Logo

Eczema

Definition

Eczema is a collective term for several types of non-contagious skin complaints, which affect the top two layers of the skin. Eczema affects people of all ages; in the UK, one in five children, and one in twelve adults, have eczema. There is no cure - even when symptoms are alleviated, the skin tends to remain sensitive and need extra care; however, many children will grow out of the condition: the National Eczema Society reports that 'research has shown that 60-70% of children are virtually clear of the condition by the time they reach their mid-teens'.

Most incidences of eczema are an allergic reaction that is manifested in skin inflammation; in mild forms the skin is dry, hot, peeling and itchy; when more severe it can become cracked and weep or bleed. It may also become infected. The red rash is typically worst in the creases of the joints and on the trunk of the body, though on darker skin it is commonly worst on the back of the elbows and the front of the knees. The severity may fluctuate both seasonally and over the course of a day. Extreme temperatures, humidity, and emotional stress may aggravate the condition.

Types of Eczema

Atopic eczema
This is considered to be one of the atopic triad of disorders, along with asthma and other allergies, all of which are becoming increasingly common. 'Atopic' people have a predisposition to hypersensitivity to certain allergens, and people with a family history of asthma and allergies (such as hay-fever) will often develop eczema.

Allergic contact dermatitis
This is a reaction to a substance that the skin comes directly in contact with; it is commonly caused by nickel, rubber, perfumes, paints, dyes, soaps and detergents.

Infantile Seborrhoeic eczema - also known as cradle-cap, this scaly skin condition commonly affects babies on the scalp or nappy area - it is not sore or itchy and generally clears up without intervention.

Adult Sebhorrhoeic eczema
This may be caused by an over-reaction to the natural yeasts in the skin, or it may be hormone-related (it is often worse cyclically in women). It is usually found on the nose and eye-brows, scalp (dandruff), chest and back.

Photodermatitis
Heat-rash and itchy spots, caused by sensitivity to sunlight.

Causes

Allergens which are implicated in eczema include:

- Certain foods, especially wheat, dairy, eggs, fish, nuts, soy and potatoes. Sometimes an allergy may be triggered by the food being introduced into the diet too early.
- Chemical pollutants in the atmosphere and in food, including additives
- Dust, dust-mites, mould, pollen
- Drugs, including antibiotics, antihistamines, steroids, anaesthetics, antiparasitics,
antivirals, beta-blockers and anticancer drugs.

Eczema can also be symptomatic of systemic Candidiasis (see our Fact sheet on Candida) or nutrient deficiencies (notably vitamins A and B6, zinc, magnesium, iron and essential fatty acids).

Atopic allergies are often inherited. Another theory suggests that our over-efficient hygiene practises and vaccinations for childhood diseases may explain the recent increase in cases of the atopic conditions: '..by protecting children from exposure to dirt and germs, and by preventing disease from taking its full course in childhood, we are inadvertently destroying the immune system's ability to respond appropriately to infection and other stimuli¬Ö [vaccines] provide the wrong sort of stimulation to the immune system. Instead of strengthening it, they over-stimulate one part at the expense of another, leaving us even more vulnerable to allergies and other immune problems.'(What Doctors Don't Tell You, volume 11, no 12)

Treatments

Not only do the different types of eczema require different treatment, but it is evident that individuals are sensitive to different stimuli; no one treatment will be best for everybody, and it is worth persevering.

Conventional treatments

These are prescribed with the aim of suppressing the inflammation of the skin.

Treatment by catabolic steroids is most common; steroids are hormones, so synthetic steroids mimic the action of the adrenal glands. Steroids are usually administered as a cream, but oral or inhaled steroids may be used in severe cases. Wet-wrap bandaging may be carried out over a period of three to seven days of hospitalisation (steroid creams are applied to the skin, and to a wet bandage, which is bound securely round the affected limb). The immune suppressant cyclosporine, originally used in transplant surgery to prevent the body rejecting a new organ, may also be given.

Ultra Violet light therapy is also an option for very severe cases. The skin may be exposed to artificial UVB rays under controlled conditions; or else oral psoralen photochemotherapy (PUVA) may be administered.

