From the viewpoint of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), eczema is caused by a deficiency of Wei-Qi (also known as Defensive-Qi), which acts to protect your body from external pathogens and has a close relationship to your skin. According to the Theory of Five Elements, one of the three main theories that make up TCM, it is your Lung (capitalized here to differentiate from your lungs in scientific terms) system that governs your skin and therefore is responsible for its health. Your Kidney system also plays a role in maintaining the health of your skin, as your Kidneys are responsible for nourishing and moistening your skin.
Eczema usually starts when you are young, and is often seen in combination with the development of asthma. The two basic types of eczema seen are one characterized by Wind-Heat (which is usually more due to a Lung deficiency) and Damp-Heat (which is more related to your Kidneys). Note that each type of eczema involves 'Heat'. This is why you will see redness and inflammation on your skin. In cases of Wind-Heat, lesions will be dry and will move from place to place on your body (the moving pattern an indication of Wind in your body). In cases of Damp-Heat you will see lesions that ooze fluid (an indication of Dampness in your body), which are often confined to specific areas of your body such as your forearms and lower legs.
How does acupuncture treat eczema?
Treating an acute case of eczema, especially one of the Wind-Heat variety, is often accomplished fairly easily, as the pathogen has not had much time to settle into the body. In our society, however, most cases treated by TCM are seen in the chronic stages, after other more conventional methods have been used with little or no effect. Chronic cases of eczema can still be treated with acupuncture and TCM, however, although it may take more treatments than if treated in the acute stages.
The basic treatment protocol for treating eczema is to nourish your Lungs and/or Kidneys, while also nourishing your Blood where there is Wind and/or a pronounced deficiency of Blood. Dampness will also need to be resolved where applicable.
What can you do?
In terms of self-care with eczema, it is a good idea to avoid dairy, fried foods, spicy foods, alcohol, shellfish, and also spinach and mushrooms. Protecting your skin from exposure to cold and wind is also advisable.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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