Eczema and its connection with books, music and meditation

It has now been almost three years that I have been writing about our family’s experiences of dealing with eczema. These are experiences that have shaped our life and changed it irrevocably as most chronic conditions inevitably do. Most of the times we do not have a choice about these changes and we can only let events unfold themselves as they occur. But we do have a choice as far as our responses are concerned. We can choose to accept these changes and deal with them or we can choose to rail at them and complain about them. While it is far easier to do the latter we chose the former path and we are only now seeing the positive outcomes associated with them. But dealing with any kind of lifestyle change is not easy, especially ones which are associated with health conditions.

Stress, anxiety and self confidence

nio pensativo mirando el mar

Since I am my daughter’s primary caregiver, I spend a lot of time focusing on her bathing and moisturizing routines, two crucial aspects of managing eczema. But I also spend an equal amount of time or even more on something that we don’t get to see. The emotional scars that are left behind in a child struggling to cope with a severe health condition day after day, month after month with no end in sight. The emotional pain of living with eczema, the erosion in self confidence linked to the constant scratching and physical rashes on the body, the frustrations which can build up due to the restrictions in terms of activities and diet to name just a few. The stress and and anxiety that a child experiences if not managed properly with due care and attention, can lead to many more complex issues once the child becomes an adult. And even though we do not realise it always, a child has his or her own share of stressors which may seem trivial to us but are actually very real and important to them. This is not something we can take lightly or ignore, this is something akin to a garden where the flowers and the trees have to be tended to and given a great deal of attention while they are still growing.

I had written a post earlier about how you can help your child cope with eczema and you can read about it at https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2013/11/19/beauty-is-not-just-skin-deep-helping-your-child-cope-with-eczema/

This post takes that topic even further based on our own experiences since then and expands on that topic.  For us this aspect of managing eczema became even more important after our daughter’s catastrophic reaction to her medication’s side effect in 2013. She battled a life threatening infection and was hospitalized for a month. I have written about it in my post https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2013/10/27/the-tough-get-going-part-2/

She also lost all her hair in a few days and had a tough time in school once she resumed a couple of months later. Her school discussed with and sensitised her classmates about her condition and sudden change in appearance including lack of hair.  But there were a few children who would tease her about her lack of hair and her appearance. Even outside school she became the subject of many stares and comments due to her physical appearance. It became painfully obvious that there would always be some people who were not sensitive enough to other’s sufferings and I would not be able to protect my daughter from such people the way I would have liked to. I decided then and there that I would ensure that I would teach my daughter to find the strength that was already within her and teach her ways to cope with such people. I would try and make sure that she would not lose her self confidence and self respect and that she would know that she had a choice. A choice as to how she would react to such people, a choice as to how to deal with difficult situations and a choice to be happy.

please help

It is really empowering to learn that while we cannot control what other people think and say we have a choice as far as our response is concerned. The stress associated with living with any chronic condition like eczema is usually very high and very real and I knew I had to figure out ways to manage it. Books, music and meditation became my tools to achieve this. Of course, all this did not happen overnight. It has taken a lot of research, time and effort to figure out what worked for us and we are still a work in progress. But what pleases me the most is that I can see the difference all this effort has made in our lives. In this post I would like to share in some details all that has helped us.

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.

Boy, standing on a pile of book reaching for a star

First I would like to mention some of the books that have provided not only my daughter but all of us with a lot of inspiration and encouragement. These are books which have simple story lines covering various topics like gratitude, happiness, strength, acceptance, compassion to name a few. I have been researching and buying such books for the past few years but a few have won a big place in our hearts. These are books I read to both my children again and again and they love to hear it every time. They are available on Amazon India (amongst others) and are easiest and most convenient to just order online. There are of course many many such books available if only one looks for them. The ones mentioned below are some of our family favourites.

  • Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore- it is about a 7 year old red haired girl who has a face filled with freckles. She has to put up with all her friends calling her Freckleface Strawberry. It is a beautiful story about a girl who finds the strength to accept something that really makes her life difficult but ultimately she accepts it and then goes on to lead a happy life inspite of it. This book is the one that really helped my daughter accept her skin condition since it dealt with a similar problem.
  • Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell- this is another book about a very short and feisty girl who has buck teeth, has a voice like a bull frog. She is worried about moving to a new school but her grandmother encourages her to be brave by just being herself, smile and sing loud and clear. She does just that and stands up to a bully in her school and wins a lot of friends eventually. It is a beautiful book about being yourself and real courage.
  • What Does It Mean To Be Present? (What Does It Mean To Be…?) by Rana Do Orio- this book is about the meaning of being present, paying attention to each and every moment. In a simple but profound way it teaches the importance of enjoying each and every moment as it comes and some key values like compassion, kindness
  • How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Maurie J Manning- This book is about a boy and a fictitious bucket which hovers above his head just as he was told by his grandfather. He feels happy when the bucket is full and feels sad and miserable when it is empty. He soon realizes that everyone around him has a bucket just like his and that during the day either the bucket is fills up or it is becomes empty. He also learns that by helping to fill another person’s bucket he also fills up his own. This book teaches us in a very simple way the importance of self esteem, helping others and taking responsibility for one’s happiness.
  • Zen Shorts (Caldecott Honor Book) by Jon J Muth- This is a gem of a book which has three short and simple stories each teaching us a different life lesson. One story teaches us about happiness by living in the present moment, another is about letting go of the past and the third one is about accepting change and uncertainty as being an intrinsic part of life. These are supported by beautiful illustrations and is a superb addition to one’s list of books to read to children

“What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us”

wellbeing and healthy lifestyle concept, yoga background

Meditation, being a very ancient art is also one which is synonymous to our culture. Sadly, many of us seem to have lost touch with it and all that it has to offer us. The good thing is that it is once again gaining prominence not only in our country but around the world. There are different types of meditation practices that one can follow but the one that I will be discussing here is called “mindfulness meditation”. I find this type of practice to be very child friendly and flexible both of which were major requirements for me. Mindfulness is that art of paying attention to the present moment in a non judgmental and friendly manner. Over time the practice of mindfulness can help us look within to find the strength in times of trouble, lower our stress levels, tap into our inherent compassion and also show us how being grateful is the key to real happiness.