Antihistamines can help prevent the itchiness.

Emollients (moisturisers) prevent water loss, and make the skin feel more comfortable; the thick creams, however, may block the pores, causing further irritation. Medicated bath oils are also available for skin prone to eczema.

Antibiotics will be given if the skin becomes infected.

Side effects

Both steroids and antibiotics can encourage growth of Candida which is itself a cause of eczema. Antihistamines can also cause skin problems. In addition, steroids (including the supposedly mild hydrocortisone cream, which is prescribed for babies) are associated with some long-term side effects, including thinning of the skin, adrenal suppression, Cushing's syndrome, stunted growth, cataracts, glaucoma, osteoporosis and skin cancer. Steroids suppress the immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to infections, such as chickenpox.

The Complementary Alternatives

The complementary approach to eczema tends to be holistic: eczema is not regarded as a skin condition alone, but rather a symptom of an underlying problem. Many of these therapies concentrate on building up the immune system, rather than suppressing it, as conventional treatment do.

Below, in alphabetical order are the most relevant alternative therapies for eczema suffers

Allergy testing

Identifying and eliminating, if possible, any potential allergens, either from the diet or the environment is important.

Dust and dust-mites can be reduced by the use of mattress-covers (such as gortex), and removal or very thorough cleaning of fabrics in the home (curtains, carpets etc). Sprays called acaricides are also available, but they only kill the mites, and it is actually their droppings which are the allergen, so regular cleaning is also required.

See our Fact sheet on allergies for more information about allergy testing.

These resources may also be useful:

The British Allergy Foundation
Deepdene House
30 Bellgrove Road
Welling
Kent
DA16 3PY
Helpline: 020 8303 8583
http://www.allergyfoundation.com

Other websites:
- http://www.allergy.co.uk
- http://www.allergycontrol.com

Books:

Worth, Jennifer - Eczema and Food Allergies ISBN: 1872560024

Aromatherapy

This is an ancient technique used by the Egyptians and Romans. The medicinal properties of oils derived from plants were researched in France, first by Raymond Gatefosse, a chemist, in 1920 and thirty years later by Dr Jean Valnet. While in France essential oils may be prescribed in the form of capsules as an alternative to conventional medicine, in the UK the oils are never administered internally; aromatherapy combines healing massage with oils that have the medicinal properties.

Essential oils, extracted from the roots, flowers, fruits, leaves and stalks of plants and certain trees, are absorbed into the body by inhalation and through the skin. The scents stimulate the hypothalamus, the area of the brain influencing the body's hormone system. It is thought that mood, metabolism and stress levels can be affected by smell. Clinical research into essential oils in the treatment of medical conditions is limited. It is not understood how the oil molecules actually enter the bloodstream, but the psychological effects have been well studied.

Trained aromatherapists use high-quality, natural oils diluted in a 'carrier' oil or blended into a cream. Practitioners should only use oils that are organic and bought from reputable companies. Aromatherapy massage techniques are based on Swedish massage which aims to relieve tension in the body and to improve circulation as well as stimulating the lymphatic system to assist removal of metabolic wastes from the body.

Aromatherapy is used in the treatment and prevention of a wide range of conditions, including Rheumatism, insomnia, headaches, cystitis and sprains, as well as skin conditions, such as Eczema - which benefits from both massage and aromatic baths.

The high vitamin content of oils such as wheatgerm and avocado and jojoba make them a useful addition to preparations for eczema. Evening primrose oil is also beneficial (see below). Useful aromatic oils include: juniper (good for weeping eczema), Patchouli (for skin which is red and sore from an allergic reaction), Rose Geranium (anti-fungal and antiseptic), Calendula cream (to ease inflammation), Chamomile, Yarrow, Sandalwood, Bergamot, Neroli, and Lavender.

Precautions:

Pregnant women should seek advice before using essential oils.

Essential oils should not be used neat on the skin or applied near the eyes.

Rosemary, hyssop, sweet fennel, sage and wormwood should be avoided by epileptics while peppermint and thyme must not be given to small children.

Peppermint and camomile block the therapeutic effects of homeopathy, these oils should be used at least half an hour before taking homeopathy.

