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Treating Skin Disorder with Chinese Medicine for Long-Lasting Results

Blog0215_SkinDisorderInflammation can affect any part of our body.  But when it affects our skin we become aware of its presence at the very early stages of inflammation.  Being that this organ system is visible to us, we are quick to notice subtle changes on our skin surface as opposed to when inflammation is primarily in our joints.  Sometimes, these mild irritations of the skin pass just as quickly as they may have surfaced.  But for some individuals, they start to develop repeated irritation to the skin that begins to overlap and become chronic in nature.  At this stage, many that have been patiently watching this transition of their skin may choose to intervene with treatment.

Treating Inflammation from Within

The course of treatment that an individual may choose can vary greatly.  Most often I find that patients will initially seek out an over the counter treatment in an attempt to alleviate the itch or subdue the red inflamed skin.  When very mild in nature, the itching can often times be soothed with these over the counter medications.  But these individuals will often times find themselves needing to use more and more over time with a decrease in effectiveness.  These ointments are typically mild steroid creams (hydrocortisone) and as with all cortisone, the body develops a tolerance to the substance.  When this occurs larger and larger doses or higher potency creams are needed to deliver an effect similar to that which was initially achieved.  If self treatment fails to provide the relief they want, many find themselves visiting a Dermatologist or their General Practitioner in hopes of controlling the inflammatory cycle their skin is caught in.  Unfortunately, many times these individuals are only prescribed additional steroids in higher potency.  These substances can be very effective at quenching the inflammation, however once they are discontinued the skin can experience a rebound flare.  A nice analogy would be a pot of oats that is boiling on the stove.  To stop the oats from overflowing, you place a lid on it and press down firmly to keep the oats contained in the pot.  But once you remove the lid (steroids), the oats can flow over much more aggressively due to the building pressure (rebound flare).  Instead a better approach would be to turn the flame down and gently stir the oats to dissipate the heat.  This is the approach that is used when treating inflammation with Chinese medicine.  In Chinese medicine, topical and internal herbs are used to address the unique form of inflammation that is occurring within an individual.  No two formulas are constructed the same to treat an inflammatory skin condition due to the unique nature of the inflammation in each individual.  The goal with treatment is to rebalance the immune response so that individuals can discontinue the herbs and have their skin stabilize.  This treatment is very unique in that it can stabilize the skin and patients can go into remission.  Often times, patients will find that if their skin does become active again, that it is minimal and settles quickly. 

A Case Study of Using Chinese Medicine to Treat Common Skin Disorder

red-and-itchy-skin

What I have described above is something that I've repeatedly observed in practice.  Let me present a quick case to illustrate what I discussed earlier.  An elderly male had come to see me after trying several courses of external and internal steroids to address his red, itchy, and scaly forehead and scalp.  He had been diagnosed with eczema, but after examining his skin and taking his history it was clear to me that he was suffering from psoriasis.  He was at his wits end with his skin.  Everything he had tried only provided mild relief and when he discontinued them his skin flared excessively to the point that he would need to try stronger steroids.  At one point the rebound flare was so severe with facial swelling that he was put on a high dose of internal prednisone in an attempt to reduce the flare.  This proved effective at reducing the swelling but had no affect on his psoriasis.  After going through multiple courses of steroids, he became fed up with the cycle of events and decided to take a different treatment approach.  The presentation of his skin and his history revealed what is called Blood Heat with wind in Chinese medicine.  To address his psoriasis he was given a Chinese herbal treatment that included an internal herbal formula that he would consume twice per day, as well as a topical ointment that he would use twice per day.  Over the course of 8 weeks on the herbal medicine his psoriasis had cleared and there was an improvement in many of his other symptoms as well.  Following this short course of treatment he was able to discontinue the herbs without any aggravation of his skin.  This particular case was a quick response to treatment, especially for an autoimmune condition.  But it goes to show that there can be a quick change in inflammation brought about solely through the use of herbal medicine. 

Rebalance the Immune Response for Long-Term Results

Chinese herbal medicine probably isn't the first thing that pops into your mind when thinking of treatments for eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, or other skin conditions.  Due to people's unfamiliarity with Chinese medicine, it is normally a last resort for most individuals after being patient for years addressing their skin with other modalities.  Because Chinese medicine works to rebalance the immune response, time is needed to bring about this change.  So patience must be practiced when taking on this treatment approach.  Improvement is observed along the way and this is often enough motivation for patients to push on with the treatment.  Those that do are most often rewarded in the end with skin that is much more stable or remains in remission, and they are able to free themselves from the use of steroids.

Glenn Soja, LAc, EAMP, Dipl OM, specializes in natural treatment of acute and chronic skin conditions and other inflammatory/allergic disorders at the Mitchell Center for Natural Healing, Seattle WA.

Photo Credit: Itchy Beard by Jo Jakeman

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