For patients suffering from eczema, it can be a painful as well as a traumatising condition that greatly affects the overall quality of life and self-esteem. We know personally because one of the founding members of our clinic suffered from eczema since young. He suffered from severe eczema with peeling skin especially at the joints, and skin on his face and back of ears used to come off with his specs whenever he took them off.
If you are a sufferer of eczema and/or topical steroid withdrawal (TSW), you are not alone. According to Straits Times Singapore, about one in ten adults suffer from eczema in Singapore, and for children, the percentage is higher at around 21%, half of eczema sufferers have it for half their lives. Here at Oriental Remedies Group, we aim to help you embark on your road to better manage your eczema and help you #BeTheBestYouCanBe.
What is eczema and how does it occur?
Eczema refers to a group of conditions that causes the skin to become inflamed and irritated. The most common kind of eczema is known as Atopic Dermatitis (AD). Common symptoms and characteristics of affected eczema skin are itchiness, rashes, very dry and flaky skin as well as appearing thickened or even scaly.
Eczema is conventionally believed to occur due to an imbalance in the body’s immune system, in particular, an overactive immune response to substances consumed or applied as well as conditions internally and externally. Triggers include weather, exposure to water, different kinds of foods and so on. What causes flares up in eczema patients varies from one another, so does the intensity of the outbreaks.
A more holistic understanding of eczema is emerging where more people understand the link between gut health and skin issues. Leaky gut may occur due to certain triggers or stressors, which culminates in a microbial imbalance of the gut and ultimately lead to an increase in intestinal permeability. There has been research that has shown a link between skin barrier dysfunction and a compromise of the intestinal permeability barrier in atopic dermatitis.
Other possible pathways that may trigger eczema are environmental toxins like dust, poor liver function, stress-causing adrenal glands imbalance and excessive cortisol production and systemic allergic responses which can begin from the skin i.e. putting creams with food-based ingredients may result in us having systemic allergic reactions to those foods. As eczema can be aggravated by allergens, you may wish to identify these factors and avoid common allergens in food such as chemical additives, dairy products and alcohol.
“There seem to be three major reasons why patients seek alternative medicine for atopic dermatitis: First, we simply don’t yet have a cure for this disease.
Second, we can’t yet clearly explain why this disease occurs. While doctors try hard to describe factors that play a role in atopic dermatitis, such as cytokines and inflammatory cells, we still can’t pinpoint the root of the disease.
Third, the outcomes of conventional atopic dermatitis treatments are not always consistent, and sometimes they are perceived as being unsafe.”
— Peter Lio, M.D
Why does eczema occur in TCM terms?
Note: All words in Italics refer to the TCM definitions and organ-systems and not the typical definition of the words or anatomy.
In TCM terms, eczema is usually caused by deficiencies in the spleen, kidney and liver, coupled with pathogenic factors of wind, heat and dampness. As per the previous section, where we explained that the onset of eczema could be due to various factors, similarly in TCM, how eczema occurs in patients are vastly different.
Firstly, let’s explore what is the pathogenic factor – Wind. We may not be able to see wind, but like its moving characteristic, this pathogenic factor is often the reason why your eczema rashes are itchy, have sporadic occurrences and appear in different locations. Therefore using herbs with wind-clearing properties will be able to remove this pathogenic factor from our bodies. Wind is related to the liver, which is in turn linked to stress and emotional regulation. Hence, patients tend to observe flare-ups under stress or menstrual cycles. If you suffer from hay fever on top of your eczema or have allergic reactions to pollen, wind is likely a causation factor to your eczema as wind is a spring qi.
In TCM, wind does not travel alone and often brings along heat and/or dampness hand-in-hand. These 2 pathogenic factors could result from internal or external reasons. If you are often exposed to heat or humidity (like Singapore), it is difficult to prevent these pathogenic factors from entering your body. It is advisable to regulate your immunity and body constitution to reduce their impact.
