Eczema is the most common skin disorder and affects 40% of the world’s population. It is characterized by dry, itchy patches on the skin that usually appear on the hands, neck, face and legs, though they can be found on any part of the body as well. Severe itching makes one feel the need for scratching repetitively leading to bleeding.
Chronic lesions take a thick leathery appearance which is called ‘lichenification’ in medical terms.
It affects all age groups and is classified into various forms as per the appearance, location, and causative factors. Inflammation of the skin is the hallmark of this disorder and itching is the most prominent and common symptom. It can be localized or widespread. The most common forms are atopic dermatitis (eczema occurring mainly in children and may occur right from birth and has a strong allergic component), seborrheic dermatitis (eczema resulting from dandruff), contact dermatitis (as a result of contact with a skin irritant), chronic eczema (marked by thickening of the skin) etc.
The exact cause of this disorder is not known by modern medical science, though certain factors which flare up irritants like preservatives, dyes and other substances added to food, synthetic clothing, wool, and various household products. Eczema is often triggered by ordinary foods such as chocolate, citrus fruits, nuts and meat/mushroom broth. If someone in the family suffers from this disease, then the rest of the family is at very high risk of having it in the future. Many researchers agree that there is a link between eczema and asthma and/or hay fever- the very reason why doctors monitor children with eczema for future development of these two diseases. As found in many sufferers, stress is another trigger of eczema.
Ayurvedic view on eczema:
According to Ayurveda, eczema can be compared to a disorder that is called “ Vi-char-chi-ka”. The symptoms of excessive itching, boil or pustule formation, discoloration/hyperpigmentation, profuse oozing and later marked lichenification, pain, and excessive dryness have great parlance with eczema.
According to Ayurveda, there are some common causes responsible for the development of skin disorders. If you have developed a skin disorder, you might check a few items off this list:
- You frequently eat incompatible food items (see incompatible food items here).
- You have an excessive intake of oily, fatty and heavy-to-digest foods like dairy products.
- You tend to suppress natural urges – this also includes suppressing your feelings.
- You expose yourself to physical exercise and/or intense heat after heavy meals.
- You bathe with cold water immediately after intense exposure to the sun, exertion or fear.
- You eat food during indigestion or when the previous meal is not properly digested.
- You consume excessive amounts of grains that have been harvested within a year.
- You consume excessive amounts of curd or yogurt, fish, salted foods, dairy in general, and sesame seeds.
- You have intercourse within 3 hours of having meals.
- You sleep regularly during the day.
Interestingly, insulting learned people and teachers is also considered to be a cause of skin disorders (concrete research is needed to verify this statement, but it’s definitely food for thought!)
So what happens when you subject your body to these causes? Ayurveda says that Kapha and Pitta become aggravated by these activities, leading to the aggravation of Vata as well. Then, Vata moves through the veins and the blood, taking the vitiated Pitta and Kapha to the skin, all over the body, and lodges them there to cause skin disorders like eczema. It also causes dryness.
Ayurvedic Management of Eczema
The management of eczema depends upon the symptoms. Itching means Kapha or Vata aggravation whereas inflammation and pain are caused by Pitta and Vata imbalances. Oozing, on the other hand, denotes a Pitta and a Kapha that is out-of-control. In chronic lesions, all the three doshas- Vata, Pitta and Kapha- need to be treated simultaneously.
- Take short, warm showers, while using mild soap and a soft, smooth towel to avoid rubbing the skin. Gently pat your skin dry rather than rubbing.
- Avoid foods that are spicy, sour, fatty, heavy to digest, or refrigerated.
- Avoid hot, humid atmospheres and temperatures.
- Wear loose, cotton clothes and avoid synthetic fibers as those prevent perspiration.
- Reduce stress.
- Avoid sexual intercourse or any exercise within 3 hours of eating food.
- Eat food only if your previous meals have been digested.
- Eat a variety of foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, suitable meats etc. Mix it up!
- Avoid excessive use of alcohol and tobacco.
- Always eat freshly prepared food and try to minimize your intake of packaged foods with preservatives etc.
- Stay hydrated and maintain a regular bowel movement.]
- Avoid suppressing natural urges.
- Use cow’s ghee (2-4 teaspoon per day) as it is considered good for eczema and skin diseases in general. You can use ghee for cooking instead of oil or butter.
Ayurveda makes use of specific purification therapies aimed at all the three doshas.
- Emesis therapy for Kapha
- Purgation therapy and leech therapy for Pitta/ blood tissue respectively.
- Medicated enemas for Vata
- In addition, various others measures like external remedial measures in form of pastes/herbal baths, internal remedial measures like herbal teas, herbal mixes and the use of medicated oils and ghee are used.
- To relieve itching and inflammation, you can prepare tea made from the bark of neem (Indian lilac).
- To reduce dryness and thereby itching, apply neem oil externally.
- For dry lesions, apply Aloe vera gel or coconut oil.
- If the itching becomes too much, apply a mix of coconut oil and camphor (100 ml coconut oil and 1 teaspoon purified camphor, thoroughly mixed together).
- Having fresh juices may help to purify your skin. Here’s a recipe:
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/6 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup chopped spinach
¼ of a beetroot
Process the ingredients in a juicer and drink fresh once a day, an hour before breakfast.