Let us familiarise you with psoriasis, eczema, atopic dermatitis, and hives
Welcome to part 1 of this article on common skin conditions. In the table below are some statistics to show you how common they are:
||No. of people affected in New Zealand
||No. of people affected in Australia
||No. of people affected Worldwide
- 1 in 50
- Approximately 2% of the population.
||3% of the world’s population.
|*Eczema (or dermatitis, this includes all the types)
||Around 10 to 15% of New Zealanders have some type of eczema.
||Around 20% of Australians are itching from some type of eczema.
- About 20% of children have 74 form of eczema.
- Up to 3% of adults have some form of eczema.
- 15 to 20% of children.
- 1 to 2% of adults.
- 16.3% of children.
- Approx 2% of adults.
- 2 to 5% of children.
- 10% of adults.
|Hives (aka urticaria)
Data available for acute urticaria only
|Approximate number not available.
||Approximate number not available.
- Approx 15% of people experience hives at some point in their lives.
- 1 in 5 children.
- 1 in 5 adults.
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*Eczema and atopic dermatitis are sometimes used interchangeably. Eczema is another term for dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema. It’s the most common type of dermatitis. Though in this article, we shall consider them separately.
Psoriasis. Psoriasis is a non-infectious skin disease characterised by scaly red patches. The patches are caused by increased multiplication of your skin cells. These lesions are most commonly located on the elbows, scalp, and knees.
The precise cause of psoriasis is not yet established. What they do know is that a variety of factors like genetic, immune, and triggering factors contribute to its development. Some experts also consider psoriasis to be an autoimmune condition. Common triggers include infections (streptococcal), skin wounds (secondary to a cut, a bad sunburn, or nasty bed bug bites), increase in weight, cold weather, smoking and stress.
People with psoriasis may also complain of scaling on the scalp and nail problems. Standard medical treatment for psoriasis includes topical and oral medications.
Topical treatments are composed of steroid-based creams, coal-tar shampoos and ointments (be careful with these), retinoids, calcipotriene-containing ointments, and salicylic acid ointments. There are several different kinds of psoriasis and psoriasis can occur to any person regardless of age. The symptoms come and go.
Things you can do to help the symptoms include:
- Stop drinking alcohol. It affects some of the medications you’re applying on your skin and taking.
- Stay away from the known triggers like those listed above. Other triggers may be exposure to chemicals used in your workplace or in your household cleaning and cosmetic products, foods like dairy and gluten.
- Take a bath daily to remove dead skin cells. Only use very gentle, chemical-free soaps. Epsom salt baths can also help to provide some relief.
- Get some sunlight to alleviate symptoms and top up on your vitamin D which is key to a healthy immune system.
- Oregon grape and aloe vera, when applied to your skin, can reduce the swelling, itching, and inflammation. While apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil can help to disinfect the skin and reduce itching (add essential oils to a carrier oil like jojoba).
- Barrier creams can also help to reduce irritation and protect the skin from infection and loss of moisture.
Eczema. Eczema or dermatitis is a general term which basically describes skin inflammation. More often than not, it’s made up of an itchy rash sitting on top of an area of inflamed, swollen skin. It has several types. It’s essential to know which type of dermatitis you have because the cause and treatment can vary for each type. Dermatitis isn’t contagious, but it can make you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable.
The worst thing you can do to ANY dermatitis on your skin is to SCRATCH it. Please DON’T SCRATCH. You may be alleviating that itchy sensation, but you’re also introducing bacteria and subsequent infection into that rash.
Atopic Dermatitis. This form of dermatitis is the most common type. Because of this, some skin experts refer to atopic dermatitis as eczema (dermatitis in general). People with atopic dermatitis are more prone to developing asthma and allergies.
Atopic dermatitis prefers the skin on your upper chest, neck, eyelids, hands, feet, ankles, wrists, and the inside bends of your elbows and knees. The lesions appear red to grey thickened patches of skin. Over time (and several itch and scratch cycles), the skin can become scaly and swollen.
The number of atopic dermatitis cases has been increasing in New Zealand, Australia, and other Western Societies. The majority of the cases are found in kids, but it can also begin during adulthood. With atopic dermatitis, the skin has lost its barrier function. The consequences of this are lack of moisture predisposing the skin to irritation, dryness and vulnerability to infections. Which in turn leads to itchy and inflamed skin.
