“Eczema” originates from the Greek word “ekzein” which means to “boil over” or “break out.” Eczema (also sometimes called atopic dermatitis) is a condition in which patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, cracked, and rough. The term atopic refers to a collection of conditions that involve the immune system or allergy. The word dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin. Eczema impairs the skin natural barrier function causing the skin to become more sensitive and more susceptible to infection and dryness. It usually starts in childhood, and often gets milder or goes away by adulthood. Some people outgrow the condition, while others will continue to have it throughout adulthood.
The first signs of eczema are dryness, itchiness (which may be intense) and redness. Eczema can appear anywhere on the skin which turns red, burns and stings. It’s generally found on hands, neck, inner elbows, ankles, knees, feet and around the eyes. The symptoms can vary depending on a person’s age and the condition’s severity and can vary by individual. People with the condition will frequently suffer periods of time when their symptoms exacerbate or flare up, then followed by periods of time when their symptoms will resolve or clear up.
Eczema has a tendency to flare when the skin is exposed to external irritants, which in turn cause immune system to overreact. Certain foods, such as eggs, nuts, seafoods and dairy, can aggravate symptoms of eczema. Cigarette smoke, pollen, soaps, chemicals or preservatives found in cleansers and detergents, and fragrances are some of the common environmental triggers. Stress, temperature changes and sweating, are the examples of internal triggers.
At this time, there is no known cure for eczema. However, there are solutions provided targeting to heal the affected skin and avoid flares of symptoms. Here in this article, we review how bird nest, probiotics, and fish oil help to keep eczema in check as the sufferers live with it.
Bird nest, the solidified saliva secreted by swiftlets, has been consumed in Asia for several hundred years as a delicacy for strengthening immune response and restoring skin functions. Bird nest extract helps maintain the skin barrier owing to its moisturizing effect of maintaining water balance of skin. The moisturizing effect of bird nest has been suggested to be originated from polar interactions between sialic acids in bird nest and water molecules1. Since the dryness in skin is closely related to flare up of eczema being one of its first signs, the study proposed that bird nest is effective for the remission of eczema.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host2. Taking probiotics is beneficial for people with eczema as it limits the number of eczema flares owing to its function in boosting the immune system, and balancing the composition of the intestinal microflora that has been found to be different in those with eczema. One study found eczema symptoms improved for infants fed probiotic-supplemented milk, compared to infants fed milk without probiotics3. Another study followed children of women who took probiotics during pregnancy. Those children had an 83% lower risk of developing eczema in the first two years of life4.
Due to its potent anti-inflammatory property, fish oil is the supplement for many people with eczema. Preventing inflammation is the key when treating eczema, as the condition is defined to be an inflammatory skin disorder. Immunoglubulin E (IgE) is an antibody produced by the immune system in response to allergens, and high levels of it are associated with eczema5,6. A study showed a significant reduction of IgE synthesis detected in the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) group7. Another study demonstrated that treatment with DHA is effective for allergic skin inflammation and acts by suppressing leukotriene B4 production that is involved in tissue inflammation5.
Living with eczema can be challenging. While there is no cure to eczema, we can effectively manage the condition by taking steps to evade known triggering factors, keep skin cleaned and moisturised, take prescribed medications if any, and incorporate beneficial supplements to diet and improve lifestyle.
- Ng P. (1991). Characterization of the Sialic Acid Component in a Bioactive Extract from the Edible Bird's Nest (Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong). dissertation/M. Phil. thesis.
- Joint FAO/WHO Working Group. Guidelines for the evaluation of probiotics in food 2002. www.who.int/foodsafety/fs_management/en/probiotic_guidelines.pdf?ua=1. London, Ontario, Canada, (accessed before 8 December 2016).
- Isolauri E, Arvola T, Sutas Y, Moilanen E, Salminen S. Probiotics in the management of atopic eczema. Clin Exp Allergy. 2000 Nov;30(11):1604-10.
- Rautava S, Kainonen E, Salminen S, Isolauri E. Maternal probiotic supplementation during pregnancy and breast-feeding reduces the risk of eczema in the infant. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Dec;130(6):1355-60.
- Yoshida S, Yasutomo K, Watanabe T. Treatment with DHA/EPA ameliorates atopic dermatitis-like skin disease by blocking LTB4 production. J Med Invest. 2016; 63(3-4):187-91. doi: 10.2152/jmi.63.187.
- Kasperkiewicz M, Schmidt E, Ludwig RJ, Zillikens D. Targeting IgE Antibodies by Immunoadsorption in Atopic Dermatitis. Front Immunol. 2018; 9: 254. Published online 2018 Feb 19. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.00254
- C Koch, S Dölle, M Metzger, C Rasche, H Jungclas, R Rühl, H Renz, M Worm. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in atopic eczema: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Randomized Controlled Trial Br J Dermatol. 2008 Apr;158(4):786-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2007.08430.x.