How to Holistically Manage Eczema, an Autoimmune Disease

As a little girl, I hated the coming of winter. I knew that with the cold weather would come eczema, the severe reddening of my skin that would itch so badly it would keep me up at night. Not only this, but the terrible skin rashes made me incredibly self-conscious around my peers, to the point where I did not want to go to school or even gymnastics practice. I was horrified of people seeing my monster-looking skin.

Given all this, can you really blame me for hating the winter? Ironically, the snowpocalypse is happening right outside my door now! Hawaii here I come!!!

Eczema (medical term: atopic dermatitis) affects your skin’s ability to hold moisture. It results in severe, dry, itchy skin that becomes scaly like an alligator. If it becomes bad, your skin ends up extremely irritated, red, and inflamed. People with eczema often have a history of allergies, autoimmune disease (“autoimmunity” occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the organs it was designed to protect), and asthma.

After seeing multiple doctors and having little success at treating my condition, my mom decided to do a little research on her own.

She removed all of my harsh soaps, detergents, changed everything to super-sensitive skin products, and removed all my lotions (lotions have harsh chemicals in them and alcohols). She also switched all my moisturizers to oils. Right after I showered, she made me cover myself completely in oil (sounds so GROSS and greasy I know).  

The Result: in a few weeks, my eczema actually became manageable. And over time, I was basically eczema free (other than just occasional mild dry skin).

The reason I tell this story is that just recently, after years of remission and very few flare ups, my eczema came back in full force, but this time surrounding my eyes. My eyelids were completely red, inflamed, and swollen shut.

Here I was a monster again, and I was a grown-up woman! I could barely function. I had no idea how to control this. And I felt awful. My skin, digestive system, reproductive system, and even my mental health all seemed to be majorly out of whack.

It was a sign that my body was completely out of control and in an inflammatory state, basically attacking itself.

Only after instituting the strategies I list below did I get my symptoms back under control.

However, I am still actively fighting this autoimmune disease, and probably always will be. As those with autoimmune disease know, it is not something that just goes away. Currently, there is no cure for eczema. Even today we still do not really know the exact cause, and it is likely different in each person. Treatment plans also vary between individuals, often due to the fact that you have to eliminate specific allergens, stressors, etc. resulting in a flare up.

Here are strategies I use that can help you cope with an eczema flare up:

Food Management: I cannot stress the importance of food enough, especially with autoimmune disease. Like I mentioned previously, people that have autoimmune disease such as eczema are more sensitive to food and wrong choices of food can result in inflammation, and therefore worse symptoms!

Only put food in your body that nourishes and does not cause it to react adversely. The best strategies to follow are eating whole foods (foods that are not processed) and avoiding foods that you are allergic to. To figure this out you’re going to have to experiment and listen to your body.  By avoiding foods that inflame your system, you also heal your gut, which restores healthy gut microorganisms, reduces inflammation, and helps stop the immune system from attacking your body. Changes in food improved my physical symptoms as well as my mental health and mood during this extreme flare up.

Find Stress Coping Mechanisms: Emotions matter when it comes to flare ups, so coping with them is essential. You need to help yourself by finding things you enjoy to help you cope with stressful times. For me, this was regular meditation, yoga, and dancing. I even tried Yoga Nidra (which will force your body into total relaxation). Here are some tips to try it here: 10 Steps of Yoga Nidras.

It is best to do things that make you happy during a stressful time that take your mind off of what is stressing you out. Even when you are in the middle of a flare up, practicing stress coping mechanisms is important to help prevent inflammation and worsen symptoms, making your flare up go completely out of control. Everything is connected, and your body responds by flaring up if you are stressed.

Start a Health Journal: Over the past year, I started writing a health journal. This helps me identify certain triggers that might initiate a flare up. Journaling also helps me write down when a flare up occurs dependent on the environment, timing, hormonal environment (important for women!), what I ate, etc. You can check out my recent post here on how to start a health journal. Health journaling will help you track of your health better, help you alleviate certain stressors, eat better, and control your emotions and mental health.

Coconut Oil and Jojoba Oil: Lather your skin with coconut oil right after you get out of the shower to lock in the moisture. Avoid lotions! As I said before, they contain harsh chemicals and alcohol that only make eczema worse. I also started using Jojoba Oil for my face in the morning and at night before I go to bed. (Jojoba Oil is a wax that is extracted from the seed of the jojoba plant that contains vitamins and minerals essential for healthy skin: vitamin E, B-complex, copper, zinc, selenium, iodine, and chromium and can be used on sensitive skin without causing allergic reactions).

Increase your Vitamin D and E: Science has shown that Vitamin D deficiency makes you susceptible to eczema.The recommended dose is around 2,000 to 5,000 IU per day (less than 10,000 IU per day). Scientific research also supports the benefits of a diet high in Vitamin E in preventing eczema (and also helpful in anti-aging!). Vitamin E is prevalent in leafy greens such as spinach and in high, good fat foods such as olives and avocados. In addition, Vitamin E’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may also help alleviate eczema when applied topically (it is prevalent in Jojoba Oil as recommended above). Other vitamins have also been implicated in helping with autoimmune disease such as Vitamins A, K, and C. Discussing upping your vitamin intake could help prevent your autoimmune symptoms, but always consult your physician when supplementing.

Take Care of your Seasonal Allergies: Take preventative measures so that you are not in an inflamed state during the season changes. Sinus allergens can cause inflammation that can lead to a flare up. Have a loved one make sure your home is clear of allergens, such as dust mites, animal dander, etc. Do not do this yourself! You will only make your flare up worse and your allergies will go insane.

– Get a HEPA filter in your house, it filters out the allergens in the air.

– Keep your windows closed, if they are open allergens from outside will come into your home and exacerbate your allergies

– Clean out your air conditioners/fans free of any dust or allergens.

– Wash your sheets regularly in hot water and dry them on high heat.

– Allergy proof your bed, this means: allergy mattress cover, pillow covers, box-spring covers. This prevents dust mites (and bed bugs YIKES!).

– Neti Pot: Both Chris and I swear by this! It clears out sinuses, pollution, dust, etc. and helped prevent my eczema flare ups around my eyes.

– Contacts: If you wear contacts, make sure you check to see if they could be exacerbating your allergies. Contact lenses hold allergens in them and can worsen your symptoms. If you think your contacts could be causing issues with your allergies, visit your ophthalmologist to see if they can help you with this. For me, I switched to daily contacts, which are best for allergy sufferers! This ended up being key to helping relieve my eyelid eczema.

I hope this post helps you if you suffer from eczema or other autoimmune disease that can benefit from these simple changes!

About the Author

Sarah Ferrante, Ph.D.

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  1. Pingback: Deconstructing Oils for Your Health - Food Move Collective

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