Resources

International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA)
182 Chiswick High Road
London
W4 1PP
Tel: 020 8742 2605
http://www.int-fed-aromatherapy.co.uk

International Society of Professional Aromatherapists
ISPA House
82 Ashby Road
Hinckley
Leicestershire
LE10 1SN
Tel: 01455 637987

The Register of Qualified Aromatherapists
PO Box 3431
Danbury
Chelmsford
Essex
CM3 4UA
Tel: 01245 227957
http://www.rqa-uk.org

Books

These are some of the references that have been passed to us; the list is not exhaustive. We haven't necessarily read the books, and cannot say how easy it will be to get them.

- Tisserand Robert. Aromatherapy: To heal and tend the body. ISBN: 0941524426
- Worwood Valerie Ann. The complete book of essential oils and aromatherapy ISBN:
0931432820.
- Worwood Valerie Ann. Aromatherapy for the healthy child: more than 300 natural, non-toxic, and fragrant essential oil blends. ISBN: 1577310950
- Price Shirley, Price Parr Penny. Aromatherapy for babies and children. ISBN: 0722531079

Ayurveda (ayur=life, veda=knowledge)
Traditional Indian medicine is based on the Ayurvedic system, which dates back to 5000 BC, making it the most ancient of all medicinal systems. The principle behind it is similar to that of Chinese Medicine; both systems view the body as a microcosm of the universe, and believe that good health is achieved by the balancing of energies. The life force, (equivalent to the Chinese chi) is called ojas.

According to this theory, we are composed of five basic elements - fire, water, earth, air and ether - which are converted by agni, the digestive fire, into three humours (doshas) which influence our health and temperament. For instance, a person whose dominant humour is vata is likely to be creative, alert and restless; when unbalanced they become tired, constipated, and underweight. Pitta individuals when out of balance may have conditions such as hyperacidity, peptic ulcers or other inflammatory diseases, including skin diseases. Kapha imbalance is associated with obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol.

A practitioner assesses which dosha is out of balance within a patient using specific examinations: pulse, urine, faeces, tongue, eyes, nails, voice and a general physical examination. Questions are also asked about the patient's lifestyle, eating habits, relationships at work and within the family, and general mood.

Detoxification is one of the main aims of ayurveda, and this is particularly the case with eczema. Treatments include massage, to improve the circulation, yoga, meditation, dietary advice and medicinal remedies (prepared from plant, mineral, animal and metal substances).

Side effects

No side effects are documented, though some preparations sold in the UK have been found to be contaminated with heavy metals.

Resources:

The Ayurvedic Medical Association UK
59 Dulverton Road
South Croydon
CR2 8PJ
Tel: 020 8657 6147
(they have a list of qualified practitioners)

The Ayurvedic Company of Great Britain Ltd
50 Penywern Road
London
SW5 9SX
Tel: 020 7370 2255
(they run a comprehensive database of herbal remedies)

Chiropractic

Chiropractic, which means 'done by hand', is a healing therapy made popular by Daniel David Palmer at the end of the 19th Century, though it was practised by almost all traditional cultures, from the Ancient Greeks to the Native Americans. Focussing on the spine, chiropractors check that the complex mechanisms of the vertebrae are in good working order. The vertebrae encase the 'tail' of the brain, which has an effect on many of the basic bodily functions like digestion, blood flow, heartbeat, the immune system and breathing regulation. The aim of chiropractic therefore, is to correct any problems of the spine with gentle manipulation, which as well as relieving pain, is believed to have a beneficial effect on the general health of the patient. A basic tenet of chiropractic is that when the body's systems are in harmony, the body has the ability to heal itself.

Chiropractic has not only been successful in treating back problems and headaches, but also asthma, eczema and other immune-related disorders. It is now the most widely practised complementary therapy in Western countries. In winter 2000, the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology published a report on alternative and complementary medicine in which it acknowledged that chiropractic's activity is well regulated and that it can benefit patients. Medical opinion is generally well disposed to chiropractic following scientific evidence of effectiveness.