I use a mix of simple formal meditation practices and informal practices which I try and weave into our daily routine. Of course, when one slips up, you have to simply start off from where you left off without judging yourself or any one else for the same. This is one of the key things that meditation teaches us over a period of time, the practice of paying attention which by nature should be non judgemental. It enables us to accept ourselves as we are warts and all and is the first step towards self awareness.

I use some music CDs with guided meditation practices and a few books to incorporate some elements of mindfulness into our daily lives.

  • The CDs that I use are
    Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) by Eline Snel – it is a book and CD combination which works very well for us. The book is for the parents/adults to get a sense of the meditation practices and serves as a guide to the guided mediation. The guided meditations are simple and easy to follow and should ideally be done together as a family. There are meditation practices for different moods and problems and are very easy to follow by children on their own as well. You can also buy the one that is available for teens.
  • Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Naht Hanh- This is from the practice run by one of the most well known Minfulness teachers in the world called Thich Naht Hanh. It has a combination of music and guided meditations along with a book to support it. This book discusses in details the impact of mindfulness in different aspects of life and how to bring more compassion and peace to the world. The practices that we love the most are Pebble Meditation and the Deep relaxation.
  • Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Amy Saltzman- these are a set of guided meditations through short stories which will appeal to all children. Again, these deal with various feelings and emotions with the help of simple breathing exercises. This is available in book form and on streaming apps like Spotify (not available in India at the moment).
  • CALM for kids- this is one of my favourite mobile phone (and desktop) apps for meditation. They have now launched a section for kids where they have guided meditation practices through lovely stories.
  • Insight timer for kids–  a new app that I have started using recently has a huge variety of guided meditations by different people and is quite useful in its variety.

A couple of books that I must mention here are on mindful parenting. They have been a valuable tool in giving me practical advice and ideas about incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives in simple ways. It has a tremendous impact on our lives both in terms of health and happiness and this has been confirmed in various scientific studies. The two books that have struck a chord with me are

There are many more such books on parenting and mindfulness, these are two that have really made a difference to our lives. These books not only cover the basic concept of mindfulness, they also offer practical ideas about how to incorporate into our own lives including our parenting practices. There are beautiful formal and informal practices in the books which are very child friendly and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Music is the rhythm; art is the passion and life is the subject

Piano keyboard background with selective focus. Warm color toned image

Music can play a therapeutic role in addressing various physical, social, emotional needs of a person. It can play an important role in managing chronic eczema as well by lowering stress levels and providing solace in times of emotional turmoil due to this condition. Any kind which can help one relax will do. Music is used by many as a form of therapy but we do not need to be trained as one to use is in our daily lives. The right kind of music can inspire us, lower stress and generally contribute to our overall wellbeing whether it is listening to music, playing it in some form or singing songs. The music CDs for meditation that have been mentioned earlier work very well in this aspect.

Girl paints a coloring book for adults with crayons

Art is another form of therapy which is widely used to deal with stress and anxiety. And it is one of the best suited for children as it can enhance creativity at the same time. Research also shows that certain shapes and patterns like mandalas are more helpful in reducing stress than others. There are now a lot of Mindful colouring books available which are meant for this purpose. You can use them to spend some quality time with your child and at the same time switch off from daily stresses and focus on a simple but pleasurable activity.

A conversation is so much more than words: a conversation is eyes, smiles and the silence between the words

Close-up of family discussing on sofa

The simple art of conversation and dialogue is an amazing way of helping your child cope with the stresses of living with eczema. Conversation was something which was pretty mainstream in our earlier generations but is now being overshadowed at times with our hectic, busy schedules and digital domination. Switching off from the digital world from time to time for the family as a whole is one of best ways to enable this. I am yet to implement a digital curfew but I intend to from time to time starting with a few hours on weekends.

I struggle myself to find a balance at times and make sure that we have regular chats from time to time as a completely family or even one on one when required. Many a times during our heart to heart chats before bedtimes my daughter and my son have shared their worries, problems and even their triumphant moments. We have come to know each other’s way of thinking, shared some of our worries and our conversations have often helped my children calm down with the simple act of listening.

Yoga  and others

There are many more such ways in which you can help your child and yoga is the one which comes foremost to my mind. This is something that I have not really been able to explore much till date with my children but I wanted to mention anyway. I plan to integrate this practice as a part of the bedtime routine in the near future. You can find out about some child friendly yoga classes in your neighbourhood plus there are a lot of online options as well nowadays. These include websites like gaia.com with streaming videos as well as those offering digital downloads for those unable to join a class for any reason.

There are also some lovely books which offer simple exercises which can be done anytime or before bedtime to promote restorative sleep. There are of course many other books that are available for children.

When the mind, body and spirit work as one, anything is possible

mind, body, spirit, soul and you

You may have been wondering why I have chosen to write so much about mindfulness, meditation, yoga, emotional counselling with regards to eczema when most of us are used to dealing with the medications and the treatments. Medications and treatments of course play a large role in dealing with eczema and we are familiar with most of them.

What I have learned over the past few years of dealing with my daughter’s eczema is that true healing is a combination of treating the body along with mind and spirit. My daughter would not be where she is today in terms of her positive attitude towards life and a cheery disposition inspite of struggling with severe eczema had I not placed equal importance on all three aspects. I have learned and I am still learning from many others who have done just that and much more and inspire me to carry on.

