Eczema, Contact Dermatitis, Atopic Dermatitis, or Psoriasis?
Skin conditions are often affected by the seasons and can become increasingly worse at different times depending upon the individuals constitutional trends and the qualities of condition itself. Eczema is a broad term for several types of skin disorders, also known as dermatitis. The most common form is atopic dermatitis, which affects people of all age groups and is often due to an allergic reaction. Its sufferers may also have a predisposition to various allergies, hay fever, and asthma. Infantile eczema occurs in babies under 3 years old, but usually clears up within few years and it is best to not treat them with steroidal creams and internal medications if at all possible. Adult seborrhoeic dermatitis is associated with yeast and fungal infections and occurs mainly between the ages of 20 to 40 years of age. There are several other classifications, such as xerotic eczema and contact dermatitis, which are related to allergic skin reactions, and so on. Some people notice that exposure to the sun, humidity, or ocean water helps tremendously, while other not. Areas affected in adults are mainly the face, elbows, hands, knees and ankles. In infants it mainly manifests on the face, neck, scalp forearms, and legs. Of course, simply labeling the condition doesn’t help much in the long run if the underlining causes are not identified and addressed.
In conventional medicine the root cause of eczema is not clearly understood, but autoimmune function and hereditary factors are thought to play a major role. Aggravating factors include seasonal changes, certain foods, environmental allergens, pet dander, soaps, detergents, some fabrics, hot water, and bodily sweat. Certain high allergy foods such as wheat, gluten, soy, corn, and dairy are believed to contribute to the condition is some cases, but efforts to omit lots of items from the daily diet can be frustrating. In any case, it is best to start with the basic guidelines offered here along with a well-rounded individualized Ayurvedic program, and over time take further measures with dietary restrictions if and when needed. In Ayurveda, psoriasis is a similar condition to eczema in that it has much of the same root causes, so herbal treatment and dietary and lifestyle recommendations are also similar.
The Ayurvedic Perspective on Eczema
In Ayurveda this condition is referred to as vicharchika and it is related to the vitiation of any of the three doshas affecting the skin and blood as well as accumulated metabolic wastes. Traditionally, the main doshas involved are pitta or kapha, but all three can be involved. Below is a general description of how doshas influence the characteristics of this disease.
Vata types of eczema are characterized by extreme dryness, scaling, exfoliation, itching, and much pain and throbbing.
Pitta types of eczema are associated with redness, blisters, bleeding, burning sensations, and infection. Pitta individuals may be prone towards seborrhoeic and contact dermatitis due to excess heat, especially in the armpits and on the scalp.
Kapha types of eczema cause itching, oozing, and thickening of the skin. Kapha types may also be prone to seborrhoeic eczema, especially in between rolls of fats as well as other moist sweaty areas.
Dual or Tridoshic types are when more than one dosha is involved and the various symptoms are mixed, which is common in many cases.
For some people this condition can be acute and pass within a short period of time, while others experience lifelong symptoms. Though not a life threatening condition, it does cause psychological stress and extreme self-consciousness. Modern medicine believes there is no cure for this condition, but Ayurveda can safely manage and in many cases cure it over time. Treatment in Ayurveda is a wholistic process with more than just the application of topical creams or oils. It requires great discipline, observance of diet and lifestyle, patience, and a good method for stress management. such as yoga, tai chi and meditation.
Herbal Treatment in Ayurveda
To treat eczema and psoriasis, it is essential to have the guidance of a skilled practitioner who can tailor an herbal and dietary program specific to your individual needs. Not all cases can be treated or respond to treatment in the same way, so follow-up care is necessary. Because these conditions can take years to treat successfully, having the care of a skilled practitioner also provides the necessary support and reassurance at the emotional level while the healing process takes place.
Cleansing from within is also a major factor in removing this type of condition, as accumulated toxins tend to surface on the skin. A progressively cleaner diet may be necessary to promote the healing process and allow proper digestion of food (to avoid further accumulating toxins in the body) along with the unique cleansing therapies Ayurveda has to offer, including Panchakarma for deep detoxification, and a stress management program that would include yoga and meditation to strengthen the body while calming your mind.
Common Ayurvedic Herbs Used to Treat Eczema
Ayurveda offers many traditional and custom formulations that are specific to the various forms of this condition, but these can only be selected once a full evaluation is made by an Ayurvedic practitioner. Below is a general list of some of the most commonly used herbs to treat eczema, psoriasis, and related skin conditions.
Neem clears the heat and toxins from the liver and blood and relieves itching.
Manjista balances pitta in the skin, calms itching, and purifies blood.
Guduchi relieves all three doshas, especially pitta, regulates the immune system, reduces burning and systemic inflammation.
Punarnava is good for pitta and kapha related skin diseases and purifies the kidneys and liver.
Turmeric detoxifies, reduces inflammation, and relieves itching.
Aloe juice cools the blood, promotes healing of the skin, cleanses intestines, calms itching and burning sensations.
Licorice calms and sooths tissues, reduces inflammation, restores the gut, balances bitter herbs used to treat this condition, pacifies vata and pitta.
Shatavari cools blood, restores the gut, calms pitta in the GI tract and throughout the entire body.
Triphala cleanses the entire GI tract, promotes healthy digestion and absorption, and improves the tone of the skin.
Gotu Kola cleanses the blood, reduces the effects of stress, and calms the nerves and mind.
Jatamansi calms the mind, replenishes the nervous system, supports, cleanses blood, balances all doshas.
Ashwagandha reduces effects of stress, calms vata in the mind and nervous sysytem.
Tikta Ghrita (bitter medicated ghee) purifies the blood, cleanses and regulates proper liver function.
There are so many herbs, medicated oils and formulas that can be effective, but an individualized approach is often the best way to determine the right approach for the situation. This also saves valuable time, energy and money when embarking on treating such conditions. Sometimes a streamlined regime is more effective than lots of supplement and excessive elimination diets for dealing with stubborn chronic skin conditions.
Cleansing and Rejuvenation for Eczema
One of the most important aspects of eczema treatment includes seasonal detoxification with Panchakarma. This allows for the removal of deep-seated toxins and metabolic wastes, and also helps to weaken the tendencies that stand in the way of the healing process. This type of cleansing process is tailored to your individual needs to help remove excess dosha and toxins, calm your mind and nervous system, and uproot the underlying causes of this condition. Gentle home cleansing may also provide relief if a full Panchakarma program cannot be done, but only under the guidance of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor.
In infants with eczema deep cleansing is not indicated and the treatment is usually given through the mother, especially in the case of a breastfeeding baby. Usually, in such cases simple home remedies and diet and lifestyle tips are given for both mother and baby. A daily teaspoon of Aloe Vera juice mixed with any liquid and given to the infant can do wonders to relieve symptoms and rejuvenate the skin. A mothers diet will play a key role during the breastfeeding period. If the condition persists after 3 years of age, stronger internal herbs may be given. Subtle Ayurvedic herbal treatment, an aspect of sookshma chikitsa, can be administered even to young babies.
Traditional Ayurvedic warm oil massage, herbal steam bath, and Shirodhara are very beneficial in most eczema cases and can be performed as often as desired to promote lymphatic circulation, gently cleanse the system, calm the body and mind, and overcome fear and insecurity around the issue.