Eczema can affect any part of the body, and eczematous skin is red, itchy, and swollen, and can sometimes have fluid-filled bumps that ooze and crust. In fair-skinned people, affected areas can appear reddish to brownish; for darker-skinned people, affected areas can appear as lighter or darker patches. Eczema can either be genetically inherited or triggered by an allergen, such as certain foods, bacteria, pollens, animal furs, poison ivy, sunlight, etc.
In western medicine, the exact cause of eczema is unknown, but eczema can be related to a number of factors, both hereditary and environmental, that can trigger an overactive response by the body’s immune system to an irritant or allergen. This response will then lead to itchy skin rashes that later develop into eczema. Aside from allergens and genetic factors, common triggers can include soap, detergent, stress, and respiratory infections or colds. There is no cure for eczema, but symptoms can be relieved with medications and avoidance of contact with irritants. Doctors can prescribe ointments and creams containing corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation, and over-the-counter medications such as hydrocortisone creams can be used to relieve the itchiness of the skin. If the eczematous skin becomes infected, doctors can also prescribe antibiotics to kill infectious bacteria.
In TCM, eczema belongs to the categories of “Damp Boil” and “Damp Toxic Boil”, and is believed to be caused by pathogenic wind, dampness, and heat. Chronic eczema, characterized by skin rashes manifested by infiltration, thickness, dryness, coarseness, and scale, is often related to wind and dryness caused by blood deficiency. The pathogenesis of eczema is mostly related to constitutional intolerance, leading to an accumulation of excess pathogenic wind, dampness, and heat in the muscle and skin. If one takes in food that damages the spleen transportation functions, then the mixture of internal dampness and external pathogenic actors, or blood heat in the body along with severe dampness and heat can all result in acute eczema symptoms appearing in the whole body. If the internal dampness is not dissolved due to the spleen deficiency, then the onset of the disease can be slow. When the pathogenic dampness subsides gradually after some time and the pathogenic heat consumes and damages yin and blood, a blood deficiency can lead to wind and dryness. Eczema syndromes can be differentiated as follows:
- Syndrome of Infiltration of Dampness and Heat Main symptoms are the sudden onset of reddish skin lesions appearing over the whole body with a burning sensation, oozing suppurative fluid, and persistent itchiness. Symptoms can be accompanied by feverish sensations in the body, vexation, thirst, dry stool, and little and brown urine, along with reddened tongue with yellowish or yellow-greasy coating, and slippery or rapid pulse. For this type of syndrome, it is best to clear away excess heat and remove dampness from the body.
- Syndrome of Accumulation of Dampness due to Spleen Deficiency Main symptoms is the slow onset of reddish skin lesions with itchiness and the appearance of erosive effusion after scratching. The skin can be scaly and crusting. Symptoms can be accompanied by poor appetite, low spirit, abdominal distension, and loose stool, along with pale and flabby tongue with whitish or white-greasy coating, and a soft pulse. For this type of syndrome, it is best to strengthen the spleen and dissolve the dampness in the body.
- Syndrome of Blood Deficiency and Wind-Dryness Main symptoms include dark-colored patches or pigmentation on the skin after a long duration, usually with severe itchiness or coarse and hypertrophic skin lesions with scratching marks and blood crust. Symptoms can be accompanied by dry mouth, low spirit, and poor sleep, along with pale tongue with whitish coating, and thin or wiry and thin pulse. For this type of syndrome, it is best to nourish the blood and moisten any dryness.
No matter acute or chronic, eczema patients should avoid scratching and washing the affected areas with hot water. Spicy food and seafood, which can worsen the inflammation, should be removed from the diet, while more vegetables and fruits should be taken. Eczema patients should also take care of moisturizing the skin frequently to reduce dryness and repair damaged skin.
Depending on the cause, acupuncture treatment and herbal formulae such as Longdan Xie Gan Tang, Chu Shi Wei Ling Tang, and Yang Xue Ding Feng Tang can be used to treat eczema. Please feel free to consult one of our health practitioners or other Chinese medicine health professionals regarding your eczema syndromes.