As you would have also realized after reading my post, I am very passionate about books and they have been of immense support for us. They play a very important role in our lives in managing eczema and I wanted to share it with you. I have also had the privilege of writing a book with my daughter’s dermatologist Dr Amrita Talwar this year called I Have Eczema… So What? – Inspirational story book for children. I have mentioned it earlier as well but wanted to mention it in this context. The book is a beautifully illustrated children’s book about a 9 year old girl with eczema, who faces all kinds of emotional and physical problems. She eventually learns to manage her eczema and cope with it in a very positive manner with the help of her family’s love and support.

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The book is available at some Crossword Stores and online at amazon (physical and ebook format) and flipkart (physical format). You can buy it at

 

 

I hope that some of the things that I have mentioned in this post will be useful for you and your family in managing your child’s eczema.

May we all find the “strength to endure the pain, the wisdom to think things through and the courage to face our fears” …

It’s finally here! My first book “I have eczema….so what?”

Invitation - eczema Book launch

I had mentioned in my last post that I was writing a book for children suffering from eczema. This is in conjunction with my daughter’s dermatologist, Dr Amrita Talwar who is a coauthor of  this book. Both Dr Talwar and I realised the need for a book which is meant for children who have eczema since there are hardly any resources for them even though there are many for adults.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Maya, the 9 year old protagonist of my book “I have eczema…so what?”

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9 year old Maya from “I have eczema…so what?”

The book  is written through the eyes of a 9 year old girl called Maya who suffers from eczema. She has to deal with various issues like the physical discomfort and pain of living with eczema, social and schooling problems like isolation and teasing, emotional upheavals and even stress. This book would first and foremost help children to understand and learn about eczema in a child appropriate manner. Maya’s family rallies around her and ultimately as a team they manage to help her cope with eczema. Maya and her family are thus able to make eczema a part of their lives so that it does not completely overshadow everything else. It is a book for families as much as it is for children suffering from eczema.

I have eczema…so what?” is ultimately a story of courage, love, teamwork and the strength that comes from within by being a part of a loving and supportive family. It is based on our experiences of dealing with our daughter’s severe eczema, her trials and tribulations and the strategies that we developed over the years to deal with it.

Book launch details

Date: 21st of April, Thursday

Venue: Crosswords, Kemp Corner in South Mumbai

Time: 6 pm onwards

Individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean 

For those of you who have been following my blog will know how far we have come since I first started writing. It all started right here, with this very blog. This is where I honed my skills and which has now culminated into my first book. However, the book is a result of teamwork as is usually the case.

I am blessed to have Dr Amrita Talwar as my coauthor and mentor for this book, Ms Preeti Vyas (Fun Ok Please) as my publisher and Ms Shraddha (Happy Fish) as my illustrator. Amrita has also played a key role as the person who encouraged me to write about our experiences in the first place starting with this blog. Thank you Amrita for always encouraging and believing in me! 

Family, a group experience of love and support

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My inspiration is of course my 9 year old daughter who faces her situation every day with a smile on her face, manages to get up every time she falls and shows us the what true courage and grit is all about. My husband, my 5 year old son, my mother and our immediate family have all played their critical and immensely supportive roles in enabling us to deal with eczema as a team. This book is a result of this support as I have drawn my own strength from my family and friends. In fact, I have not only been able to act as a primary caregiver to my daughter but I have also found the courage to share our experiences through my blog posts, articles and now this book. Words are really not enough to express my gratitude…but I need to say them anyway, so a big THANK YOU!    

Incase you are interested in this book and/or joining us for the book launch, please get in touch with me via-

email at eczemaanindianperspective@gmail.com,

twitter at @eczemainindia 

facebook at https://www.facebook.com/eczemaanindianperspective/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Not all those who wander are lost” (eczema and our ongoing journey)

There are many of you who have been following us on our journey as we deal with our daughter’s severe eczema over the years. There have been many ups and downs; times filled with a seemingly never ending despair and other times where we see the silver lining that is hidden behind the dark clouds. We have many nights of sleeplessness, days and nights filled with endless itching and bouts of crying when it gets too much sometimes. There is also THE question which comes up once in a while, “Why me?” I have no real answer to her question which would satisfy her need to know.

But I do know this! 

Through all  these times we have experienced many precious moments filled with small pleasures, much love and loads of fun. We have learned how to appreciate all that we have by focussing on all the good things in our life rather than all that we do not have. This helps to put things in perspective and never fails to bring a smile to our faces. We have also learned to accept that our life and our daily routine is usually quite different from others and we have made peace with it. We simply have different requirements than most other families when we travel, eat out and socialise amongst other things.

We have come to realise over a period of time that this is our new “normal”. Whatever normal family life we had envisioned for ourselves when we had our first child fell by the way side when our daughter’s eczema became a huge part of our lives. We have simply changed the definition of leading a “normal” life and now use one which works for us! 

Our life has thus changed drastically over the past few years in terms of lifestyle, food habits and priorities. I have been sharing these changes with you through my blog for almost two years now. In this post, I have shared the actual changes that we have made to our food habits over the past 9 months or so.

Our diet today based on eczema safe foods

 

I had mentioned in my post last month (https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2015/04/08/you-are-what-you-eat-eczema-and-food/) that I would write about her diet in details in my next post and here I am!

It has been roughly about 6 months since I started to follow a very specific diet to control my daughter’s eczema based on the book “The Eczema Diet” by an Australian nutritionist, Ms Karen Fischer. The initial 3 months have been the toughest so far with restrictions on the number of fruits, vegetables and spices amongst other things. I did however prepare her mentally over a period of time prior to starting her on the diet to make this transition as smooth as possible. This is a huge change in lifestyle since food comprises a big part of our lives and this change needs to be handled well especially for a child. Once my daughter understood why we were making these changes and how it had benefited others like her suffering from eczema, she became a willing participant. 

