Acupuncture for Eczema
Eczema is a common skin condition which causes dry, red and itchy skin. Excessive scratching can cause the skin to become damaged, broken and open to infections. It often runs in families and can be triggered by food intolerances, allergies and stress.
Conventional Eczema Treatments
The most common treatment for eczema is applying steroid cream to the affected area. This stops the redness and itching, but does nothing to treat the underlying cause of eczema. Once you stop using the steroid cream, your symptoms will often return. Prolonged use of steroid cream can lead to more problems such as thinning of the skin. So although steroid creams are effective for treating the symptoms of eczema, they do not offer a permanent solution.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture offer a safe and natural alternative. Because they take into account symptoms throughout the whole body as well as on the skin’s surface, they provide an holistic solution to conditions such as eczema, aiming to treat this common condition from the inside, out.
The Skin in Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to TCM theory, any problems with the skin can be attributed to an imbalance in the Lungs. The skin is considered to be the third Lung. Both skin and lungs form a barrier between our bodies and the outside world, and both play a role in protecting us from infection. In TCM, the Lungs also control sweating and the opening and closing of pores, allowing skin to “breathe”.
The Lungs have the function of circulating water and qi within the body. The send water downwards to the Kidneys to be stored or excreted, and upwards and outwards to the skin, keeping it moist, soft and supple.
When the Lungs’ are imbalanced, their function of moistening the skin gets interrupted. This is when conditions such as dry, chapped skin and eczema can occur.
Diagnosing Eczema in Traditional Chinese Medicine
There are a number of different reasons why your Lungs may stop functioning as they should. We use a tool known as the “eight parameters” to diagnose your condition and decide on the best treatment plan for you. The eight parameters are four pairs of opposing patterns which a disease may follow. These pairs are:
Good health relies on a balance between yin and yang, water and fire, coolness and heat within the body. If these factors become imbalanced, symptoms begin to occur.
As itching and redness are the main symptoms of eczema, there is usually an element of heat in the Lungs. According to the eight parameters, this can be full heat or empty heat. Full heat is a genuine excess of heat within the body. In order to treat full heat conditions, we simply need to cool the heat down.
Empty heat is a little more complex. It is not a true excess of heat, but a deficiency of yin and the body’s cooling system. In this case, although there is no excess heat in the body, there is not enough yin to keep the normal heat in check. This causes a relative excess, allowing heat to flare up and cause symptoms similar to those of a genuine, heat excess. In empty heat conditions, it is necessary to both cool the heat and nourish yin to restore harmony to the body.
So determining whether your eczema is being caused by full heat or empty heat is crucial in getting you on the right path to recovery. When you have your first consultation, we carry out a thorough examination to pinpoint exactly what is happening with you. We do this by looking in detail at your current symptoms, medical history and your diet, lifestyle, pulse, and tongue.
Diet, Digestion and Eczema
Diet and digestion also play an important role in the health of your skin. According to TCM, the main digestive organs are the Stomach and the Spleen. Together, they are responsible for breaking down the nutrients from food, transforming them into qi and transporting them to nourish the entire body. Therefore a weakness in the digestive organs can lead to a deficiency of any of the other organs too.
Stomach and Spleen deficiency can especially affect the Lungs. This is because in TCM the organs are connected via two cycles, one of generation and one of control. In the generative cycle, the Spleen feeds directly into the Lungs, giving the Spleen and Lungs a special, mother-child type relationship.
This means that if Spleen qi is deficient, it will be unable to nourish the Lungs. This leads to a weakness of the Lungs and reduces their ability to spread qi throughout the body. This in turn can prevent the pores from opening and closing as they should and keep moisture trapped under the skin. This moisture causes the skin to become raised and thickened as it can in some types of eczema.
The Role of Stress in Eczema
Eczema can also be triggered by stress and emotional factors. The stress hormone cortisol has the effect of suppressing immunity and causing inflammation, making symptoms worse during periods of stress.
In TCM, two of the organs which are most easily affected by emotional stress are the Liver and the Heart. Your liver is most affected by this stress. Going back to our cycles of generation and control, we find that the Heart is responsible for controlling the Lungs. If the Heart becomes overly controlling, it can suppress Lung function leading to skin problems such as eczema.
How can Acupuncture Help with Eczema?
Acupuncture can help with eczema by controlling the symptoms of itchiness and inflammation. It works by affecting the nervous system and the pathway of itching. Once your itching is reduced and you stop scratching, there will be less inflammation and redness of the skin.
By calming your itching, acupuncture can also reduce your chances of skin damage and infection. A famous point used to calm the itching is called Bai Chong Wa which translates to “centipedes” – using this point to calm your itching also helps with discoloration, redness or darkness, thickening or thinning of your skin. It does this by promoting blood circulation and boosting repair and healing.
Acupuncture can also decrease emotional stress and improve your sleep. It can help detoxify your body and regulate cortisol levels, acting as a preventative measure against flare-ups.
Herbs can be used between visits to support your acupuncture treatment. Herbs help to keep your symptoms under control, so they do not interfere with your daily life. Diet is also an important consideration in treating eczema. We want to eliminate offending foods or drinks while adding items which support your Spleen and Lung function. Nutrition is a very important component in helping your Stomach and Spleen and bringing a state of healthy balance to your entire system.
Most eczema patients can feel a difference after 6-8 acupuncture treatments. However, the frequency and duration of your treatments will vary widely depending on your condition and history.