form, unless you can be sure which brands have made the probiotics in a form that is easily assimilated by our bodies. Kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, etc. are rich natural sources of probiotics that you should line your gut with.
Both J and M have tested positive (through skin prick tests) to dust mites. They irritate through their waste matter and dead bodies. And they’re everywhere. For sensitive people like eczema warriors, these foreign substances will once again trigger an immune response that inflames the skin.
We use anti dust mite protective covering on their pillows and mattresses, on top of which I will spread their bedsheets. Bedsheets are changed once a week. I try to vacuum the house only when they are in school, as the job of cleaning tends to disturb settled dust particles, which can cause eczema warriors to react.
Other types of environmental irritants include grass, pollen, pet dander, sweat, soaps and cleansers, and perfume and makeup. Knowing your trigger will definitely help loads in eliminating them from your day to day living, and managing your eczema so that it doesn’t get too much out of control.
Stress is certainly a big trigger for J and M’s eczema. The effect is immediate. Whenever I ask J to do his homework when he’s not ready for it yet, he itches like crazy and scratches himself raw. Whenever M doesn’t get what she wants, she throws a tantrum and at the same time tears at her skin to try to get at the bone-deep itch in the nerves.
So we see it almost everyday, how stress can be such a huge factor in eczema flares. I have written about stress in much more detail in this article: Does stress trigger eczema?
Bacterial and Viral Infections
For M, I can sense a bacteria or virus attacking her because she flares up on her skin first, before the typical flu symptoms set in, like runny nose, sneezing, cough, and then stuffy nose, etc. So she gets extra cranky during those times, due to everything happening at the same time.
But the funny thing is, a fever tends to clear up her skin. So if a bacterial or viral attack is accompanied by a fever, she gets a respite in her eczema, and can go itch-free for a couple of days. So she is in fact a lot happier during a fever. I guess her body is too busy fighting the infection to be eliminating waste through the skin or getting all inflamed. But after the fever is gone, the itch and rashes come right back.
Dry skin is certainly a trigger for eczema, as it makes you itch more. Sometimes when we forget to moisturise for J and M, their skin becomes very dry and itchy, and they tend to scratch themselves into flakes all over the house, on the bed, on the sofa, and on the floor everywhere.
These two moisturisers have worked very well for us, to soothe and soften dry skin: Green People Mum & Baby Rescue Balm, and Moogoo Irritable Skin Balm. We prefer to use balms, as they tend to stay better on the dry, flaky skin.
Steroids can worsen eczema
I have seen so many people, including ourselves, start off with a harmless, itchy red rash in small isolated patches. The standard treatment by doctors and dermatologists is to prescribe steroid creams, which will dull the inflammation, thus making the itch and rashes go away like magic. That sets off some undesirable effects in our bodies, as these are synthetic hormones.
There are people who are more sensitive to the effects of steroid than others. J and M are such sensitive ones, so the steroid wreaks havoc to their adrenal glands and immune system, ending up not just pushing the problem deeper into their bodies, but creating new and more serious health issues than what the steroids were meant to solve in the first place.
So this is my regret: looking for a quick fix to their eczema, instead of having the patience to look for the root cause, working on cleaning up their diet and healing their gut, and having the faith that their bodies do want to heal themselves, and will heal if we give it the chance.
You can read our story of topical steroid withdrawal in this linked article.
So many possible causes, where do you start
A good place to start, if you have eczema, would be to get tested for any allergies, both in the form of food and environmental triggers. So obviously you have to stay away from these allergens as much as possible.
Then, whether or not eliminating the allergens improved your eczema, clean up your diet, go for natural and wholesome foods, stay away from sugar and processed food. We have eliminated gluten and dairy, along with eggs, even though M only tested allergic towards eggs and peanuts. This is because gluten and dairy are big problems for many people with eczema, they can still react negatively even if tested negative to gluten and dairy allergies.
The last step would be to clean up the environment. The main thing we have control over are all the cleaning products we use at home, as we come into contact with them everyday. They’re on the floor, table tops, toilet bowls, bedsheets, and in our clothes. So by cleaning up your environment, I mean using natural products for household cleaning.
With these steps in place, I believe it would improve the overall health of your eczema warriors, and even those without eczema but living in the same household would certainly benefit from the clean up! This is how everyone should be living: naturally and free of chemicals, toxins and additives.