Winter can be an eczema sufferer’s worst nightmare. The harsh weather that hits most of the country can cause our skin to become dry and chafed, and patients that suffer from eczema are especially at risk for skin flares. In the past, typical treatments have relied on lathering on sticky creams to try to relieve the symptoms. However, this may not be enough. What we have learned through treating eczema patients is that for the best results you need to go deeper than just treating the skin. Our approach involves balancing out the immune system to stop the inflammation from wreaking havoc on the surface of the skin.
Our Largest Organ
The skin is the largest immune organ in the body and it has many different layers. All of these layers have different immune cells that help to protect the skin or cause it to flare up in rashes. These skin flares can be the result of allergic eczema. Allergic eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis, results from an imbalance in various proteins and chemical messengers in the skin and blood.
What Causes These Imbalances?
Several different factors can cause these imbalances. In children, for example, their birth is critically important. Were they born naturally or by a Caesarian section (C-section)? What part of the U.S. do they live in? Is either of the child”s parents allergic to pollen, animals, dust, mold or even antibiotics?
Why Do These Questions Matter?
1. How Your Birth Affects Your Skin
The way a child arrives into the world has profound consequences on their health. Medical research shows a child’s microbiota type of good and bad bacteria in their gut) depends on whether they were delivered by natural birth or C-section. A child born by a natural delivery has the microbiota of the vaginal tissue which is more favorable to the infant’s skin. As a child born by C-section does not pass through the vaginal canal, they adapt the microbiota of the skin and not the vaginal tissue.
We don’t have a choice in how we are delivered into this world, so how can a child with eczema compensate for this potential alteration in their immunity? One word –probiotics. Probiotics come in many shapes and forms: from yogurt to fermented foods (kimchi, miso) to liquid formulas. The goal is to try to restore an environment were good bacteria can flourish in the child”s gut. This, in turn, will turn off the allergic process in both the skin and other areas of the body.
2. The Suns Effect On Eczema
Exposure to the sun can also have a major effect on eczema. Ultraviolet light can suppress T-cells (which are a type of white blood cell) in the skin and cause eczema to flare up. Sun exposure also impacts the levels of vitamin D in the blood (see our video on Vitamin D here and our prior post here). Low Vitamin D levels and worsening eczema have been linked in the past. One way to combat this negative association is to take Vitamin D supplements, which have been shown to help decrease eczema.
Those of you living in the southern and western parts of the U.S. are fortunate enough to get a lot more natural Vitamin D from the sun than those of us based in the Northeast and Midwest. Those of us living in the Northeast and Midwest need to take oral Vitamin D supplements to try and keep our levels in the normal and even above normal ranges.
3. Allergies and Our Skin
Allergens can also cause eczema flare-ups, and this is why it’s important to know if allergies run in the family. If a child has (or is showing signs of) allergic eczema, they should be tested for food and environmental allergies. If they have allergies and are not aware of them, the child could be unknowingly exposed to an allergen on a regular basis without any obvious connection.
The most common foods types that need to be checked are milk, eggs, soy, peanut, tree nuts, and shellfish. At the very least, the most common airborne allergens that should be checked are dust mites and animal dander (which are skin flakes in an animal’s fur or hair). Rather than having a skin test, we strongly recommend that a patient with eczema has an allergy blood test, as their skin is too sensitive for the usual skin tests.
When it comes to treating eczema, we follow this simple formula:
- Probiotics: Be sure the patient gets some form of probiotics in their diet.
- Vitamin D: Enhance their levels of Vitamin D – liquid drops are a very easy and convenient way to do this.
- Allergies: Check for allergen exposures – in some cases sublingual allergy drops can be very beneficial in restoring immune balance.
Eczema can be annoying and even embarrassing for those suffering from this condition, but treatment is available and can be very rewarding!
Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island