These restrictions are to repair my daughter’s system from within by restricting the intake of the various naturally occurring chemicals (salicylates, sulphites and MSG), allergens, anti nutrients and restore acid alkaline content in the body. Eczema unfriendly food groups like ,wheat, dairy, eggs, sugar etc were all removed even though initially I did give her low gluten foods like spelt flour, rye and barley (no wheat). Eventually over the past few months her diet has been gluten and dairy free, she mostly has organic grains and produce, no refined sugars are added (only much less acid producing maple syrup and golden syrup in low quantities is allowed) and mostly free of preservative/chemical/colouring free (the only exception is the occasional rice pasta).

Simultaneously the acid-alkaline balance in her body is being restored through a higher intake of alkalising foods like moong bean sprouts, celery, beetroot, carrots etc on a daily basis and taking only those acid-forming foods like legumes/wholegrains/chicken etc which are good for skin or are nutritious in other ways. Restoring this acid-alkaline balance is very important because our diets nowadays tend to be filled with mostly acid forming with foods like bread (containing yeast); sugar in processed foods like breakfast cereals, bakery items apart from beverages (fruit juices, sodas etc); corn and corn based foods; cheese just to name a few. While going to an extremely alkaline diet is not recommended, our body needs a healthy and balanced diet to maintain healthy kidney function and prevent weakened bones, muscle wasting and of course the itchiness which is prevalent in those with eczema.

(Further reading resources: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5165/Alkaline-Acidic-Foods-Chart-The-pH-Spectrum.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/)

The diet is divided into 2 phases- Phase I and Phase II and I have written about them in my earlier post-

https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2014/12/29/our-new-eczema-diet-and-a-heart-full-of-gratitude/

Phase I–  The phase I recipes were very basic and initially I followed most of the recipes given in the book. But I had to adapt some of the recipes a bit to suit our Indian taste and add a few of my own in order to ensure that I could give her some variety even with all the restrictions. She was allowed only garlic and parsley as far as spices and herbs were concerned which proved to be the toughest part about following the diet since Indian food is filled with all kinds of spices. The other difficult part was cutting out all (100%) processed foods and eating only homemade food. Some of the foods that my daughter enjoyed in the first phase were baked fish (pomfret) with garlic in white sauce made of soy milk and brown rice flour; baked chicken in garlic and in a similar sauce; mutton/chicken biryani (or lightly flavoured mutton/chicken in a kind of rice pilaf) with only garlic and broth as the main flavour.

While initially it was difficult for her to forego a lot of her favourite foods (pizza, Maggi noodles, baked items like doughnuts, cupcakes, biscuits and candies to name just a few), over a period of time she has accepted it as a way of life and has made peace with it. In response, her skin condition improved visibly and her itching reduced to an extent. But I should also mention here that since she was started on a new immunosuppressive medication (Methotrexate), the changes would be due to both her medication and diet. But while medication would have helped to suppress and control her eczema, her skin tone has gone back to what it was 2 years back and all the weight that she had put on due to oral steroids simply fell off. I attribute these two significant changes to the changes in her diet.

Phase II – The second phase has been much easier to follow as compared to phase I. Also the fact that I have honed my skills as a baker and chef has helped immensely. I can honestly vouch for the fact that necessity is the mother of invention! All the restrictions that circumstances have placed upon my daughter and as a result on our family have helped me to innovate and become a better cook/baker than I would possibly have ever been otherwise.

Our family is eating a larger variety of healthy foods than ever before with minimal processed foods (so bye-bye preservatives, sugar, chemicals, refined and simple carbohydrates, junk foods) and loads of heart healthy, skin friendly fruits, vegetables and protein (mostly fish and chicken) with natural/organic ingredients. The fallout of all this is that both my husband and I have shed some of our excess weight naturally as a result of incorporating green and healthy juices/smoothies, healthy snacks etc into our own diet.

(You can read more here- https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2014/12/29/our-new-eczema-diet-and-a-heart-full-of-gratitude/)

SInce I had to restrict my daughter’s diet to ones with very specific ingredients, I started making a lot of the desserts/foods like crackers, cookies, doughnuts, cakes etc with eczema safe ingredients at home. Over the last 6 months I have added a lot of variety in terms of foods like jowar, brown rice and brown rice flour, flour, quinoa, sweet potato, sprouts (all kinds), vegetable juices and smoothies. Quite a few of these changes have been for the entire family.

There are however “The Itchy Dozen” foods according to the book which are healthy for most people but do not usually suit those with eczema and is best avoided. Some of these foods that I now avoid giving my daughter are tomato, corn, grapes, dried fruits, deli meats (sausages, ham etc) since all these foods are high in amines, sulphites and MSG (in varying proportions and various combinations). You can read more about these foods at the link given below-

http://www.eczemalife.com/pages/top-12-eczema-itchy-foods-to-avoid

A few suggestion for meals and snacks

Making snacks which are tasty and at the same time eczema safe has been a big challenge but I have managed to adapt and find alternatives which work for us. Working with Indian staples like puffed rice or murmura, flattened rice or poha, lentils and pulses like moong daal, red chana, kabuli chana some of the food items I started making are mentioned below-

  • bhel (a dry mix of puffed rice, potatoes, carrots, coriander leaves, cucumber with citric acid and a touch of cumin)
  • potato/sweet potato tikkas with/without mutton kheema/minced spiced with ginger, coriander, whole cumin (mashed potato croquettes shallow fried in the pan)
  • Moong daal chilla (or crepes with moong daal soaked overnight and then made into a batter) with onions, coriander accompanied by mint and coriander chutney
  • hummus dip(chickpeas, garlic and citric acid with a bit of cumin) and vegetables like carrots or cucumber
  • popped jowar (a delicious alternative to popcorn) is a favourite for both my children and is made pretty much the same wasy as pop corn

Some of the main courses that my daughter enjoys apart from our regular Indian meals are-