British Chiropractic Association
Blagrave House
17 Blagrave Street
Reading
Berkshire
RG1 1QB
Tel: 0118 950 5950
Maintains a register of practitioners who have completed a minimum of four year's full-time training and have graduated with the following qualifications: DC.B App SC (Chiro), BSc (Chiropractic).

British Association for Applied Chiropractic
167a London Road
Teynham
Kent
ME9 9QJ
Tel: 01795 520 707

Scottish Chiropractic Association
16 Jenny Moores Road
St Boswells
Roxburghshire
TD6 0AL
Tel: 01835 824 026
Members registered with the SCA complete a minimum of four years' full time training and graduate with DC BAppSC(Chiro) or BSc(Chiro).

Essential Fatty Acids

'Good fats', as opposed to the trans-fatty acids found in milk and meat, may be ingested or rubbed on the affected skin. Evening primrose oil is the most renowned, but flax, black-current oil and borage oil are also good sources. A diet high in oily fish in another way of boosting levels of good fats.

What is Evening Primrose Oil?
Evening Primrose oil was first used by native Americans to heal wounds. It is taken from the roadside plant oenothera biennis. It contains one of the essential fatty acids our bodies need to maintain the structure of the cell membranes, gammalinolenic acid (GLA). In the body GLA converts into a physiologically active substance called prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) which regulates every cell and organ of the body as well as controlling the activity of some of the key enzymes. Fatty acids have to be ingested (like vitamins, the body cannot produce them) then broken down to GLA so that they can then be turned into prostaglandins. Many things including cholesterol, sugar, high intake of alcohol, saturated fat or conditions such as diabetes, stress, cancer, viral infections or zinc deficiency can hinder the transformation of GLA. Evening primrose oil is believed to help bypass this metabolic stage as it enters the body as a GLA, which then can be metabolised into prostaglandins. People with atopic excema often show signs of failing to metabolise fatty acids properly and have low GLA levels in their blood which evening primrose oil can help adjust. These claims remain anecdotal as they have not been scientifically proven.

Cautions: evening primrose oil is said to aggravate temporal lobe epilepsy.

Research

Gehring W, Bopp R, Rippke F, Gloor M. - Effect of topically applied evening primrose
oil on epidermal barrier function in atopic dermatitis as a function of vehicle Arzneimittelforschung 1999 Jul;49(7):635-42.

Books

These are some of the references that have been passed to us; the list is not exhaustive. We haven't necessarily read the books, and cannot say how easy it will be to get them. Erasmus U.

- Fats that heal, fats that kill: The Complete Guide to Fats, Oils, Cholesterol and Human Health. ISBN: 0920470386 Graham J.
- Evening Primrose Oil. ISBN: 0892812885

Herbal Medicine

Until the late nineteenth century, all medicines were derived from plants. Many medicines are still based on plant remedies (aspirin, for example, is similar to a substance found in the bark of the willow tree), however herbalists claim that one of the benefits of treating patients with the whole plant is that in addition to the curative substance, it contains elements which prevent side effects. The medicines are taken as herbal tinctures or teas, with the aim of building up the body's resistance. They may also be applied topically.

Herbs beneficial to eczema include:
Chickweed, and aloe vera gel can help with itching (topical)
Plantain, calendula, St John's Wort, Chamomile, are all anti-inflammatory (topical)
Comfrey, Marshmallow, Mallow, Slippery Elm are emollients
Quercus and Hamamelis are especially high in tannin, and can be helpful
Pine, Juniperis and Fagus (Beech) are tars good for topical use
Oregon Grape root, Dandelion root, cleavers and nettles are cleansing, and help to eliminate toxins
Tea tree oil has anti-septic properties

Resources

National Institute of Medical Herbalists
56 Longbrook Street
Exeter
EX4 6 AH
Tel: 01392 426 022
http://www.nimh.org.uk

Books

Mars, Brigitte - Herbs for Healthy Skin, Hair & Nails: Banish Eczema, Acne and Psoriasis With Healing Herbs That Cleanse and Tone to Body Inside and Out. ISBN: 0879838388

Homeopathy

Homeopathy is based on three principles:

1 The principle of similars ('like cures like'):
Homeopathic remedies treat illnesses with a substance that produces, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those displayed by the person who is ill; according to Hahnemann it is because nature will not allow two similar diseases to exist in the body at the same time. The mainstream immunisation programme is based on a similar principle: a vaccination infects the person with the actual disease; the difference with homeopathy is that the latter uses a remedy that will produce similar symptoms to the disease - for example Allium Cepia, which is a remedy created from red onion, is used for watery eyes and runny nose.

