What is eczema?
While there are several different types of eczema, this skin condition is most commonly experienced as atopic dermatitis, a form that runs in families and can cause an almost unbearable sensation of itchiness.
Other forms of the condition include contact dermatitis, inflammation of the skin when the individual comes in contact with an irritant or allergenic substance or seborrheic eczema which involves flaking skin that is dandruff-like in appearance.
How is eczema related to allergies?
Atopic dermatitis is part of a common triad of symptoms that includes asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Atopy is the biological tendency towards developing these three conditions because of a dysfunction in the skin barrier or immune dysregulation, especially something known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). The triad typically starts with the eczema before the asthma and allergic rhinitis rear their ugly heads
What does the sun have to do with skin?
What indeed? When the sun strikes our skin, a chemical known as 7-dehydrocholesterol gains energy from the ultraviolet radiation and converts into the previtamin D form and then cholecalciferol. This compound is then activated in the liver and kidney to perform its specific functions.
What are the functions of vitamin D?
Vitamin D plays a large role in the balance of calcium throughout the body. When a drop in calcium is detected, parathyroid hormone elevates and cause the active form of vitamin D to increase. The increase in vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium from our diet as the nutrient passes through the intestines. Calcium release from the bone is also encouraged in addition to the reabsorption of the calcium being filtered through the kidneys.
Vitamin D also plays a role in the differentiation of young cells into their mature form in addition to halting the over-division of these cells, two functions that are critical to preventing the development of tumours. These masses of often undifferentiated cells grow quickly, especially in the bodies of the vitamin D deficient specific to cancers such as ovarian, prostate, or colorectal.
It also plays a role in the natural secretion of insulin, can regulate blood pressure, and important to those suffering from eczema and allergies, can influence the immune system and skin barriers.
What role does vitamin D play in allergies and eczema?
A few studies have explored the relationship between vitamin D and the prevalence or severity of atopic dermatitis. In those who were deficient, they were more likely to experience a severe form of the condition as opposed to those with adequate vitamin D levels who experienced mild symptoms. A study also found a strong relationship between vitamin D levels and the individuals score on the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index, a measure for the severity of psoriasis. While this isn't specific to the atopic triad, it does lend credit to the relationship between UV exposure and a dermatological condition such as psoriasis.
There is currently some conflicting evidence about the strength of the relationship as some studies have shown results where no relationship was found, so within the next few years should come clarity. One of the measures used to assess this condition is the SCORing Atopic Dermatitis (SCORAD) index. In another study, those taking vitamin D experienced on average, a 21.2 point improvement in the SCORAD index.
What are some steps I can take to avoid these?
- Avoid scratching! This one goes without saying, but as you scratch, you remove layers and layers of protective skin. As the layers are removed, the nerve endings that transmit pain can start to become more irritated leading to intense pain and further itching.
- Lukewarm showers or baths. Hot water tends to dry out the skin allowing it to flake more and aggravating the eczema. It's also important to choose soaps that have moisturizing ingredients over drying ones such as sodium lauryl sulfate and synthetic dyes.
- Emollients. A review of emollients for atopic dermatitis demonstrated that most claiming to target atopic dermatitis specifically have ingredients with nothing to back their use for atopic conditions. With this said, it's important to know what you're putting onto your skin to avoid further aggravating your condition. Plants and ingredients such as aloe vera and coconut oil have moisturizing properties and antimicrobial effects.
- Symptom relief. If you've tried all of these and still have that annoying itch, products such as the homeopathic remedy Allergy Relief can help eliminate the toxins that could be aggravating your symptoms. A clinical study demonstrated a self-reported improvement in allergy symptoms in 88.5% of participants. The product also comes in tabs, a nasal spray, and a tincture for your convenience. A key draw of Allergy Relief is that it doesn't have to simply be used when you feel your allergies flaring up, it can be used prophylactically to ensure the symptoms don't flare up when exposed to pollutants.
- Another option that can be applied on the skin itself is Echinacea purpurea in a cream format. Rich in tannins, these agents can tighten the skin making it less likely that infectious agents can enter through gaps in the skin cells. This could potentially prevent irritation and exacerbation of eczema flares. If the bacteria do get in, the herb has been shown to prevent the irritation in response to these bacteria, such as the very common Staphylococcus aureus species, but specifically those resistant to methicillin.
- Take a walk outside. There are numerous benefits to going for a walk through nature, and if the walk can be combined with sun exposure, then you may see the benefits of vitamin D in the severity of your atopic dermatitis. Choose a park, path, or trail and to immerse yourself more fully, dare I say – leave your electronics at home! This will allow you to notice the scents, sounds, and visuals of the green space you're in.