  • veggie and rice pasta with loads of garlic and mixed herbs (no cheese) with/without chicken
  • Brown rice and moong daal dosa with potatoes (I am not giving her any fermented products yet)
  • mixed veggies and rice flavoured with broth and a few whole spices (bay leaf, cinnamon and cardamom) with/without chicken
  • I make various soups with eczema safe and skin friendly vegetables like beetroot, sweet potato, carrots, and others like chicken and veggies soup, chicken and pasta soup, mutton stew (occasionally)
  • brown rice noodles (occasionally) with veggies

You can be as creative as you want but the key thing here is to plan ahead. Also, keep in mind that eating healthy does not mean eating only a few foods and having dull or unappetizing foods. Since I have been forced to look outside my comfort zone of eating/preparing the same foods all these years, it has actually opened my eyes to the amazing variety and richness of foods that is available to everyone if one knows where to look.

The availability of different varieties of foods (quinoa, gluten free flours, golden syrup, organic produce, kinds of microgreens and salads, gluten free milk like almond and soya to name a few) both offline through Godrej Nature’s Basket and Foodhall stores in Mumbai and online (gourmetco.in, foodesto.com, naturallyyours.in) have really helped us a lot.  

It’s not a diet, it’s called Eating Healthy

As our daughter now says, she is not following any particular diet as of now but simply eating “healthy”.This is true not only for her but for the entire family. Of course it is not always very simple or easy to eat healthy especially while travelling or eating out even though our daughter’s eating out now is extremely restricted for obvious reasons. But now I realise that after more than 9 months of changing our food habits at home, my husband and I tend to think twice before we order the next cake, sugary drink or buy a packaged food. What started off as a necessity to manage our daughter’s eczema has become a habit for us. It became easier for us to accept and change our food habits once we realised the critical importance of diet in managing chronic illnesses like eczema (I have written about this in my earlier post- https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2015/04/08/you-are-what-you-eat-eczema-and-food/).

Also, even though I have expanded her diet and modified it to suit our Indian tastes over a period of time, the book “The Eczema Diet” is what first made me consider food and diet as a tool for managing eczema. I have now come across and follow various other blogs and websites which are dedicated to managing various kinds of chronic conditions through food and dietary changes, reduction in stress levels, yoga and other forms of mind- body excercise etc.

As mentioned in my post (https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2015/04/08/you-are-what-you-eat-eczema-and-food/) we will be getting some tests done in London with the help of a Functional Medicine practitioner for “gut health” permeability. Gut health is determined by a healthy variety and a community of about 100 trillion microbial cells in our digestive tract and impacts our physiological, nutritional, metabolic well-being including our immune system. It is now considered to be one of the leading causes of all kinds of chronic illnesses like coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema (now considered to be an auto immune disease), Graves disease, Hashimotos just to name a few and it’s importance is best explained by the image below. I will be wrtiting more on these once we get tests done next month and have more clarity on the same.

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You can do your own research on this and use this knowledge to make an informed decision about the making food and diet an important part of the treatment for your child or anyone suffering from autoimmune disorders/chronic conditions.

(Image source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3065426/figure/F1/)

(Further reading: http://www.nih.gov/researchmatters/october2014/10062014autoinflammatory.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667473/)

Not all those who wander are lost

And so it is with us. Our journey is long and is filled with twists and turns and Atopic Dermatitis seems to be our constant travelling companion whether we like it or not. So over a period of time, we have learned to gracefully accept these circumstances to make our journey more comfortable and even memorable. This is true even though all the while we are constantly trying to manage our daughter’s eczema in ways which are less harmful to her in the long run. Whether we realise it or not, sometimes it is the journey which teaches us a lot about our destination….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eczema Support Group meeting for parents

Support Diverse Diversity Ethnic Ethnicity Variation Concept

 

 

I am having the 4th Eczema Support Group meeting on the 21st of February, Saturday from 10 am till 11 am.

This is a meeting for the parents of children who are suffering from moderate to severe eczema. The objective is to provide a platform for parents to share their experiences and learnings with each other. In this meeting we will discuss various treatment options, personal experiences, skin care routine and other related topics as discussed by the members in advance. Infact parents often come up with various suggestions, information in terms of what has worked in managing and improving their child’s eczema which can benefit another child in the support group.
Also, sometimes it helps just to talk to another primary caregiver /parent who is going through a similar struggle of dealing with their child’s eczema.

Topics

  • Diet and its role in eczema/autoimmune disorders
  •  Skin care and bathing routine
  • Phototherapy treatment

Venue- Planet Godrej, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai

For further details and registration please get in touch with me via email at eczemaanindianperspective@gmail.com latest by the 18th of Wednesday.

Our new eczema diet and a heart full of gratitude

It has been some time since I have put up a post. There have been a couple of developments at my end due to which I have been a bit tied up. The first and the most important one is that the combination of the new immunosuppressive medication, Methotrexate, and her new diet seem to be working for my daughter. I will be writing more on this particular diet later in this post.

The second one is that the support group for eczema that I started a few months back has been slowly gathering steam at a pace that I am comfortable with.

And last but not the least, I also want to express my gratitude and share with you this time the amazing team of doctors in Mumbai behind Aiyana’s medical treatment over the years all of whom have helped us in their own ways to deal with her severe eczema.

Diet and its impact on various disorders

diet

I had been reading about how diet affects one’s body in various ways and is especially important when dealing with autoimmune disorders and chronic conditions like eczema. Doctors do not really recommend any dietary changes unless allergy tests prove to be positive for various foods. However, I found that there more than a few genuine cases where people suffering from severe autoimmune and other disorders like Hashimoto, Lupus, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome as well as eczema have found relief from the symptoms due to dietary changes and have managed to go off medication completely over time.

