The Agony and the Eczema

Treat skin ailments inside and out

Skin conditions such as eczema and athlete's foot are like the common cold. They affect people of both genders and all ages--and they're not easy to treat. The best way to manage these conditions appears to be with a two-pronged attach wholesome nutrition and topical treatments.

The Agony of Athlete's Foot
It's not a myth that showering at your local health dub can result in athlete's foot. "Areas with communal baths create an ideal environment for repeated exposures," says naturopath Timothy Schwaiger, assistant professor at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences and medical director of Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center in Tempe, Arizona. Tinea pedis--the medical term for athlete's foot--typically occurs in adult males. Almost 390 million sufferers visited health care providers seeking treatment for inflammatory or fungal skin disease from 1990 to 1997.

Some natural topical remedies to ease athlete's foot include:

• A mixture of equal parts of white vinegar and water. Soak the affected foot for 15 minutes, twice daily, followed by a 10 percent tea tree oil cream. Because this treatment can cause dry skin, consider applying a calendula/comfrey ointment-based product afterward.

• A 10 percent tea tree oil cream alone will reduce the symptoms of athlete's foot although it won't eliminate the fungus.

• A grapefruit seed extract preparation, composed of one teaspoon grapefruit seed extract per gallon of water. Soak the affected foot for 15 minutes daily.

• A cream containing 0.4-1.0 percent agoene--a compound found in garlic--applied twice daily.

Warding Off Warts
Warts, which are non-cancerous skin growths caused by viral infections, may occur in the form of so-called common warts, foot (plantar) warts and flat warts. Red-haired individuals, pregnant women and people genetically predisposed to eczema are particularly susceptible to warts.

Although cryotherapy (freezing) is often prescribed for wart removal, a recent study concluded that ordinary duct tape is significantly more effective. The study, published in the October 2002 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, required patients to wear duct tape over their warts for 6 days. Researchers then removed the duct tape, soaked the affected area in water and used emery boards or pumice stones to slough off extra skin.

They then reapplied the tape and continued the treatment, until the wart went away, which took between 10 days and 2 months. The duct tape irritated the warts, which apparently caused an immune system reaction that attacked the growths. Even better, "Duct tape is obviously cost-effective and accessible to everyone," says Judy Hutt, a naturopath in Tucson, Arizona.

Coping with Eczema
"Eczema" may sound like an exotic species of bird or plant. But for people who suffer from this skin problem, it's an irritating, itchy, all-too-familiar rash. Eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, can occur at any age, with varying amounts of severity.

"In mild forms, the skin is dry, hot and itchy," says Joshua L. Fox, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Severe forms of eczema result in "broken, raw and bleeding skin. Patients may become so uncomfortable they could suffer from sleep deprivation and uncontrollable itching." Although it is not contagious, Fox says eczema makes the sufferer more prone to skin infections such as herpes or impetigo, a skin irritation characterized by fluid-filled blisters.

Eczema is most frequently located on the face, wrists, hands and feet, and on the insides of elbows and knees. Judy Hutt, a naturopath in Tucson, Arizona, notes that eczema tends to occur in families with a history of asthma or hay fever. And stress can exacerbate eczema.

Traditional medical treatments include topical and oral steroids. A health care practitioner may use ultraviolet rays to treat eczema, or may recommend over-the-counter medications such as emollient creams. Sufferers should avoid irritants such as abrasive cleansers and astringents because these products contain ingredients that can dry the skin.

"An inside and outside approach leads to the best results," says Hutt. "Many eczema patients have been told for years that it didn't matter what they ate, but scientific research has begun to validate what has been the premise of natural medicine:

It most certainly matters what you eat." Among the most common food allergies that can trigger eczema are cow's milk, dairy products, eggs, soy, wheat, oats, rye, barley, citrus and nuts. "Often, food allergies are underdiagnosed or missed altogether because the reaction may not be immediate. But instead [many people] have a delayed reaction, typically ranging from 5 to 72 hours," Hutt says. "The best way to determine if there is an allergy to a food is to take it out of your diet for at least 3 weeks, and then reintroduce it." Watch how your skin responds to this experiment. Within 3 weeks, you might see partial improvement; however, it may take up to 3 months of avoiding an offending food to completely clear it from your system.

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By Joanne Eglash

Natural Options
To help ease or clear up itchy, problem skin, try some of these items.

• Desert Essence Tea-Tree
Oil. 800.645.5768;
www.desertessence.com

• Kolorex Foot & Toe Cream.
800.827.7656; www.kolorex.com

• Derma E Psorzema
Psoriasis/Eczema Crème.
800.521.3342; www.dermae.net

• CamoCare Clear Solution.
800.226.6227; www.camocare.com

• Kiss My Face Anti-Stress Bath
and Shower Gel. 800.262. KISS;
www.kissmyface.com

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