The Holistic Baby Guide (New Harbinger Publications, 2010), by Randal Neustaedter, OMD, considers the sensitive care of infants and provides methods of holistic treatment for common health complications such as colds, digestive issues, and allergies. Neustaedter is a doctor of Chinese medicine and licensed acupuncturist with over thirty years of experience. The following excerpt outlines resolutions for eczema.
Treatment of Eczema
There are many things you can do to soothe your baby’s eczema and help him overcome it once and for all.
The first step in treating eczema is the avoidance of triggers, both allergens and potential irritants. Anything irritating that comes in contact with your baby’s skin could aggravate eczema. Be careful about laundry detergents. Even biodegradable products can be irritating to your baby’s delicate skin. There are several options. Use a laundry soap that is made from fats treated with an alkali rather than using detergents, which usually have synthetic and harsher ingredients. Try to avoid commercial products with perfumes, which are petrochemicals. An excellent choice is Cal Ben laundry soap. Another great choice is to use soap nuts. These are actual seeds from a tree that grows in Asia. Add a few in a small cotton bag to your laundry load, and they will clean your clothes without the use of any harsh chemicals. An Internet search should lead you to a supplier of soap nuts. Use cotton clothing next to your baby’s skin. Synthetic fabrics can be irritating.
If your baby has eczema, then foods that go through your breast milk can trigger reactions. Avoid dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, and corn for starters. Then, after a period of a month, you can reintroduce them one at a time for several days and observe if they cause skin reactions.
Babies who are formula fed cannot avoid dairy, and soy formula is not an appropriate substitute for milk. You can try a hypoallergenic formula such as Nutramigen, Alimentum, or Pregestimil, all of which use predigested cow’s-milk protein. These formulas are not the best choice because they are highly processed and sweetened with corn syrup, and they contain soy oil and other vegetable oils along with the more beneficial oils from coconut and palm. They will need to be supplemented with adequate levels of fish oil to supply omega-3 fatty acids. They will, however, prevent allergic reactions to cow’s-milk protein.
Be Selective with External Applications
Treating the surface of the body is not an effective plan for eczema because the problem is an internal immune-system issue. Putting things on the skin may be soothing, but it will not address the underlying problems that have caused the skin eruptions. Internal treatment with a holistic approach can be very effective in the management of eczema, but relying on external applications to the skin will ultimately be frustrating. Usually, eczema will eventually go away, often to be replaced by a deeper, more serious allergic disease (such as asthma), especially if the skin eruptions are suppressed with steroid drugs.
Various types of external applications can be soothing and prevent some of the dryness and skin cracking of eczema, even though they are not curative. Since babies with eczema have dry skin, using moisturizing lotions and oils can be very helpful to prevent the intense dryness and cracking of the skin that can occur. Use only mild and preferably organic bath products and skin lotions on your baby. Avoid any product that contains para- bens or lauryl or laureth sulfate. You want to hydrate your baby’s skin, but water and bathing are drying to the skin. This is because when you bathe your baby, the hot water will open his skin pores and allow water in, but these open pores will also allow the water to evaporate from the skin when he gets out of the bath. You can prevent this evaporation by covering his skin with oil after a bath. This will seal the water into the skin. You can use olive oil or another mild vegetable oil. You can also use a small amount of essential oil mixed with the vegetable oil, or use a vegetable-based massage oil. Do not use mineral oil or other petroleum-based products. And avoid products that contain lavender, since lavender has estrogenic effects. Moisturizers will also help keep the skin pliable and prevent drying. Again, use mild and organic products.
Many different lotions are available that can help relieve the itching of eczema. However, these are hit and miss, and you may need to experiment with different products to find one that works for your baby. Some may actually irritate your baby’s skin. Those that contain goldenseal, comfrey, calendula, and other herbs work for some parents. Cardiospermum is a plant that can be soothing for eczema. It is commercially available as Florasone Cream, a product of Boericke & Tafel. A chamomile-extract cream applied to the skin was more effective than hydrocortisone in one study.
The most commonly used drugs for eczema are steroid creams and antihistamine drugs. Steroid creams come in increasingly potent varieties from over-the-counter hydrocortisone to powerful prescription medications. All of these suppress the inflammatory response in the skin, but they are absorbed into the body. The skin is one of the best routes for drug administration. Since steroids work by suppressing the body’s immune system, they can have other, unwanted side effects, such as causing skin infections or suppression of the adrenal glands’ ability to produce their natural anti-inflammatory steroids. A common side effect is a thinning of the skin where steroids are applied.
Nonsteroidal drugs have also been used as creams to treat eczema; however, two popular eczema drugs have significant side effects. Reports of cancer in patients using these drugs led the FDA to issue a report warning of the link between the popular topical eczema drugs Protopic (tacrolimus) ointment and Elidel (pimecrolimus) cream to a possible increased risk of skin cancer, lymphoma, and respiratory infections in children (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2005). The FDA received reports of seventy-six cases of cancer among patients using these drugs. This prompted a January 2005 order to place a warning on the drugs stating that their long-term safety has not been established. The report suggested that the drugs not be prescribed for children under two years of age. (The report and warning labels can be found through a search at the FDA website, or see the references list.) Both drugs are immunosuppressants — that is, they suppress the body’s immune response and inflammation, but they also decrease the body’s immune response to cancer and other diseases.
Antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can provide temporary relief of itching for a few hours, but these antihistamines have side effects. Benadryl is especially sedating and is usually given at night to treat itching. Other antihistamines are not recommended or approved for children under two years of age.
Prevention of Eczema
Stop eczema before it starts. The first key to prevention of skin problems is nutrition. If mom has a healthy diet with an adequate nutrient intake, then baby is less likely to develop skin problems. Eating a whole-foods diet during pregnancy and taking the right nutritional supplements will ensure the best possible outcome from a nutrient perspective. A whole-foods diet consists primarily of foods in their natural state, including fruits, vegetables, and animal products, with a minimal amount of packaged and processed foods. Many studies have shown that babies born to mothers who took a probiotic supplement during pregnancy have less eczema. The most studied and the most successful probiotic for this purpose during pregnancy is Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. For any baby with a family history of allergies or eczema, mothers can take L. rhamnosus during their pregnancy. For several reasons it is advisable for pregnant women to also take a high-potency omega-3 supplement with adequate amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA. This will foster maximum nervous-system development and help to prevent inflammation in mothers and their babies.
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Adapted from The Holistic Baby Guide: Alternative Care for Common Health Problems by Randall Neustaedter, copyright © 2010 by Randal Neustaedter. Used by permission of New Harbinger Publications, Inc.