According to TCM principles, the spleen is responsible for converting the food you eat into useful substances like qi and blood that nourishes our body. However, when the spleen is weakened by an imbalanced diet, excessive cold/cooling food or excessive worrying, nutrients are instead transformed into internal dampness, instead of qi and blood. Signs of internal dampness coupled with weakened spleen are presented as lethargy, heavy limbs, brain fog, food coma, sticky or loose stools. Eczema presentation are pus-filled blisters, swollen, often appear at creases of skin and takes a long time to heal.
Internal dampness will generate internal heat when it is accumulated in the body over a prolonged period. Patients who keep late nights, feast on fried/greasy foods tend to accumulate internal heat within the body. This internal heat is similar to chronic inflammation of the skin and presents with red/dusky rashes, cracked skin with flakes, burning sensation, blistering or with infected pus. Accompanied systemic symptoms include thirst, bad breath, constipation, yellow urine, sweat and scared of heat.
Do you know that the liver and kidneys are major organs in our body? Their functions are slightly different from the anatomical organs as TCM sees them with bigger functions. Liver stores blood and kidney is the source of essence in our body. Many patients do not have good sleep quality or burn the midnight oil, and as we become more hectic and stressed, these unhealthy habits deplete our blood and essence, resulting in skin dryness, itch, skin darkening, changes in nail quality.
Not all eczema conditions have the same root cause so it is best to consult our physicians to get the diagnosis right!
How do we help eczema patients here at Oriental Remedies Group (ORG)?
Here at ORG, we believe in combining modern technologies with Traditional Chinese Medicine expertise to bring about improvements in our patients’ wellbeing. Here are the different modalities that can be used to manage eczema and topical steroid withdrawal:
What are the treatments offered for eczema management?
Our experienced and well-trained physicians will go through with you your body condition, daily habits and so on to gain a better understanding of the root causes of eczema and imbalances in your body.
For example, if the root cause is due to spleen deficiency and dampness, the physicians may prescribe guang huo xiang 广藿香 or fu ling 茯苓. If the issues are more related to liver and wind, the physicians may use chai hu 柴胡 or gou teng 钩藤 to soothe the liver and reduce wind pathogen. As for heat and dampness, di fu zi 地肤子 and pu gong ying 蒲公英 may be used to clear heat and reduce dampness.
Specific to eczema issues, herbs such as fang feng 防风 or bai ji li 白蒺藜 are added to the prescription to dispel wind. If the rashes are red and burning to the touch, we can use tu fu ling 土茯苓 or jin yin hua 金银花 to dissipate heat and fire as they help to calm down the inflammation.
Since every patients’ body condition and constitution are all different, our physicians take time and effort to clearly understand and comprehend the patient’s body and their condition.
- Electro-Lymphatic Drainage Therapy (ELT) is a gentle and non-invasive therapy that helps to stimulate proper flow and drainage of the lymphatic system, simulating the effects of a lymphatic drainage massage or tuina without the pain and pressure. ELT is performed using an FDA-registered wellness device to boost your overall wellness.
- Good lymphatic drainage helps to detoxify the body and promote overall well-being.
- Acupuncture uses very fine needles into specific points along the meridians to correct the imbalances of the various organs.
- In one study regarding acupuncture and kidney functions, acupuncture was used to stimulate one point on the arm called ‘Large Intestine 11’ in one group of patients. A placebo treatment, which did not stimulate a significant point on the body, was used in another group. The researchers found that the patients who underwent the acupuncture treatment reported a significant reduction in itch, while the placebo group reported no significant change.
- There are certain dietary changes and supplements that can be consumed to alleviate and reduce the symptoms of leaky gut as well as help correct it. For example, probiotics help to encourage the growth of healthy gut microbiome, contributing to a healthier gut.
- Recent research suggests that Chinese herbal medicine can remodel the gut microbiota. Though the research was for diabetes, it opens up new avenues for further research to eczema and beyond. This review presents the recent progress of Chinese herbs, herbal extracts, and herbal compound preparations through regulating the gut microbiota and summarizes the main mechanisms involved, namely, anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects, protecting the intestinal barrier and inhibiting lipotoxicity.
Can TCM help children with eczema?
Traditional Chinese Medicine can help children with eczema, typically with herbal medication and non-invasive Pediatric Massage. As we understand from above, herbal medication will help to target the children’s body constitution and try to reduce the flare-ups. Parents will be pleased to know that children’s consumption of herbal medication will be of lesser dosage compared to their adult counterparts. Pediatric Massage is also a commonly used therapy for children to balance their body constitution! It has been gaining popularity due to its painless approach and children are more receptive to this form of gentle massage. It uses different hand techniques to improve and regulate the flow of Qi and blood throughout the meridian channels to help restore the body’s balance in children.
Between 2006 and 2008, Dr Julia Wisniewski, a researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, treated 14 children with persistent eczema with TCM therapies. Besides being given Herbal Tea twice a day, the children soaked in a herbal bath daily, applied a herbal cream to their skin and underwent acupuncture treatments. Improvements were seen as early as the three-month mark, and six months on, red scaly extremities appeared normal. Dr Wisniewski has emphasized the need for alternative treatments for eczema, as many patients with severe allergies continue to have flare-ups as long as a decade after conventional therapy with steroids and immune-suppressing agents.
An earlier study had similar convincing results. In 1992, 37 children who had not responded to conventional treatments were treated with herbal medicine over the course of a year. After the year, 18 children showed at least a 90 per cent reduction in eczema flare-ups and another five showed smaller degrees of improvement.
Hear from our patients!
As a finance manager, Ms S has been suffering from eczema (on her face and body) for more than ten years. This condition caused her to have lower self-esteem. In the beginning, she visited the National Skin Centre and General Practitioners which prescribed her steroid creams but knew that she couldn’t use them regularly.
Despite seeing a TCM physician who helped her condition improved, her eczema recurred two years later, which she speculates could be due to allergens in the air when she moved office. Upon friend recommendation, Ms S came to us at the end of December 2018, where she started her first Electro-Lymphatic Therapy (ELT) session.
After a few sessions of ELT, she saw big improvements in her well-being (also witnessed by her family, friends and colleagues). All of these helped her regain her confidence. Her sleep quality improved as well!
Ms S still comes for her ELT sessions regularly. She strongly encourages anyone who wants to improve their well-being to try out ELT!
Mr K – Using herbal medication as the primary protocol
Hear from Mr K who used herbal medication to help treat his eczema.
For Mr K never had eczema when he was growing up. However, as an adult, he started getting red patches on his face and neck whenever he ate certain kinds of food or after physical activities such as jogging. He was constantly using steroid-based cream, but it was still frustrating as it would take 3-5 days for the rash to go away whenever he had an attack. He eventually had to resort to using stronger steroids as the milder ones did not work anymore for him. As such, it had a huge on Mr K’s lifestyle, he was even afraid to do simple things like exercising in fear that it would trigger another attack.
After taking the medication for one month, Mr K started to see results, his eczema flare-ups were fewer and milder. He continued to take his medication regularly for the next few months and now his eczema symptoms are almost non-existent!
Your healing is the most important
In Oriental Remedies Group, we have more than 10 certified bi-lingual TCM Physicians. Each of them has been trained in both Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) and China for a minimum of 5-8 years, in both Biomedical Science and TCM before being certified to practice in Singapore. Most of our Senior Physicians work with many eczema and TSW patients, and are constantly upgrading their knowledge to serve you better.
By combining Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies and expertise with Technology-Enhanced Therapies, we strive to provide the best care possible in your journey with us.
If you or a loved one is suffering from eczema and/or topical steroid withdrawal, we would like to help. Please contact us at +65 8742 2163 for a personalized consultation.
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