It took me more than 6 months to come to this point of view after reading about the life altering experiences of these people and then figure out a diet which I was willing to try out on my daughter. The life stories of some of the people who influenced my decision to try out diet as an option for my daughter are captured in their blogs whose links are as given below-

http://deliciouslyella.com/philosophy/about/– This blog is by Ella who has Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, a relatively rare and painful illness with no known cure and she managed to go off her medications completely after about 18 months of changing her diet

http://www.naturallysassy.co.uk/about– This blog is by Saskia, a ballet dancer with chronic eczema since childhood and who has completely gotten rid of her eczema by altering her diet

http://www.choosingraw.com/about/– This blog is by Gena who has battled with anorexia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and who now successfully uses a mix of raw and cooked vegan diet to keep herself healthy

http://www.amymyersmd.com/about/my-story/– The last link belongs to a website by Dr Amy Myers, a doctor of functional medicine suffering from Hashimoto’s ( a chronic and painful condition of the thyroid gland with no known cure) who has brought her severe thyroid condition under control after changing her diet/nutrition and life through meditation, yoga, supplements amongst others.

(Functional medicine integrates traditional Western medical practices with what is sometimes considered “alternative” or “integrative” medicine, creating a focus on prevention through nutrition, diet, and exercise; use of the latest laboratory testing and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, or stress-management techniques.)

Source: https://www.functionalmedicine.org/

The Eczema Diet

Eczema-Diet-2nd-Ed-Front-Cover-192x300

In my post https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2014/09/23/products-and-resources-which-help-to-manage-eczema/, I had very briefly mentioned that I was planning to start my daughter on a diet for eczema based on the book “The Eczema Diet” by the Australian nutritionist, Ms Karen Fischer. Her daughter had severe eczema as well when she was a 2-year-old and with changes in her diet, Karen managed to control the eczema successfully. She has since written this book based on her own experience with her daughter and the feedback over the years from her patients who have successfully brought their eczema under control using this diet.

This diet is practical and comprehensive with information on products and backed by research; it has menus and recipes for babies, children and adults. It also has non diet information like skin care products and general recommendations for eczema. The objective of this diet is to temporarily take out all the eczema unfriendly foods from the diet and add all foods which are highly nutritious and eczema safe.

There are 2 stages to this diet- Stage 1 and Stage 2 .

Stage 1 is primarily to heal the gut by avoiding foods with any kind of artificial chemicals and limiting naturally occurring eczema unfriendly chemicals (like MSG or salicylates) ; allergens (eggs, wheat or dairy products); anti nutrients (phytic acid, sugar, processed foods) and acid forming and other foods which increase itchiness (oranges, corn, tomato, dairy, grapes, dried fruits). This diet thus helps restore the acid alkaline balance in the body.

Stage 2 is an extension of the first stage where the food groups are gradually expanded by adding back different food groups in moderation ( no processed foods, artificial colourings, preservatives etc) depending on the improvement in the skin condition. The diet also has recommendations on supplements like vitamins, probiotic, glycine, flaxseed (Omega 3) amongst others which are very important in helping the body cope with eczema since the child might not be consuming adequate quantities of the same from food.

I started this diet for my daughter after going through it thoroughly and arranging for most of the eczema safe ingredients as there are quite a few changes in ingredients that we usually use at home. Infact, it took me almost a month to assimilate all the information, answer the different questionnaires and make notes and list down the essential foods and recipes as a part of my preparation before starting this diet.  It’s been about 2 months since I have started this diet for my daughter.

Since it is pretty restrictive in the first stage, I took my time to prepare my daughter mentally for what was to come in the following months by telling her about the diet. I also made her read excerpts from the book about other children who have benefited from this diet and have seen their eczema either disappear almost completely or finally come under control. Only when I was sure that she was ready for this change and that I had prepared adequately for this diet did I finally start the diet for her.

The recipes and menu

recipes

Over the past couple of months I have tried out various recipes from this book as well as developed and modified some recipes from this book using eczema safe ingredients. This is to ensure that Aiyana not only followed this diet completely with no exceptions but also had a wide variety of options to keep her from feeling deprived of all the store-bought and other foods that we are all so used to having nowadays. The good part about doing all this apart from the health benefits for my daughter is that my entire family now has much less processed foods, negligible amount of junk foods, healthier organic and fresh foods, homemade preparations of bakery and other  foods with no sugar and preservatives.

This has not been easy especially since I have had to cut out sugar, dairy, wheat, eggs and all processed foods, all spices ( apart from garlic and salt) out of her diet and give her a  very limited variety of fruits and vegetables. These last couple of months I have extremely been busy with this diet trying out the book’s recipes and new recipes almost on a daily basis since I have had to modify some of them to suit her needs and our Indian palette. This has been made more difficult since the recipes in the book are for meant to suit an European palette while we are used to our Indian spices and foods. What has helped me is my past experience with gluten-free cooking for my daughter in 2012 ( I have covered my experience in the post- “Eczema and diet” ) and my determination to ensure that I find a way to manage my daughter’s health in a more natural way in the long run.

The book can now be purchased both as a paperback and kindle version online at amazon.in.

When there’s a will there is a way

 inspire-31What encourages me is that Aiyana’s skin condition has improved in the last couple of months. Here I should also add that we had to start her new immunosuppressive medication around the same time as the diet and that the new medicine also takes 3 to 4 weeks to show results. But with my experience of giving her the third immunosuppressive medication (Cyclsosporine, Azathioprine, Methotrexate) I can say with conviction that the only medicine which has truly worked for her and made her skin completely smooth and normal all over has been oral steroid in high doses. The other medications have either just about helped keep her eczema under control (Cyclosporine) or brought about bone marrow suppression (Azathioprine); I have covered the effects of Azathioprine and our traumatic experience in my earlier post “…the tough get going (Part 2)“.

