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More Americans Seeking Alternative Eczema Therapies, Though Dermatologists Urge Caution

Posted: September 24, 2009

Though some Americans suffering from eczema are finding relief in alternative therapies such as acupuncture, dermatologists are suggesting caution if clients choose to purse this route.

Despite having access to some of the best health care in the world, many Americans with the most common form of eczema, known as atopic dermatitis, have sought relief from “alternative medicines.” However, dermatologists caution that patients seeking alternative treatments to alleviate symptoms of this common, chronic, inflammatory skin disease marked by red, itchy rashes, risk developing more severe symptoms by delaying treatment.

At the American Academy of Dermatology’s Summer Academy Meeting 2009 in Boston, dermatologist Peter A. Lio, MD, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, discussed why eczema patients try alternative therapies and how certain therapies used in conjunction with clinically tested medical treatments could hold promise in further improving the condition.

“Part of the difficulty in understanding why people seek alternative medicine lies in defining this term,” said Dr. Lio. “Broadly speaking, it encompasses treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathy and holistic medicine outside of the form of medicine taught in most U.S. medical schools. But people use the term for anything from chicken soup to any lotion or potion sold on the Internet to a new dietary supplement. Unfortunately, a great deal of snake oil can hide under the umbrella of alternative medicine.”

Dr. Lio believes there are two main reasons that patients try alternative therapies for eczema. The first reason is that becase the cause of eczema is not fully understood nor why it occurs in some people and not others, treatments are based on controlling the symptoms rather than fixing the root cause. Secondly, an increasing number of patients are looking for natural nonmedical therapies that do not pose the known side effects of some of the traditional medications. However, many nonmedical therapies, especially herbal treatments, marketed for treating eczema are not governed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any agency, and contaminants could cause health problems or drug interactions could occur when used with other medications.