I’ve talked briefly about Yusuf’s eczema and the various changes we’ve been making to help manage eczema naturally and get it under control. But I’ve gotten a few questions about it lately, so I figured it was time for an actual post that really outlines our journey and how I’m managing my toddler’s eczema.
I should note beforehand that I’m sharing our story in hopes that it can help someone else dealing with eczema or dry, itchy skin. That being said, this is just our story with our toddler. Every case of eczema is different – different severity, different causes, different symptoms, etc.
So what worked for us may not work for you; although most, if not all, of the recommendations I share for how to manage it can be helpful for anyone.
Also, eczema is an internal problem and can only be treated by finding out the true (internal) cause and fixing it. Lotions and creams may provide temporary relief, but without treating the root cause it will never truly go away.
Right around 15 months old, Yusuf started getting these red, itchy spots right on the creases of his elbows and the areas surrounding them. It was around September so I just dismissed it as a reaction to the cooler, dryer weather and tried to keep it moisturized as much as possible.
We went down to Florida to visit our family in October of that year, and it got much worse down there. Again, I just blamed it on the severe difference in climate and continued to treat it with various creams, lotions, oils. etc.
It never went away. In fact, it only seemed to be getting worse. No matter what I did, nothing was working to keep it away long term. Just small bouts of relief here and there, but nothing permanent. His arms itched so badly he was constantly scratching at them, and if I wasn’t watching him like a hawk he’d scratch himself raw, making himself bleed on several occasions.
One night it got so bad that I had to wrap up his arms with gauze to protect them from his scratching. Another time, I broke down and bought some hydrocortisone from the drug store just so he could sleep at night. He was in long-sleeve shirts all the time. I even had to pin his sleeves shut around his wrists so he wouldn’t roll up his sleeves and scratch. It was truly miserable…
Everyone I know kept pushing me to take him to the doctor, but I didn’t want to go that route, unless absolutely necessary. I’ve been down that road with my own dermatitis/eczema issues on my hands, and I know how that road ends. It ends with no solutions; just a tube of steroid cream and you’re on your merry way. So no, I wasn’t going that route. I knew I had to get to the root cause of this if I ever wanted it to truly go away.
It May Be The Food
After doing lots of research and reading numerous stories online, I came to the conclusion that Yusuf’s eczema was most probably food related. The usual suspects are either dairy, eggs, or gluten (and he loves every one of those!). I tried to do elimination diets for him (cutting out a specific food for 2 weeks) but it was overwhelming and I just couldn’t keep up with it.
Then, one day I shared my peanut butter and apple slices snack with him. The next day as I was changing his diaper the rough, red itchy skin that was until then limited only to the creases of his elbows had now spread to practically every part of his body – all up and down his arms and legs, all over his bottom and lower back, and on his belly.
That was it, this confirmed to me that his skin issues were indeed food related, and I knew I had to get him tested for food allergies.
Testing for Food Allergies
I found a great naturopathic clinic here in Toronto and made an appointment for a consult. Naturopaths aren’t cheap, and they’re definitely not covered by the free healthcare here in Canada, but we knew this was something we had to do so we did it.
The visit was so wonderful; the doctor made us feel so at ease and we felt so comfortable because we’re all on the same page in terms of natural health and healing. After a complete physical and medical history, he did the allergy test by pricking Yusuf’s finger for a few tiny drops of blood.
While we waited for the test results to come back, the doctor had us cut out dairy from Yusuf’s diet since he suspected it was a major allergen for him. Two weeks later, we met again with the doctor to discuss the results of Yusuf’s test. Cutting out all dairy really seemed to be helping, so I was interested to see what else he was sensitive to.
Just as I’d suspected, he’s severely sensitive to dairy, egg whites, and gluten. Some other foods showed up on the test – like his favorite fruit, bananas – but not as severe as those top three.
Manage Eczema Naturally
Getting the test results was a huge relief. I finally knew exactly what was causing my son’s skin issues. The next step was elimination and management. Eliminating Yusuf’s favorite foods from his diet has not been easy. Our doctor did say that food-related eczema in toddlers will usually go away on its own right around their 5th birthday, so I just looked at it as a temporary thing that had to be managed.
As of today, his sensitivity to egg whites and gluten have pretty much disappeared, but if he gets some dairy in him I’ll find him scratching his arms again the very next day. He’s able to wear short sleeves again (weather permitting), and I still remember the look on his face the first time I put him in a short-sleeved shirt. He actually tried pulling his sleeves down to cover his arms because he knew that’s the way it had to be.
Right now we’re not really doing much to actually manage the eczema since, thankfully, his flare ups are very few and far between. However, over the past year I’ve tried what seems like everything under the sun to help soothe and heal Yusuf’s skin, so I’ll share some of what worked for us here.
- Moisturizing – Moisturize all.the.time. And when you’re done, moisturize some more 😉 We used coconut oil a lot. Anything with calendula in it is good; aloe vera gel helps sometimes; body butters are good because they’re thick and lock the moisture in. My friend, Amanda at Natural Living Mamma, has a great herbal salve that she makes that worked very well for us. You can find the recipe and/or buy the salve here. Ointments and creams are good because they’re nice and thick; lotions are not because they’re mostly water.
- Baths – Make sure the bath water isn’t too warm since the hot water can dehydrate the skin, and keep the baths short (around 10 minutes). Baking soda is really good, and oatmeal or epsom salts in the bath is also great. Also try switching your bath soap (we love Dr. Bronner’s castile soap), and only bathe your baby with soap if he really needs it. One thing that consistently worked well for us was this oatmeal bath recipe that our doctor gave us. Also, make sure to moisturize first thing after the bath to lock in the moisture.
- Laundry – If you haven’t already done so, you definitely should think about making your laundry routine as natural as possible. That means either making your own detergent (you can see my recipes for liquid detergent and powder detergent) or using a natural store-bought detergent. Also, ditch the fabric softeners and use vinegar in the rinse instead.
- Supplements – Our naturopath also put Yusuf on a probiotic supplement since eczema is almost always tied to a digestive issue. And he’s also on a fish oil supplement because the omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory. We were also given some digestive enzymes to use on the rare occasions where we know he’ll be exposed to one of his triggers, and they’ve been great!
So that’s our story, and it’s been a long time coming. Yusuf’s skin has been completely clear for about 9 months now, with the occasional flare up if he’s had some dairy. He’s back on gluten, although considerably less than before, and eats eggs on a daily basis without any issues. Even his probiotics and fish oil supplements have taken a back seat lately, and all seems to be going very well.
His eczema is not completely gone just yet, but I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of this tunnel.
UPDATE: As of 2016, at 5 years old, Yusuf is now completely cleared of his eczema. He eats all his favourite foods without issue, and we are so grateful that we went the natural route on this.
Have you or your child suffered from eczema or dry skin? How are you managing it, and what advice and tips do you have for others?