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More Americans Seeking Alternative Eczema Therapies, Though Dermatologists Urge Caution

Posted: September 24, 2009

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“The biggest risk posed by alternative medicines is worsening symptoms due to delayed treatment. In my practice, most of my patients have used some form of alternative therapy, but largely with little or no measurable improvement,” said Dr. Lio. “In fact, one large-scale study found more than half of the eczema patients participating reported using one or more forms of alternative medicine for their disease. The study concluded that the majority of patients reported no improvement or even worsening of their condition after using these alternative treatments.”

While topical corticosteroids—the mainstay in the treatment of eczema—antibacterial agents, topical calcineurin inhibitors and moisturizers are among the most effective medical treatments dermatologists prescribe to treat eczema, Dr. Lio suggested certain alternative therapies may be beneficial for some patients, perhaps by reducing stress.

For example, studies show that physical or emotional stress can worsen atopic dermatitis, and one study concluded that stress directly slows the healing of the skin barrier—or its protective outer layer. In another study, psychosocial stress and sleep deprivation were found to disrupt skin barrier function in healthy patients.

“It is possible that some forms of alternative medicine, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, may help eczema patients by reducing stress,” said Dr. Lio. “The areas of stress reduction and behavior modification are promising and deserve further exploration as a means to complement traditional medical therapies.”

In his practice, some of Dr. Lio’s patients report improvement in their condition with acupuncture, but there are no scientific studies examining this potential benefit. Currently, Dr. Lio is trying to initiate a study on the effects of acupuncture on eczema patients at his institution to examine why acupuncture reportedly benefits some patients but not others.