By Dr.Trevor Erikson
A common question I receive from patients is whether their struggles with eczema are related to their asthma and allergic rhinitis (aka. Hay fever). The answer I give them is, unfortunately, yes. All these conditions are considered to be part of what is known as the atopic (or allergic) triad. Some people have one, some have two, and some have all three conditions, while some may even have more, like urticaria (hives), vitiligo, keratosis pilaris, Ichthyosis Vulgaris (extremely dry skin). People with atopic constitutions are also more at risk for developing viral, bacterial and fungal infections, like herpes simplex, staph, and ringworm.
Certainly not a pleasant constitution to have.
But where does this all come from? The atopic constitution is often genetically inherited, but sometimes in a non-direct way. For example, you may have eczema, but, while your mother or father or grandparents may not have eczema, their struggles with asthma or hay fever would be enough for us to see a genetic link.
‘You mean, my son’s eczema may be related to the fact that my grandmother had asthma?’ Yes, that is what I mean.
Of course, we do not always find such a genetic link. More and more children and even adults are developing eczema, asthma, and hay fever, without any known family member having suffered in such ways. The jury is out as to why. Increased pollution, pesticides, overuse of antibiotics, over-consumption of refined sugars and other additives in our food supply are all plausible reasons.
At root to all of these conditions – eczema, asthma and hay fever – is an imbalanced immune system, which is, quite literally, ’over-reacting,’ often to some allergen, like cat dander, or pollen, or a food item like dairy. Sometimes no actual allergen can be found as a cause, but the immune system is still overreacting, be it on the skin (eczema), or the mucous membranes of the nose and eyes (hay fever), or the lungs (asthma).
One common method to calm the over reactive immune system is to use steroids. This certainly does work for many people, but the problem is that steroids suppress the entire immune system, not balance it, which leaves the patient more at risk for other infections. For example, the overuse of steroid creams may lead to an increased danger of developing impetigo, a nasty staph infection. Overuse of internal steroids for asthma can put a patient at risk of developing pneumonia.
Avoiding a known allergen may be good to help avoid attacks, but sometimes this is not always easy. For example, it is nearly impossible to avoid cherry blossoms in the springtime in many cities around the world. If you go outside, you will undoubtedly find yourself breathing in their pollens.
The best long-term way to help manage eczema, asthma and hay fever is by balancing the immune system by teaching it to behave itself and not be so over-reactive—rather than by suppressing the immune system, or avoiding hundreds of things that we think we may be allergic to (although sometimes this is vital).
A study, done several years ago, on children with allergic asthma, found that both internal steroids and certain Chinese herbal medicines were both able to help calm the severe wheezing they suffered. The difference was that the immune systems of the children who took the herbal medicines were found to be more balanced and not suppressed like the children who received the steroid (as seen by blood tests). The researchers declared the herbal treatment more representative of a cure.
I treat a lot of eczema, asthma and hay fever in my clinic, all with herbal medicines, and I do find a vast majority of people benefit with such an approach. Sometimes we can treat all three things simultaneously, as they are related conditions, but usually, we have to focus on one at a time, as the herbs used can be quite different.
Dr. Erikson uses Chinese herbal medicines to treat a variety of skin conditions, as well as seasonal allergies and asthma. He can be reached by phone at 778.886.1180 or through his website at www.drerikson.com.