At present, there’s no known cure for atopic dermatitis. Fortunately, most kids outgrow this itchy nightmare at some stage. Flare-ups are usually managed with moisturisers, daily bathing, and application of steroid creams. Other things you can do, including some natural solutions, you will see are very similar to those mentioned for psoriasis above.
Things you can do to help with the symptoms include:
- Bath daily, but don’t rub your skin, simply pat until dry. Oatmeal baths help to soothe the skin.
- Use very gentle, natural and fragrance free moisturisers and detergent-free soap.
- For a quick itch relief, partially fill up a plastic bag with ice cubes and place it on the itchy area.
- Avoid those nasty triggers; Synthetic fabrics (instead use cotton), wool, hot temperatures, chemical laundry detergents, food allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, nuts, seafood), other allergens (dust, pollen, mould), medication (aspirin), and chemicals in cosmetics and household cleaners may trigger a flare up.
- Herbs that can help include: Oregon grape root, chickweed, nettle and comfrey. They have natural healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Chickweed also helps with itch and Oregon grape has natural antibacterial actions.
- Some essential oils may help including lavender and tea tree. But make sure you patch test first and dilute them in a gentle carrier oil like Jojoba.
The primary cause of eczema is not yet fully understood. Skin experts explain that it’s a mixture of environmental, immunologic, genetic, and even bacterial factors.
Hives. The medical term for hives is urticaria. It’s simply an itchy skin rash in response to an allergic reaction. This means your immune system is involved in its development. The rash is composed of swollen patches of skin with circular shapes (oval, ring or round). The swollen areas are called weals and are most commonly located on your trunk, arms, and legs. Other body parts may also be affected, like your neck.
Urticaria may be acute or chronic (> 6 weeks). We’ll concentrate our discussion on acute urticaria.
Common Triggers for Acute Urticaria:
- Insect sting, most commonly a bee or wasp.
- Allergens in food (milk, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, salicylates).
- Medication (aspirin, NSAID’s, vaccinations).
- Contact with certain plants, animals or other materials (latex).
- Physical stimuli like pressure, rubbing, heat or cold.
- Emotional stress.
Antihistamines are medications which block the effect of histamine in your body. Be careful though as first generation antihistamines can make you sleepy. In recent lab experiments, researchers found that quercetin, a natural flavonoid, can actually prevent your immune cells from releasing histamine. Serrapeptase has also been shown to help inhibit histamine while vitamin C with flavonoids helps to support natural immune balance.
Other natural solutions for these skin conditions:
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids nourish the skin from the inside out while also helping to reduce inflammation. Cod liver oil has the added benefit of providing natural vitamin A and D which both support immune function and skin health.
- Naturopathic philosophy is based on gut health being the seat of most health problems. This is because your digestive system connects the outside and inside environments of your body and nearly everything that enters the body does so through the digestive tract. So looking after the health of the gut with beneficial bacteria and prebiotic fibre is key to healthy skin and immune function.
- Likewise, digestive enzyme supplementation helps to ensure that foods like gluten and dairy are broken down properly before entering the bloodstream. This enhances the nutrients uptake from your food and helps to prevent immune over-reactivity.
- Cleansing herbs like those that cleanse the blood (burdock, red clover), the lymphatics (echinacea) and the kidneys (uva-ursi, celery & parsley) support the cleansing of toxins from the body and skin.
- Natural calendula or colloidal silver creams aid healing and have natural antibacterial properties to prevent skin infections.
As you can see, these common conditions may be encountered or painfully experienced on a daily basis. It’s a must that you stay informed and familiarise yourself with some basic information about them. Stay tuned for part 2 of our article on common skin conditions. Until then, …STOP SCRATCHING.
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- James, W. D., Berger, T. G., & Elston, D. M. (2016). Andrews’ diseases of the skin: clinical dermatology (twelfth ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
- Fundukian, L. J. (2014). The Gale encyclopaedia of alternative medicine (fourth ed.). Gale virtual reference library. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, Cengage Learning.
- Mills, S., Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy. London: Elsevier.