Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic condition causing skin to become scratchy, itchy, red, and dry. In more extreme examples, skin will become cracked, blistery, and leathery. On fair-skinned people, the affected area turns a brownish-gray color. On dark-skinned people, eczema generally alters their natural pigmentation, making the affected area either lighter or darker. Eczema appears on wrists, elbows, and knees, but most frequently on the face.
Causal factors of eczema include allergy reactions, stress, and genetic predisposition. Allergens that could trigger an episode of eczema include foods like cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, strawberries, and shrimp; and airborne irritants such as dust mites and pollen. Common substance irritants that are implicated in causing eczema include woollen and synthetic fabrics, latex rubber, detergents, chlorine-based products, nickel used in plated earrings and other jewellery, heat and sweat, and chemicals such as formaldehyde. People are often exposed to irritating chemicals through lack of information about their presence. For example, formaldehyde can be found in permanent-press fabrics, polishes, rugs, foam insulation, and particle board. Since eczema may be an internal response to stress, any emotionally-charged event may trigger a flare-up. Eczema affects approximately nine out of every one thousand people.
Eczema is the most common inflammatory skin disease. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 15 million people in the United States have some form of eczema. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of all infants have episodes of eczema. Eczema is characterized by various types of skin lesions including erythema, papules, vesicles or blisters, erosion, oozing, scaling, lichenification, and cracks. Itching is the most universal symptom. Eczema may look different from person to person. Many substances have been identified as eczema “triggers,” from shampoo and jewellery to food and water. Environmental and psychological factors also play a role, and triggers are not the same for every person. Many times it is difficult to identify the exact trigger that causes a flare-up. The conventional Western medicine treatment includes:
- Skin creams or ointments that control swelling and allergic reactions
- Antibiotics to treat secondary infections
- Tar products
- Light therapy
- Moisturizing products
How Does Chinese Medicine Understand Eczema?
Eczema can be caused by both internal and external factors. “Damp heat” is the pattern diagnosis most often given in cases of eczema. The mechanism for damp heat is rooted in constitutional weakness, and in a dysfunction of the transformation and transportation functions of the Spleen, resulting in the accumulation of damp heat on the skin. The acute stage of eczema/damp heat is due to a dysfunction of the Heart, and the sub-acute and chronic stages are due to Spleen and Liver dysfunction.
Damp-heat is the main pathogenesis in eczema’s acute stage. When the disease transitions into the chronic stage, an accumulation of damp heat combined with yin-blood deficiency and stasis are the main pathological changes.