Hence, I am really happy to see that after starting her on this diet her face is totally clear of any rashes and has finally got back that healthy glow that had disappeared under the effect of all the strong medicines being given to her. I am willing to continue the hard work required to carry on with this diet and keep her motivated to follow the same for the next few months at least. I will keep you posted on further developments about my daughter’s skin condition in relation to this diet in my future posts.

 A heart full of gratitude

thank you

As the year comes to an end, I stop to count my blessings for all the good things in my life and my heart is filled with gratitude for all those doctors who have been with us in my family’s difficult journey in the past few years. In this post I would like to thank the amazing set of doctors behind Aiyana in her fight against eczema. I have briefly mentioned them in my earlier posts as well but have never mentioned their names which I do now with their consent.

 

 

Dr Shashi Merchant is Aiyana’s pediatrician from Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai, and has known her since birth and held her as a newborn baby. She has been a pillar of strength and is unwavering in her support and care for my daughter. She gave us hope when we needed it the most in the darkest of moments when Aiyana was fighting for her life in the hospital last year. We are all lucky to have had her on our side in this journey.

Dr Amrita Talwar is Aiyana’s main dermatologist for the past 4 to 5 years now and has done much more and beyond than required as her role as a doctor. Without her help and guidance about the myriad aspects of dealing with eczema (including the essential but non medical ones) life would have been significantly more difficult for us. I have her to thank for encouraging me to write about our experience and starting this blog and for pushing me and helping me to start the Eczema Support Group.

Dr Manish Shah is a leading senior pediatric dermatologist and is the dermatologist whom we consult regarding her immunosuppressive medications and narrow band UVB treatment. He gives us advice when required and gives us much-needed guidance about giving these strong medications as well as dealing with and minimising the harsh side effects. We are very grateful to have him as Aiyana’s consultant dermatologist.

Dr Mahesh Balsekar is another well-known pediatrician in South Mumbai with Breach Candy Hospital. He is the one who diagnosed and admitted Aiyana to the hospital in time last year (Dr Merchant was on holiday at that time) which ultimately saved her life. Dr Balsekar thus gave her and the doctors at Breach Candy Hospital a chance of fighting her life threatening infection. My heart swells with gratitude for Dr Balsekar for keeping our family intact and saving my daughter’s life.

We are also grateful to the entire pediatric division of Breach Candy Hospital, haemotolgists Dr Antia and Dr Agarwal and the entire support staff at the hospital for playing a very important role in our daughter’s stay at the hospital last year.

A new year, a new beginning

new year

And so another year ends and a new one is about to begin soon. May the new year be filled with joy, laughter and good health. But may you also find the strength to overcome whatever obstacles lie in your path and remember to enjoy every precious moment with your friends and family.

From my family to yours

A Happy 2015! 

 

Products and resources which help to manage eczema

I have been meaning to put up a post of the resources and products (mostly natural formulations) that have proved beneficial in some way or the other in the past few years while treating my daughter’s eczema. These products have been recommended by other parents based on their experiences while treating their child’s eczema. I would like to mention that while my daughter is still on immunosuppressive medication to control her very severe eczema, some of them might prove to be extremely beneficial for your child like it has for many other children.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list by any means and I have listed a few products that have come to my notice and a few other products which I use on my children.

Creams, moisturisers and salves

I have written earlier about moisturisers and creams but these products deserve a special mention. I have put down a few completely natural products which are not mainstream and are mostly formulated by parents of children with eczema after they tried out various mainstream creams and moisturisers but to no avail. Furthermore, all these products are free of steroids, Sulphates, parabens and other preservatives, artificial fragrances, petrochemicals and are made mostly from natural organic ingredients. These products have proven to be beneficial to many children and in some cases, parents have been able to substitute topical steroid creams and moisturisers with preservatives and other chemicals with these natural and organic products successfully.

However, for mild to moderate eczema, you must use the steroid creams and medicines prescribed by the doctor to calm an infection or bad flare up for your child. But in the long-term if you can use a combination of natural moisturizer and other lifestyle and dietary changes to keep eczema successfully under control, that is the best situation one should work towards. I am still trying to figure out what is best for my daughter and how to manage her eczema without using steroids, immunosuppressant and other such powerful medicines and through our own journey it will really make me happy if I can help some other children and their families to cope with eczema.

I have used the first 2 products and coconut oil on both my children. I have found the Purepotions cream to be very effective on extremely dry patches and the organic coconut oil is the main moisturiser for my daughter. Some of the other products have been recommended by other parents of children with eczema and/or adults with eczema who have found relief by using these products. I have also come across some of these products while continuing my search for products to help my daughter and others like her suffering from Atopic Dermatitis.  

However, you have to be careful before using the products for the first time on your child and should check the label to see if your child is allergic to any of the ingredients in any such products.

 

  • Purepotions Intensive moisturising ointment This natural salve was formulated in UK by a mother, Natalie Balmond, when she took matters into her own to find an alternative natural solution to alleviate her daughter’s suffering due to bleeding sores covering 90% of her body. It has Beeswax which acts as a natural antibacterial barrier protecting the skin from external irritants and locking moisture in as well as Hemp  which is extremely rich in essential fatty acids which are often lacking in those with dry skin. One can find out more about this cream and order on their website (they deliver to India) – http://www.purepotions.biz/ and once can also purchase this ointment through other websites like http://www.everythingforeczema.com/skin-salvation.html.

 

 

  •  Chickweed and Calendula cream– The founder of the website, Ms Gail Palmer is another such mother whose daughter had eczema when she was small and she struggled to bring it under control. She developed this product made of chickweed and Calendula especially for chaffed, dry skin like in the case of eczema. Chickweed has been traditionally used by herbalists to help sooth itching, and Calendula to reduce inflammation. She has her own website and blog and one can buy this product on her website http://www.everythingforeczema.com/chickweed-and-calendula-cream.htm

 

 

 

Emily skin soothers

 

  • Baby and adult skin soother from the brand Emily Skin Soothers– Made by an acupuncturist for his daughter’s eczema, this balm contains only natural ingredients. It contains just three chinese herbs in a base of olive oil and beeswax. This product is available on the website http://www.eczemacompany.com/natural-eczema-cream/ and is shipped to India by this website.