2 The principle of infinitesimal dose:
Homeopathy works the opposite way to conventional medicine, in that a minimum dose is required for effect. Hahnemann believed that the more a remedy was diluted the more potent it became, the more specific its effects were and the longer it lasted. It is believed that homeopathic remedies are diluted to such a degree that no atom of the original substance is left in the final remedy. How the remedies work is not well understood and this has brought some criticism from physicians. Homeopaths believe the answer is to be found in the domain of quantum physics: the water and alcohol mixture remembers that the substance was once there; they claim that continued dilution and shaking or 'succussion' can imprint the electromagnetic signal of a substance in the water. According to Richard Gerber 'homeopathic remedies are subtle energy medicines which contain the energetic frequency of the plant, mineral or animal from which they have been prepared'.

3 The principle of specificity of the individual:
The treatments are individualised: each individual has a symptom profile and it is quite likely that two persons with the same condition will be given different medicines. Practitioners look at the whole not just the condition. They will ask a series of questions about the medical history, moods, likes and dislikes, diet, chronic disorders or traumas of the patient in order to draw up a list of symptoms; they pay special attention to unusual symptoms. The choice of remedies depends more on the patient's individual reaction to illness, mentally and emotionally, than on the signs and symptoms characteristic of the disease - for instance, if a patient has headaches, it is not the headaches that will be treated but the person with the symptoms that will be treated. The remedy that fits all the symptoms of a person is called 'similimum' for that person.

There are over 2000 homeopathic remedies, they are made from plant, minerals, metals or animals and their Latin name indicates the substance they were created from. The remedies are extremely pure; they come in the form of lactose tablets, powder, granules, or as a liquid. Parts of the original substance are dissolved in alcohol to create the mother tincture (MT) and shaken ('succussed') several times. 1 drop is mixed with various ratios of distilled water: 1 in 10 (x dilutions), or 1 in 100 (c dilutions), for example 2C (2CH in Europe) dilution means that 1 part of mother tincture is mixed with 99 parts of water and alcohol then shaken (1C), then 1 part of this liquid is mixed with another 99 parts and shaken (2C).

Remedies should be taken at least half an hour after taking food or drink, it is advisable to avoid strong-tasting substances such as peppermint (mint-free toothpaste is available at health food stores), eucalyptus, camomile, camphor, coffee and tobacco. Granules or tablets should be dissolved under the tongue for best results and it is advised not to touch them with fingers as they will lose their properties.

Long-standing complaints are believed to take longer to treat than ones that developed recently, and symptoms may often get worse before they begin to get better. This reaction is called 'the healing crisis'.

Remedies indicated for the treatment of eczema include: Graphites, Petroleum, Sulphur, Hepar. Sulph, Rhus Tox and Ignatia. It is advisable to consult a practitioner to determine the most appropriate remedy for the individual.

Research

Homeopathy mechanisms are unexplained by modern day science hence the need for evidence, however clinical trials offer a difficult challenge to homeopaths as each patient must be administered the same remedy, which is opposed to the principle of specificity of the individual.

Because there is hardly any trace left in the final dilution, the therapeutic properties of homeopathy have been associated to those of placebo. In 1997, Linde and Jonas of the National Institute of Health in America analysed 186 clinical trials on homeopathic therapies; the authors concluded that 'the results of this meta-analysis are incompatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are due exclusively to a placebo effect'.

In November 2001, the New Scientist reported that scientists in South Korea have discovered that dissolved molecules cluster together as a solution is diluted: 'the finding may provide a mechanism for how some homeopathic medicines work, something that has defied scientific explanation till now. Diluting a remedy may increase the size of the particles until they become biologically active.'

