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Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, as it’s more commonly known, is an inflammatory condition of the skin. It is associated with both hay fever and asthma and is thought to affect up to 15 million people in the UK . Eczema is not an insignificant issue for the country: each year, doctors like myself issue on the order of 30,000,000 prescriptions for topical agents such as corticosteroid creams, at a cost of about £170,000,000 . While the condition is notoriously difficult to treat, a study published just 2 months ago found that topical cannabidiol (“CBD”) can actually reduce the inflammation associated with eczema and a number of other skin disorders .
eczema is much more than just itchy skin. in some people, it can become quite severe. although most cases are just mild itching, i have seen some patients that have scratched themselves to the point where they become more prone to infections and some are left with permanent scarring from scratching. Children are particularly susceptible to doing this as their habits are more difficult to control. I can usually tell if a kid that’s come in to see me in the clinic has eczema within 2 seconds. They invariably have patchy red, dry and inflamed skin, with pronounced scratch marks, around their elbows and neck. It’s even worse for them when they get it on their faces. Of course, parents suffer just as much and have often rearranged their whole lives - for instance, changing what the family eats and what the child wears - to deal with the condition.
A brand new study published by clinical biologists at the
Department of General Surgery and Surgical Specialties, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia Medical School in Italy found that 3 months of administering CBD topical treatment twice daily improved every objective measure of skin integrity including hydration, skin elasticity and the number of rashes. Furthermore, CBD substantially improved symptoms and visible skin changes. The authors hypothesised that the beneficial effects of CBD may be due to a reduction in inflammatory cytokines (cell signalling molecules). The study not only holds promise for sufferers of atopic dermatitis, but also those of acne, psoriasis and scarring.
GPs really are the experts when it comes to common skin conditions like eczema. We see it every day! An action plan gives you details about what to do when your skin is flaring up, and what else to do to maintain it when things are fine.
Eczema makes the skin susceptible to damage and infection so it’s super important to maintain a barrier even when things are ok. It’s a good idea to use non-soap skin cleansers, apply irritant-free moisturisers (you may need to try a few) a couple of times a day, and use bath oil.
It’s absolutely vital (to your mental health as well!) to treat flares promptly. The mainstay of treatment are the corticosteroid ointments and creams - but all steroid creams are NOT the same. Some are very potent and reserved for severe cases, whereas others can be used on sensitive areas like the face. Your GP is best placed to advise on which one is right. In addition, given the study I’ve just discussed, it’s well worth trying topical CBD. CBD is safe and effective and can be purchased without a prescription. Be sure to use it regularly for a few months to see the full benefit.
For sufferers of eczema, the itch is often worse than the unsightliness of the condition. It’s difficult to sleep or concentrate when you’re itchy - and it is the itch, which makes people scratch - and it’s the scratch that puts people at risk of infection. Itchiness can be reduced with antihistamines. A newer remedy for hayfever (which is of course, associated with eczema, is curcumin. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but it’s worth a try too).
If you notice the redness and swelling getting worse, or if there are obvious signs (like discharge or pus) of infection, again, you’ll need to see your GP. The options here will be a topical antibacterial cream (which stops the infection from getting worse, but relies on your own immune system to defeat it), an antibiotic cream or ointment or, if severe enough, antibiotic tablets. Skin infections can be devastating (and cause permanent scarring), so don’t delay treatment if you suspect you have one.
This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised! Typical triggers include: pet hair, dust, chlorine, natural fibres like wool (but also nylon), soap, sand, perfumes, certain deodorants and heat (it’s always best to wear loose, cool clothing).
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Dr. Harry is the Medical Director for Truth Naturals, and a practicing medical doctor. Throughout his working career as medical doctor, university professor, and scientist, Dr. Harry has committed his life to improving human health. Each month he reads the various journals and studies being conducted across the world’s leading universities and research hospitals to bring you the latest research surrounding the truth about plant-based medicine.
 Figure based on 23% of predicted population of 65,110,000 people in 2015, Office for National Statistics – “The prevalence of AD is estimated to be 15–20% in children and 1–3% in adults” source: S. Nutten. ‘Atopic Dermatitis: Global Epidemiology and Risk Factors’. Annuals of Nutrition and Metabolism 2015; 66 (suppl 1):8–16
 Data obtained from Health and Social Care Information Centre. Prescription cost analysis. England 2015. April 2016.
 Palmieri B, Laurino C, Vadalà M. A therapeutic effect of cbd-enriched ointment in inflammatory skin diseases and cutaneous scars. Clin Ter. 2019 Mar-Apr;170(2):e93-e99. doi: 10.7417/CT.2019.2116. PubMed PMID: 30993303.