Throughout their early years, many children will experience some instances of impaired health as the body continues to grow and develop robustness. One condition which is extremely common amongst 0–5 year old’s is the rash-like skin complaint eczema. Parents and caregivers may become increasingly motivated to find a solution and provide their wee one relief from pain and discomfort. Detailed below are important factors to consider and natural approaches to help manage this tricky skin condition.
The two terms dermatitis and eczema are used interchangeably and define the rash-like condition which is characterised by superficial inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis may be acute or chronic and manifests as localised swelling, redness, itching, pain, crusting, scaling and dry or flaking skin. Dermatitis can appear anywhere on the body, most often seen on the face, arms, behind knees and legs.
Dermatitis can be complex as there are a myriad of factors that may contribute to the underlying cause. External culprits include topical drugs, plants, metal compounds, dyes, detergents, synthetic fibers, wool, mineral oils and bacterial or fungal pathogens. Non-external risk factors for dermatitis development include a family history of atopic conditions (asthma, eczema and hayfever) and emotional disturbances such as heightened stress.
Foods are also important considerations when looking to identify the root of skin complaints. Common culprits include milk, egg, shellfish, peanut, wheat and barley, soy, citrus fruits and food additives. It is critical to determine whether a child has either a food allergy or a food hypersensitivity/intolerance.
- A food allergy is a rapid reaction to many areas of the body and can occur from ingesting even a small amount of food. The body's immune system responds to the specific food protein and causes symptoms such as swelling of the face, eyes, lips or throat, nausea, diarrhoea, hive-like rash and difficulty breathing. It is often easy to identify the trigger of food allergies and the individual will likely need to avoid these foods for life.
- Food hypersensitivity or intolerance on the other hand is usually more difficult to identify as symptoms are typically delayed and effects are longer lasting. The gastrointestinal tract is commonly affected following ingestion of the trigger food, causing increased gas, pain, abdominal distention, bloating and/or diarrhoea. Hypersensitivities can also cause skin itching and eczema.
With all of the potential triggers, what can be done to help alleviate your child's discomfort and begin re-establishing healthy skin?
Switch from chemical to natural
Contact dermatitis is the term given when skin irritation is caused following direct contact with an external material or substance (those listed above). Thus, it is important to use 100% natural for all products that come in contact with your child's skin. This includes body wash, bubble bath, soap, shampoo, moisturiser, clothing and laundry detergents. Be sure to also choose natural products which have little to no added essential oils for fragrance.
Identify potential problematic foods
Food allergies are typically identified and confirmed by a GP. The food must then be totally avoided by the child and mother if still breastfeeding.
Due to the more insidious nature of food hypersensitivities, a structured period of elimination can assist in uncovering which food/s are problematic and assist in a reduction of symptoms.
Begin with the total elimination of all potentially problematic foods for a minimum of 1 week (2 weeks is ideal), this also includes the mother if still breastfeeding. Following the 1-2 week elimination period, a new food may be re-introduced every 3 days where the child is monitored for any recurrent signs or symptoms of dermatitis.
Support gut health
Probiotics are well known for their importance in supporting gut health and immunity. Strains from the Lactobacillus family, specifically Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG and Lactobacillus reuteri, have demonstrated anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory activity to reduce the incidence of infantile eczema. A reduction in symptom severity has also been established.
Homemade, organic, low sodium bone broth is an excellent source of many important nutrients and amino acids that help to support strengthen and repair the intestinal wall. Bone broth is also rich in easily absorbed minerals which assist in the formation of bone, teeth, skin and immune function. For infants, small amounts of bone broth can be slowly and safely introduced as soon as they have begun eating solids.
Soothing and demulcent medicinal herbs may help to alleviate symptoms of gastrointestinal distress resultant of food reaction. Safe herbs for children include chamomile and fennel and help to settle an upset stomach, calm digestive spasm, reduce abdominal distention and bloating. Powdered slippery elm is also soothing to the gut, helps to bulk up loose stool and is a great prebiotic (fuel for the beneficial gut bacteria).
Soothe and heal topically
Topical symptoms of redness, itchiness, dryness and broken skin can be ameliorated with the use of natural plant oils and medicinal herbs.
Kawakawa is an excellent herb that works to reduce redness and inflammation of the skin. Apply simple and effective products such as the Aotea Kawakawa Balm to the affected area twice daily. Straight after bath-time is best, while the skin is still slightly damp.
Calendula also has benefits for eczema prone skin as it strengthens and repairs the skin barrier. Calendula is excellent if the skin has become broken from over scratching and helps to reduce the risk of a secondary bacterial infection. Weleda’s Calendula Baby Oil soothes and repairs baby's skin while providing important hydration with delicate plant oils.
Other anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic herbs ideal for topical use includes chickweed, chamomile and albizzia.
Essential fatty acids (EFA) play an important role in reducing inflammation in conditions such as dermatitis. In particular, gamma linoleic acid (GLA) which is a plant source of EFA and is found in hemp, borage, blackcurrant seed oils as well as evening primrose oil. Omega 3’s from flaxseed have also been demonstrated to reduce symptom severity in atopic dermatitis. The Waihi Bush Organic Flax Magic for kids can be safely given to children and has a broad combination of these important plant EFAs.
Pop in-store to speak to our qualified Naturopathic practitioners for further guidance and advice on supporting your children with eczema.
Article by - Naturopath Kate Dalliessi