British Homeopathic Association
15 Clerkenwell Close
London
EC1R 0AA
Tel: 020 7566 7800
http://www.trusthomeopathy.org

The Society of Homeopaths
4a Artizan Road
Northampton
NN1 4HU
Tel: 01604 621400
http://www.homeopathy-soh.org

Homeopathic Medical Association
6 Livingstone Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA13 5DZ
Tel: 01474 560 336
http://www.homoeopathy.org/

The Institute of Homeopathy
23 Berkeley Road
Bishopston
Bristol
BS7 8HF
Tel: 0117 944 5147
http://www.hominf.org.uk/

Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy
36 New Cavendish Street
London
W1M 7LH
Tel: 020 7935 5330
http://www.ainsworths.com

The following websites may also be useful:
- http://www.homeopathyhome.com
- http://www.boiron.com (the world leading homeopathic institute)

Books

Logan, Robin FFHom, - The Homeopathic Treatment of Eczema ISBN: 0906584477

Hypnotherapy

This can be useful if a child has developed a scratching 'habit'. It is also helpful with very troublesome eczema, which is exacerbated by constant scratching; the urge to itch may be visualised as being controlled by a thermostat, which can be mentally turned down to reduce the itch. For young children a modified version may be used, involving story-telling.

A list of accredited practitioners is available from:

British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis
c/o Dept of Psychology
Grimsby General Hospital
Scartho Road
Grimsby
DN33 2BA
Tel: 01472 879 238

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Diagnosis is based on an individual's pattern of symptoms rather than looking for a named disease. Although acupuncture is better known in the West, herbalism is far more important in China. The Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine) written about 200BC-100AD sets out the principles of TCM:

The yin, the female principle, is passive and dark and is represented by the earth; the yang, the male principle, is active and light and is represented by the heavens. The forces of yin and yang, and the five elements (fire, earth, metal, water, wood) are thought to act in the human body as they do throughout the natural universe as a whole. Disease or physical disharmony is caused by an imbalance or dominance of one of these two forces in the body, and the goal of Chinese medicine is to bring the yin and the yang back into balance with each other, thus restoring health. The balance may be disturbed by infection, accidents, pollution, poor diet, emotional changes, and the weather conditions.

An imbalance of yin and yang is thought to obstruct the vital life force, or the chi, in the body. The fundamental energy of the chi flows through 12 meridians, or pathways, in the body, each in turn associated with a major organ (liver, kidney, etc.) or body function. TCM aims to affect the distribution of yin and yang in these channels so that the chi can flow freely and harmoniously. Disruption on a meridian can create illness at other points along it; for example, a disorder of the stomach meridian could be manifested as pain in the gums.

Both acupuncturists and herbalists regard eczema as an imbalance resulting from excess 'wind heat' or 'damp heat', and treatment consists in correcting this imbalance.

Chinese Herbal Therapy

Herbal remedies are used to rebalance forces within the body. They are each associated
with one of the five elements, according to taste (sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, salty). The opposing yin/yang qualities of hot and cold are also linked with the action of a specific herb: for example, baical skullcap is a bitter, cold herb, and is used to lower a fever.

In order to restore harmony in the eczema sufferer, cooling (yin) herbs, such as dittany, Chinese wormwood, Chinese gentian, bamboo leaf, honeysuckle, peony and white barley may be prescribed, as pills, powders and a decoction of dried plants, ointments or a compress.

Half hour consultations every 4-6 weeks may be required for long term complaints, though some comditions may respond favourably after just one session.

Research

An experiment is described in the British Journal of Dermatology, 1992: Dr David Atherton and Dr Mary Sheehan, consultant dermatologists at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, studied 47 children with severe atopic eczema, who were administered the standard herbal remedies prescribed for eczema. Most of the children showed a 60% improvement within four weeks.

Side effects

Allergic reactions occur in rare cases. If the patient experiences nausea, diahorroea or flu-like symptoms after taking a herbal remedy you should contact your practitioner. Claims of toxicity are made, however, writing in the Lancet (12 Sept 1992) Malcolm Rustin and Dr David Atherton say, 'TCM seems to be much less toxic than drugs such as corticosteroids, oral photochemotherapy and azathorioprine. No hematological or biochemical abnormalities have been detected so far in any adults with atopic eczema under our care who have received a formulation of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicines that has been prepared with careful attention to quality control standards'.

