Topical steroid cream is the first choice of doctors in the treatment of eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions. However, they do have side effects such as lowering your immune system function and making you more susceptible to infections.
They can also thin your skin if you use too much, and they aren’t a cure for eczema in that they don’t get to the root cause of what is triggering the problem. They work by suppressing the inflammation and itching, rather than making it better.
So, what alternatives are there?
Sometimes eczema is caused by food allergy. This is particularly true for infants. In one study at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Australia, 44 out of 51 tested infants were found to have a food allergy to cow’s milk, egg or peanut.
If you are weaning your child and you suspect the eczema is caused by food allergy you could keep a food diary to see if it occurs after eating a particular food. Any recognised sensitive foods should be removed for a minimum of six weeks to see if it improves the eczema, and then added back into the diet with a doctor’s guidance.
Often, as the child matures and his immune system matures, he will lose his food intolerances.
Reduce Allergens in the Home
You should reduce as many allergens in the home as you can, for instance, dust mites. Dust mites can be reduced by washing bedding regularly. Tumble trying or direct sunlight exposure will also kill them. Washing items in laundry powder for sensitive skin and avoiding many harsh household cleaning chemicals can also help.
Ultraviolet light can reduce eczema and some people find their eczema clears up or improves after going on a sunshine holiday. A few minutes a day out in the sun without sunscreen may benefit your eczema without the risk of skin cancer.
Some clinical trials have shown that Chinese herbal medicine has had good results with treating eczema but further studies are needed to confirm this. You should employ a qualified medical herbalist rather than trying to self-treat as herbal preparations can be as potent as pharmaceutical drugs.
These can be used to sooth sore skin and ease itching. There are aromatherapy versions that use things like lavender for its antiseptic purposes and beeswax. Unlike conventional emollients, aromatherapy brands often do not contain parabens and other irritants.
Stop Scratching! – Use Hypnosis
Easier said than done, but scratching makes the eczema worse. If the urge is overwhelming, rub or press on the area instead. Some people have taken up hypnosis as a means of controlling the desire to scratch. Children can do this too.
Babies can be given scratch mitts to prevent them from scratching themselves.
Evening Primrose Oil
This might help ease eczema and is worth a try. You can either take them as capsules or break the capsules and put them on food (this can help disguise them for children). If you take them every day and see no response after three months, they probably aren’t going to help.
Alternatives to steroid creams in atopic eczema, Royal Berkshire NHS Trust. Web. http://www.parentsown.co.uk/files/Alternatives_to_steroid_creams_in_atopic_eczema.pdf
IgE food sensitization in infants with eczema attending a dermatology department, J Pediatr. 2007 Oct;151(4):359-63. Abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17889069
Eczema Cream, Lily Bee. Web. 28 March 2012. http://www.lilybee.co.uk/ourshop/prod_1838771-Eczema-Cream-.html
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/
She is author of the book, "Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation", and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting.
Reviewed March 28, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN