The People's Perspective on Medicine


Eczema is one of those old-fashioned words, like apoplexy, that sounds as though it should have become obsolete. Unfortunately, the condition it describes is still very much in evidence, now perhaps more than ever.

Dermatologists estimate that the red itchy rash of chronic eczema may affect as much as 20 percent of the population in Scandinavia, Australia, and England. The United States has similar figures, compared to only about 2 percent of the population in places like Iran and China.

Scientists don’t know why the rate of eczema varies so widely from one place to another. A lot of other things are still pretty mysterious about eczema, too. The researchers who study it have not come up with a single unified measure of eczema severity, so it is sometimes difficult to compare studies. In fact, when dermatologists discuss eczema, they frequently use the term atopic dermatitis instead. It means the same thing: a nasty, itchy rash, especially in places where the skin creases (like inside the elbows and on the backs of the knees). It may be associated with dry skin, redness, and irritation on the cheeks or forehead, as well as asthma or hay fever.

Very young kids with eczema may have family members with asthma or hay fever. Atopic dermatitis is pretty common in children and may start early, at as young as 2 or 3 months of age.275 If it is severe, the itching can drive the sufferer crazy and even keep him or her awake at night. It is no wonder patients and their parents are anxious to get relief.

Eczema, or more precisely atopic dermatitis, is an itchy skin condition that is often chronic. Besides the itch, skin affected by eczema may develop a rash with liquid-filled bumps. Skin-fold areas, such as the back of the knees, seem to be especially susceptible to the rash. Eczema is often accompanied by generalized dry skin, and the patient may also have asthma or hay fever.

There’s no cure for eczema, although sometimes it does go away for a period of time. No treatment works all the time or for everyone, so people are understandably on the lookout for something that might work better than what they have already tried.

Eczema is quite common in young children, and parents need to be especially vigilant in weighing the benefits against the risks of various therapies they might use for their kids.

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to water or any irritating chemicals, including soap or detergent. After washing hands or bathing, apply a moisturizer within 3 minutes of patting the skin dry.
  • A person with a documented food allergy that makes eczema worse should avoid that food. Eggs may be a culprit for young children.
  • Probiotics can help in some instances. Look for a high-quality supplement with viable organisms. Lactobacillus GG and L. fermentum have done well in studies.
  • Fatty acid supplements providing gamma-linolenic acid (such as evening primrose oil, borage oil, or black currant seed oil) help some individuals, but have not performed well in clinical trials. One exception is hemp seed oil, although the data on it are limited to one study. It might be worth a try.
  • Cut table sugar and simple starches out of your diet. A low-glycemic-index approach might be worth trying, though there is no scientific evidence that it will control eczema.
  • According to anecdotal reports, eating salsa may ease eczema symptoms. If you like spicy foods, go for it.
  • Drinking 4 cups of oolong tea daily was shown in one study to help eczema that wasn’t responding to other treatments. It is easy and nontoxic, so it would be worth a try.
  • Vitamin E capsules did very well in one study of people with atopic dermatitis. Check with your doctor first if you are a smoker or at high risk of heart disease; some large studies suggest vitamin E might increase your risk of serious complications. For others, there is very little risk in a short-term personal trial to see if it helps your skin.
  • Apply Noxzema—the original formula in the blue jar—to the affected areas. The herbal ingredients, camphor, menthol, and eucalyptol, may soothe itching. Be alert for increased irritation, though.
  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream (0.5 or 1 percent) may help if the eczema is mild.
  • CamoCare Soothing Cream is available without a prescription and may ease itching, redness, and inflammation.
  • Blend up a batch of honey, beeswax, and olive oil for a homemade salve that may help. It sounds sticky, though.
  • Use prescription steroid creams according to the physician’s instructions. Don’t use a potent steroid on the face, or for too long a time. “Pulsing” the dose—applying the cream for 3 to 7 days straight, then not using it for a time—may help. Ask your doctor.
  • Drugs such as Protopic (tacrolimus) or Elidel (pimecrolimus) may be helpful as back-up treatment if the steroid creams stop working or don’t work well enough. Don’t overuse these creams in young children (and don’t use them at all in kids under 2) because the immune suppression they induce may increase the risk of infection and even cancer.
  • Experiment with other approaches such as light therapy or hypnosis. Work with your physician to coordinate a safe and effective regimen.
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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I have had eczema on my scalp. I have used bought a lot of different creams, but Foderma is the only one that has given me any relief to the itchyness.

WebMD lists 7 different types of eczema, which helps explain why it’s so hard to treat:

What works for 1 person, on one part of their skin, might not even help on another part of that very same person’s skin. A person might need several different solutions. It’s complicated.

Myself, I have at least 2 types of eczema. My first type went away when I started on the Omega 3 fats EPA and DHA. Those were some big patches.

But that didn’t help other parts of my skin.

My other troubled areas responded well to sunlight, but some of those patches only responded for a few days before flaring up again. But doctor helped me with those more troubled areas too, with ketoconazole shampoo.

I’d like to stop using the ketoconazole shampoo, and find something natural, but it works for me for now, and might help others too.

Well, it mostly works….I still have 2 small patches that don’t always respond to ketoconazole shampoo. For those still use the ketoconazole shampoo, but also I wash with Cetaphil cleanser and moisturize with almond oil.

I feel like my problems are 95% solved, so my quest continues, but I’ve come along way and I want people to know that there is hope. Try a lot of things, and treat each area of the skin as a different ecosystem.

I’ve suffered from severe oozing eczema on my face and eyelids. It’s so severe, I can no longer look at cell phones or read books (printed or digital) without breaking out in my eyelids.

This started 22 years ago and I’ve nearly bankrupted my family going to Mayo, Johns Hopkins and other places that have only given me creams and 30 different antibiotics. Mayo even gave me leprosy medicine as sort of a ‘gamble.’

I am not much better than I was when this nightmare started, but I have learned to identify my triggers. For one, I cannot eat oranges or lemons or any citrus fruits. I’m considering taking some lengthy time off work to try a regimen of apple cider vinegar as much of my research online shows that people fix eczema and rosacea-type issues with topical apple cider vinegar, and by drinking it.

One thing that has helped me somewhat is kampuku probiotic soap, which they sell at a Vitamin store near my house- this is also on Amazon. I’ve also had some improvement with taking sea buckthorn seed oil- apparently many people use this to combat sjorgren’s. I’ve cut out dairy, white breads/pastas, etc. and the nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers). There are a lot of things to try.

If you want to beat excema, you have to keep researching and keep removing things from your diet to find your way. I hope you people find some relief. I am trying everything I can and just recently had my mercury fillings removed by a holistic dentist. Believe it or not, this improved my overall health a lot but it didn’t dent my eczema.

First of all, it’s natural to be frustrated, but don’t give up hope, things will get better.

Personal journey started years ago, when I eventually had eczema on 4 parts of my body, plus my face.

My first improvements came with aloe and almond and coconuts oils. They mostly work, and don’t have the side effects of cortisone and other steroids.

Then I started on omega 3, specifically EPA and DHA. That alone resulted in 3 of my patches going away completely, and the forth area is mostly healed. I don’t have to use aloe, natural oils, or steroids on these areas anymore, it’s that much better for me.

Last is my face, which gets better and worse, and still requires the natural oils and aloe, even steroids recently, which should never be used on the face, since it can damage your eyes.

I tries noxzema and vinegar, which both failed badly.

I have tried oolong tea once, and it did work really well, but also caused one new patch, so I stopped. I also didn’t like the country of origin of the oolong tea in my local store.

I had another back break out, so now I’m back to oolong tea, plus using the natural oils and aloe. So far it’s working, my skin looks close to perfect.

To summarize:
Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA
Coconut and almond oil
Oolong tea

I wish you luck.

I had a terrible painful cracking rash on my hands. Frequent washing made it worse. Doctor said exema and I tried steroid creme, which helped but did not make it go away. In desperation I started using diaper rash creme with a high percentage of zinc oxide. Worked In 3 days. I do not think it was excema, but some type of contact dermatitis, probably from liquid anti-bacteria soap.

Do you use the Omega topically or orally?

My doctor was stumped about what condition I had because she said I don’t have all the symptoms of eczema. Although my elbow and the base of my neck are extremely itchy with 4 or 5 bumps, my elbow only shows bumps, redness and a sort of rash. Just itchy bumps on the base of my head. I have it no where else on my body, and it has never spread to my knees or inside any warm sweaty areas. We tried a week of cortosone pills that made it go away for a day or so, then it came back fiercely itchy. Later I tried a cortosone cream, one of the best out there, my doctor told me. It did nothing. The result of the biopsy on my elbow said I had contact eczema or dermatitis.
I have no blisters, no cracks. Just itching, redness and a cluster of bumps. This has been going on for 2 months. There is no skin issues in the history of my family. I have never had skin problems ever, anywhere on my body, no acne, just smooth, healthy clear skin. I haven’t changed anything I’ve done, I’ve used the same detergent for years, worn the same perfume for years, wear mostly cotton clothing, and eat a healthy diet. I don’t have allergies and I’ve had a hypoallergenic small dog for for 8 years.
I feel as though I have been misdiagnosed by my doctor as we looked together at photos of eczema and none of them looked like what I had and none of the prescriptions worked. I am doing a follow up in 2 weeks, but am discouraged by the outcome of the diagnosis. I would appreciate your opinion, any comments, suggestions, or remedies.

After almost 60 years of living with eczema [atopic dermatitis], I still have it along with sinus and bronchial allergies. Heat, humidity, rough or itchy clothing, dust, pet dander, perfume, and more can trigger my recurrent eczema through the release of histamine. Foods don’t trigger itching for me but I believe that anxiety can cause histamine to be released which starts the itching. For me, eczema is both very dry skin everywhere and irritation anywhere there is a fold of skin [inside elbows, behind knees, behind the ears] which lead to infection and sometimes even fungal problems.
While cortisone creams can help, long term use can damage the skin. In recent years, I have used olive oil mixed with dead sea salt to gently cleanse and hydrate inflamed patches of skin [face, arms, legs, back]. [use 2 coffee filters to hold the mixture which is spread along the flat part of the filters and then twist the pleated sides together to form a sort of handle.] The dead sea salt helps with infection while the olive oil soothes. For some extremely bad patches on my arms and legs, I treated them with a bit of sulphur powder mixed with organic coconut oil after using the oil oil/dead sea salt mixture. Just one patch left to heal completely.
Organic coconut oil helps with dry skin, can remove makeup, etc., and does not burn or irritate my skin in any way. Cerave brand lotion and cream, which is available over the counter, is the best that I have used after the coconut oil has had a chance to sink into the skin. Sometimes I have to use Zeasorb AF powder [the AF means anti fungal] to help with skin folds that are irritated due to heat and/or humidity or even the elastic next to the skin.
No perfumes in soap or laundry. I use goat milk soap to wash my hands and skin [good value]. Beginning to wear cotton and other natural fibers to allow my skin to breathe. No scratchy clothing, seams, or tags. No heavy ointments, like vasoline based products, as they smother my skin and cause itching. Generic Atarax, an anti-histamine, at bedtime so I can sleep without scratching all night. A couple of times a year, a steroid injection is also needed to treat allergy symptoms. Hope this is helpful.

My daughters both suffer from eczema. It’s extremely heartbreaking, my oldest daughter has it on her hands since one. It was so bad that it started to bleed, crack and her nails were brittle and cracked also. My youngest daughter has it behind her knees, behind her ears in the bend of her arms and the inside of her thighs. My great grandmother who is 101 and raised 9 children, told me to mix olive oil in PLAIN lotion. So I went and got baby lotion (scent less) and mixed extra virgin olive oil. It was amazing 3x a day, after their morning bath, mid day and after their bedtime bath in about 2 weeks it was gone. We live in NY so winter time it’s pretty cold! It’s been 9 months and I haven’t had a problem yet. It became a routine. Good luck!

Have on my hands, too! Have for many years, I feel like my nerve and probably hormones bring it on! Does anyone else see it that way?
I have yet to find any type of doctor to cure for along time. I sometime thing they look at me and just write a prescription, never really get a close look. They act like it can not be tied to nerves! And make me feel like I am Crazy!
Please share if you take anything to help – also I wear gloves to shower & am careful at what my hands touch! Not the way we should have to live!

Hi, I know what that feels like. I had it so bad my hands were raw. I could not stop scratching. The one thing that really helped me and still does is SBC’s propolis gel. I have to use it 10 x a day initially until the inflammation goes down. It immediately soothes and when the itch returns I just put some more one. It makes a huge difference, and after a week you only need to use it once or twice a day..It is quite expensive, but it does work..

I had 80% of body eczema and put a single sheet over the regular sheet because of terrible scratching. I had been to three dermatologists with no satisfaction. Waste of money. Then went to one of the best dermatologists for eczema in New Jersey (magazine) Put me on 14 light treatments that did not help. Then on predisone that seem to help to a certain extent. The bad part of this kind of doctor is that they come in and out. Never give you a chance to ask a question until you stop him.
I could see after 1 1/2 years that he was searching for straws. This is how I am handling it. I have been using calamine/catahist at Walgreen’s and keep Aveeno anti-itch cream in my car and on the night table. When itchy late afternoon take Benadryl. Calamine is drying so need to wash off after a while. Forget the Vaselines. When you have open sores they seem to aggravate it more. Doctors do not seem to understand that when you have open sores covering them with this makes you want to scratch more.
Better creams are Sharma and Cetaphil Restoraderm. When I am driving and want to scratch, I keep gum in car and this seems to get mind off the itching. I still have the eczema but slowly getting it under control. 20% from 80%.

I developed eczema a few years ago… The itching got worse and worse. Olive oil, but felt gross. I was suggested to use Vaseline before showers because water increases dryness, and Vaseline stops the water. That definitely helps. My doc prescribed 2.5% Hydrocorizone cream and Lac-Hydrin Five. The combination of the three worked wonders. I use the lotion and steroid twice daily, and it really works. It’s a bit costly, but worth it! Good luck….

I developed eczema a few years ago… The itching got worse and worse. Olive oil, but felt gross. I was suggested to use Vaseline before showers because water increases dryness, and Vaseline stops the water. That definitely helps. My doc prescribed 2.5% Hydrocorizone cream and Lac-Hydrin Five. The combination of the three worked wonders. I use the lotion and steroid twice daily, and it really works. It’s a bit costly, but worth it! Good luck….

Sounds like I have the exact same thing. The effected area was my palm, inside of my thumb and top of my forefinger on my right hand. I’ve been plagued with this for about four years now. It seemed to start after abusing my hands doing some DIY projects at home. I too tried prescription steroid creams and OTC creams. Nothing helped.
Finally, I remembered years earlier when I had eczema on my shins that was driving me crazy. I started taking 2000 mg of fish oil then and it cleared up the eczema on my shins. So I experimented and slowly increased my dosage to 6000 to 8000 mg of fish oil with EPA/DHA a day. It took a while but it has cleared up the eczema on my hand. I now am very careful to use gloves when gardening, using hand tools, or when cleaning. If I see the eczema returning I immediately increase my fish oil again until it subsides.

I am 61 and developed eczema on my hands about 18 months ago. It started with one small spot in my palms and has moved up my fingers and thumbs. It peels, flakes, itches, cracks and bleeds. I have tried every over the counter cream and prescribed steroid creams, with minimal result.
I use Gold Bond super hand lotion, it makes them feel better for a while, I wear gloves over steroid cream at night, again, my hands are a little better when I get up in the morning, then by the time I shower and dress they are dry and peeling again. I’m getting pretty desperate, my hands look awful and I can’t get a manicure because no one will touch them.

There are a few ways to beat eczema, but that is step 2, we need to look at the triggers first:
I am sorry to hear about what you are going through. You are on the right track when it comes to looking for the ‘triggers’ to the eczema. There are so many eczema triggers that working out the trigger that is setting off your child’s eczema becomes a full time job.
I found that changing my soaps and the detergents I used to wash our family clothes did the trick for me. Here are some of the triggers I was looking into, or maybe you should try work out if one of these are the trigger for your child:
You mentioned you had tried some of these before but I will still put them down:
* Perfumes: Don’t use anything that has perfumes or fragrances, this could be setting the eczema off.
* Soaps: This goes all the way to the detergent you are using to do the laundry to the soap you are using for body cleaning.
* Don’t let baby be too wet for too long, and don’t wash baby too many times per day. Repeating getting wet and then dry again, wet and dry again can trigger the eczema. When you need to give baby a bath, pat dry with a towel to dry off babies body. (I went to an extreme and would put the towel in the dryer for a few minutes to make sure it was warm and dry).
* Don’t use fabric softeners in your laundry.
* No wool or polyester clothes
* Double rinse your clothes
* Try using soft cotton clothing
There are also ways in which you can help your child’s skin heal quicker and it will also help when it comes to the itching. Never ever use anything other than natural products on your baby. The steroid creams available for adults eczema is even bad for adults so don’t think of using this on your baby.
I have been able to do my own research when it comes to children’s eczema because it seems like each one of my kids has got eczema. The good news to my story is it seems as they get a little older they grow out of the eczema, and all we need to is make sure they don’t run into the triggers.
One more thing to keep in mind is that we are not bad mothers just because our children have eczema. In the modern environment there are so many factors that are at play, we can only do our best to work out the triggers. Our little patients are not able to tell us with words what is bothering them. Just look for the triggers and use some of the natural products to heal with the itching and to help the skin heal quicker.

My daughter is 7yrs. She has had eczema for about 3 yrs now. I put shea butter lotion on her and a foam the Dr. prescribed. Nothing is working. It now is getting on her face. she has it behind her legs, and inside her arms at the bend. Now it ‘s getting on her neck. She’ll scratch until it bleeds.
Got any ideas? please

I have extreme itchiness, that comes and goes, in my ear canal. I’ve often wondered if it is eczema or a fungal issue. Wonder if athlete’s foot cream is safe to put in the ear? I’ve actually tried it out of desperation and got some temporary relief.

I went to an Ear Doctor for a hearing test, after the test I mentioned i had itching in my ear canal.. He gave me a script for FLUOCINOLONE ACETONIDE OIL.. It comes as an eye dropper, you can put a couple of drops in each ear or rub it in behind the ear if it also itches.. Most times it will stop for up to a month or longer. I’m happy with the results, so I keep getting refills. For over-the-counter, ask you druggist for something that may do the same thing without paying to see a doctor and paying for the script.

I was just diagnosed with Eczema in the ear. Have you ever heard about this?

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