As for cyclosporin, this powerful immunosuppressant brings with it a whole host of dangerous side effects such as skin cancer and other types of malignancies (see WDDTY vol 4, no 6). It's also associated with liver and kidney damage.
The reason that conventional treatments fare so poorly in anything other than suppressing symptoms of eczema is a fundamental lack of understanding of its various causes. A child's allergic reaction to a vaccination, or bottle feeding with cow's milk can trigger it off, as can introducing solid foods too early (Monitor Weekly 7 July 1993). The culprit can be one of a number of airborne substances (such as pollen, mould or dustmites) or food allergies (such as wheat). Eczema can also run in the family with a history of allergies; indeed, eczema and asthma frequently sit side by side in the same person.
Our panellist Dr John Mansfield says that in his allergy specialist practice 60 per cent of cases of eczema are caused by food allergies (such as dairy produce), 20-25 per cent by dust, mite and mould allergies, a small percentage by chemical sensitivities and nearly 20 per cent by systemic candidiasis. According to panel member Dr Jean Monro, seborrheic eczema is often hormonally related or caused by pollutants.
In Superimmunity for Kids (Bloomsbury 1989), Dr Leo Galland says that in 1931 American pediatrician Arild Hansen discovered that children with eczema had abnormal level of omega-6 EFAs in their blood. He explains that people with eczema (as well as asthma and hayfever) lack a key enzyme which converts EFAs into prostaglandins. Fifty years later, British dermatologists were able to reproduce Hansen's results, says Galland, and found that evening primrose oil was effective in relieving a group of patients with severe symptoms (The Lancet 1982; 2:1120-2). Another good source of omega-6 fatty acids is blackcurrant seed oil.
Perhaps predictably, conventional medicine gives evening primrose oil short shrift, although there is some evidence that trials were not conducted as well as they should have been (Drugs and Therapeuticals Monthly 1990; 28: 69-70; The Lancet, 26 May 1990).In one trial, the EPO group were 20 per cent more effected with eczema than the controls (The Lancet 26 May 1990).
Another alternative eczema treatment given a good deal of press is Chinese herbal medicine (CHM), or traditional Chinese herbal therapy (TCHT), as it's called, which boasts excellent results in treating eczema and psoriasis. Chinese herbal medicine often prescribes a mixture of herbs which are chosen for the individual then added to water and boiled to form a liquid "decoction". Dr David Atherton, a dermatologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, was amazed when some of his eczema patients, who hadn't responded to conventional treatment, improved dramatically after receiving Chinese herbal medicine prescribed from Dr Ding-Hui Luo, who practises in Soho. He decided to have these herbs standardized and test them on children and later adults (see WDDTY vol 4, no 5).
The Sheehan-Atherton studies certainly showed promise. Among 37 children randomly given placebo or the herb mixture, all the treated children responded to treatment (Br J of Derm, 1992; 126: 179-84). A year later, 40 adults with long standing eczema given either the herbs or a placebo reported seeing about a five fold improvement in their condition over two months (The Lancet, 4 July 1992). In longer term trials 12 out of 21 adults and 12 of 20 chidren remained clear of symptoms after a year.