My firstborn son, Tyler was diagnosed with eczema when he was 4 months old. His baby-soft skin turned into rough, dry and irritated red patches, which spread all over his body from his neck to ankles. I didn’t think much of it at that time, especially when my pediatrician and dermatologist said that he’d eventually “grow out of it.” They gave me a prescription for a steroid cream, told us to use Dove soap for his sensitive skin and sent us on our way. What seemed like a trivial part of Tyler’s growing pains turned into a long and arduous journey for me and my husband.
We tried steroid creams from 1% hydrocortisone to a stronger betamethasone ointment which initially worked well. However, once we stopped using them, Tyler’s eczema came back with a vengeance. His skin became hyperpigmented in areas with excessive steroid use – plus he was constantly itching, with dry, rough, red patches taking over his whole body. At night, Tyler’s itchy skin kept him (and us!) awake. In the morning, we would find him bleeding from open wounds caused by his scratching.
Instead of being social and playful, Tyler was withdrawn and consumed by non-stop itching at daycare. We tried to cover him, day and night, in long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks to prevent him from scratching. This worked, until it didn’t. One day Tyler came home from daycare with a head-to-toe heat rash due to overheating from the excess clothing! It was so frustrating and heartbreaking to see our little boy suffering.
After a lot of research and trial-and-error, three things helped bring Tyler relief: 1) Eliminating Detergents and Allergens from his environment, 2) Adopting a Whole Foods-Diet 3) Incorporating Chinese Medicine with herbal tea and cream.
Detergents and Allergens:
I found out that Tyler’s environment may be contributing his eczema when I came upon solveeczema.org. This site details a mother’s journey to find a solution for her son’s eczema. The mother, A.J. Lumisdaine, hypothesizes that synthetic detergents in cleaning products, laundry detergent, soaps, personal care products, foods and much more could be the cause of her son’s eczema. I got in touch with A.J. through email and she gave me insightful and invaluable information on how to best eliminate synthetic detergents from my household. Willing to give A.J.’s method a shot, I went on a maniacal mission to clear out all my cleaning supplies, body soaps, shampoos that contained chemicals considered to be synthetic detergents.
This was no simple task and it was A LOT of work, but I was desperate and open to trying anything. I replaced my cleaning solutions for natural products such as baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils. I bought detergent free products from Dr. Bronners and laundry detergent from Zum clean and CalBens. It was a huge undertaking, but in just over a week, Tyler’s eczema decreased by about 60% and the redness on his face completely disappeared!
Whole Foods Diet:
Though things improved, the eczema was not completely gone. We couldn’t control Tyler’s exposure to allergens at daycare and outside of our home. The attempt to eliminate all allergens in the home was too strict and drove my husband crazy. It was also not practical to upkeep.
My focus then turned to food when Tyler started showing signs of food allergies and sensitivities. Tyler started solids foods at around 6 months, and started to develop a rash on his neck, face, and stomach after trying certain foods like eggs, citrus fruit, cooked apples, and peanut butter. We consulted with two different allergists, and one was able to test him for 21 different allergens through a skin prick test. Tyler’s results revealed allergies to peanuts, sesame, apples, cow’s milk, and potatoes. Even though the test is not 100% accurate, our pediatrician and allergist recommended avoidance of these foods.
During this time I researched and read a lot about gut bacteria, gut health and how it may have an impact on eczema. I read a book by Dr. Natasha Campbell called Gut and Psychology Syndrome, where Dr. Campbell states that healing the gut through a healthy diet can treat certain diseases. The GAPS diet focuses on nutritious bone broths, meat, vegetables, fruit, probiotics, whole foods, sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free foods. GAPS worked for Tyler’s eczema, we saw a decrease in dryness, redness, and itchiness. However, we were unable to continue the diet long term as it was very restrictive. We agreed with the pediatrician and allergist that we needed to incorporate a balanced diet to promote proper growth and development, while doing our best to reduce exposure to allergens. I slowly re-introduced gluten, and dairy back in the diet while still concentrating on nutrient-dense, whole foods with a lot of bone broths.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM):
Lastly, we tried Chinese medicine, which helped Tyler’s eczema. The medicine consisted of herbal tea and herbal cream. One of our allergists recommended TCM with Dr. Xu Min Li at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York. This was too far and expensive for us to consider. Fortunately, my friend who found some success using Chinese medicine for her psoriasis recommended an acupuncturist/herbalist near LA.
The TCM herbalist explained that Tyler’s immune system was not strong enough yet and that his body was trying to detox the toxins through his skin, causing inflammation and irritation. The toxins could be from a variety of factors; environmental such as air pollution and chemicals in the home or foods that he ate. The herbalist recommended that each day we give Tyler an herbal tea and apply herbal-medicated cream. After reviewing the ingredients in the cream and ensuring there were no steroids, we gave it a try. The cream worked wonders, and we were able to stop the tea after Tyler’s eczema drastically improved.
I believe the combination of the three treatments together helped reduce and ultimately eliminate Tyler’s eczema. He still has a flare-up every once in a while when he gets sick or eats junk food, but I am well prepared to manage the itch and dryness a lot better.
As I’ve said before, many people – including doctors – told us that eczema is “just dry skin” and children will eventually “grow out of it.” But when Tyler was experiencing his worst flare-ups and NOTHING seemed like it was working, I was beyond frustrated and refused to accept that it may “one day go away”. I wanted to help bring relief to Tyler as quickly and effectively as possible. I didn’t want to rely on prescription medication as it seemed like a band-aid, treating the symptom and not the problem. Over-the-counter creams, ointments, and lotions didn’t work for us. A lot of money was wasted on trying “the next miracle cream”. It truly pained and stressed me out to see Tyler suffer so much, I just knew there had to be something better, which led me to try these alternative treatments.
To parents of children with eczema and those currently suffering from eczema, I hope sharing Tyer’s story will provide some hope and inspiration on your healing journey.