Great care must be taken to choose a well-trained practitioner, since Westerners are vulnerable to exploitation. Some Chinese ointments have even been found to be amplified with steroids like prednisolone.

A list of qualified practitioners is available from:

The Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (UK) Ltd
78 Haverstock Hill
London
NW3 2BE
Tel: 020 7281 2898

Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine
PO Box 400
Wembley
HA9 9NZ
Tel: 020 8904 1357
http://www.rchm.co.uk

Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical technique for relieving pain, curing disease, and improving general health. It was devised before 2500 BC in China and by the late 20th century was used in many areas of the world. Acupuncture consists of the insertion of one or more small metal needles into the skin and underlying tissues at precise points on the body as a treatment for various disorders and for pain relief.

Acupuncturists associate eczema with exposure to heat, damp or wind. Treatment is based on countering the effects of these elements - needles are inserted along the meridians corresponding to the lungs, large intestine, spleen and stomach; improvement may be seen within four or eight sessions.

Treatment

The actual practice of acupuncture consists of inserting needles into any of hundreds of points located over the 12 basic meridians and over a number of specialised meridians. The typical insertion is 3 to 10 mm (0.1 to 0.4 inch) in depth; in some procedures insertions may be up to almost 25 cm (10 inches). Once inserted, a needle may be twisted, twirled, or connected to a low-voltage alternating current. The practitioner often inserts needles at a considerable distance from the point on which they are to act; for example, a needle inserted into the pad of the thumb is used to produce analgesia in the abdomen. Similarly, successive points on a specific meridian may affect widely different areas or conditions.

Other acupuncture techniques include 'moxibustion' in which the herb moxa is burnt to create heat to stimulate the acupoints. In cupping, glass cups may be placed over the points in order to draw blood towards them. The practitioner can also gain information about the patient from studying the skin before and after this treatment. Electro-acupuncture was developed in China in the 1950s. A low-intensity pulsing electric current is applied to the needles to stimulate the acupoints and can reach a number of acupoints simultaneously. Laser acupuncture directs a fine, low-energy laser beam on to the acupoint - particularly useful for patients with an aversion to needles.

A growing number of GPs now practice Western "medical" acupuncture, usually to relieve pain, although opinion on this is still divided. Many remain sceptical of the idea of chi and meridians.

Always see a qualified practitioner. Acupuncture is an invasive therapy and therefore not without risk. Ensure needles used are sterilised or preferably that new disposable needles are used each time. Practitioners should always be told if the patient is pregnant - certain points must not be stimulated except during labour - or if they are HIV positive or have any sexually transmitted disease. Immediately before or after a session, avoid alcohol, large meals, hot baths or showers, or strenuous exercise (including sex) as these may counteract its effect.

Resources

British Acupuncture Council
63 Jeddo Road
London
W12 9HQ
Tel: 020 8735 0400
http://www.acupuncture.org.uk

British Medical Acupuncture Society
12 Marbury House
Higher Whitley
Warrington
Cheshire
WA4 4QW
Tel: 01925 730 727
http://www.medical-acupuncture.co.uk

Books

- Nightingale, Michael - Acupuncture (Alternative Health Series). ISBN:0804830045
- Firebrace, Peter; Hill, Sandra - Acupunture: How it Works, How it Cures. ISBN:
0879836393

It may also be worth exploring the following therapies: reflexology, Bach flower remedies,probiotics.

Resources (General)

The National Eczema Society
Hill House
Highgate Hill
London N19 5NA
Helpline: (Mon - Fri 1pm - 4pm) 0870 241 3604
http://www.eczema.org

The Skin Care Campaign is at the same address.
It campaigns nationally to the government and the NHS on behalf of skin patients.
Tel: 0207 388 5651
http://www.skincarecampaign.org/

National Eczema Association for Science and Education
1221 SW Yamhill
#303 Portland
OR 97205
USA
Tel: (001) 503 228 4430

Books

Atherton, David, - Eczema in Childhood. ISBN: 0192623982

« Back