 

 

 

  • Odylique Repair Lotion and Ultra Rich Balm by Essential Care– these and other skin care products have been formulated by Margaret and her family since 1980s. She was motivated by the lack of products suitable for her own and her family’s very sensitive and eczema-prone skin and she formulated skin care products based only on organic herbs, plant oils and natural active ingredients. The lotion and the balm are the 2 products made specifically for eczema prone skin and one can purchase their products from their website http://www.essential-care.co.uk/organic-skincare-for-problem-skin/organic-skincare-for-itchy-skin.html 

 

 

LJs natural

 

  • Organic Scratchy Balm and Organic Scratchy Bath/Body Oil by LJs Natural– These products were formulated by Lisa Johnson who had been suffering from severe eczema for a long time after a lot of research and experimentation. The combination of these products and complementary therapy including diet helped bring her eczema under control ever since. The balm is a blend of organic shea butter, avocado oil, evening primrose oil and may help provide relief from itching due to dry skin conditions in a completely natural way. The bath and body oil can be used on children since it is a blend of lavender and chamomile (which are great essential oils good for dry and damaged skin and are very relaxing if used before bed time). This product is now available for delivery to India after I contacted her last week. You can check out her website at http://www.lj-natural.com/my-story/.

 

Organic coconut oil

  • Coconut oil (Organic)– This moisturiser is something we have been using for quite a while now and it has proved to be very helpful especially during the times when my daughter’s skin is broken at places due to constant itching. It is an excellent emollient for not only coating the skin but penetrating it as well, unlike a mineral oil that only coats the skin. This is readily available in India from brands like Conscious Foods, Down to Earth, Kama etc.

 

 

Therapeutic clothing and products

There are some specialised types of products available to help patients suffering from eczema cope with the aches and pains and sleepless nights associated with this skin condition and have to be used in combination to the regular medications and mositurisers. Amongst these, the most obvious and natural ones which help in reducing skin aggravation is the use of completely natural laundry cleaners. I have touched upon this topic in my earlier post – “Eczema- a change in lifestyle”  particularly in relation to availability of these products in our country.

Today I am writing about other products which have been specially formulated to help in reducing itchiness, increasing the comfort level and which might help in reducing the intensity and frequency of flare ups in some people. I have used The Tubifast Garments on my daughter when she still had mild eczema and was advised wet wrapping treatment by her dermatologist. I have also used the Dermasilk full sleeves roll neck t shirt on her and it helped to some extent to reduce her itching at times. In particular, the Dermasilk Elite Girl Brief has proved to be beneficial to my daughter and she wears it to school everyday. It has helped reduce the itching in her groin area to a large extent.

Again, I have shortlisted most of these products based on the reviews and recommendations of other parents who have found these to be beneficial in some way or the other. There must be many more which have been developed  and the good thing is that there are a whole host of products developed specifically to minimise discomfort and itching associated with Atopic Dermatitis and thus improving the overall quality of life for an eczema patient.

 

Dermasilk

  • Dermasilk Therapeutic Clothing–  This is a line of clothing used in the treatment of various forms of dermatitis, eczema and allergic skin conditions and is made of a special, knitted medical grade silk (not regular silk material) by Espere Healthcare in the UK. One can read more about them on their website- http://www.dermasilk.co.uk/. They manufacture full sleeves roll neck T shirts, full length footless leggings, tubular sleeves (for elbows and knees) , underwear (for boys and girls), child gloves, short sleeves T shirt amongst others. I have used the long sleeves T shirt and full leggings for my daughter but intermittently due to various reasons and she was pretty comfortable wearing this at night. You can buy their products on the website- http://www.theallergyshop.com.au/dermasilk-kids/ since this website delivers to India.

 

Tubifast

 

  • Tubifast Garments by Monlycke Healthcare– Tubifast Garments are specifically made to manage eczema using the Wet Wrapping Technique also called Wet Dressing Technique. They are found in various forms for children- gloves, leggings, full sleeves vests in all sizes. Apart from these, Tubifast Patch Wrap,  is used to soothe and protect isolated patches of eczema, especially behind the knees or the elbow and comes in pairs. One can read more about them on their website- http://www.molnlycke.com/patient/en/Products/Wound-care-products/Tubifast-Garments/.  The garments can be ordered at the website- http://www.theallergyshop.com.au/dermasilk-kids/ and they deliver to India as well.

 

 

  • Scratch Me Nots– This is a website where once again a mother, Andrea, developed a product looking for a way to stop her daughter from scratching all the time due to her eczema and wanted to stop the itch- scratch cycle. She then eventually figured out how to bring her eczema under control once her daughter stopped scratching and thereafter they could sleep at nights and decrease the visits to the doctors and the medications. She has developed ScratchMeNot Flip Mittens, ScratchMeNot Flip Mitten Body, Bamboo Bubby Bag, ScratchMeNot Mitten Sleeves all designed for babies and children upto 6 years of age to stop their scratching especially at night. These products are made with an unique blend of bamboo viscose, organic cotton & lycra and one can buy their products on the website- http://www.eczemacompany.com/scratchmenot-flip-mitten-sleeve-formerly-classic/ or the company website- http://www.scratchmenot.com/view-all/.

Skintoskin

  • Skin to Skin biofunctional clothing – These products were developed by a dermatologist especially for babies, children and adults with atopic skin conditions like eczema. These are made from 70% pure cotton and 20% brown algae (seaweed) which has been bonded with silver particles giving the remaining 10%. According to the company, the seaweed extract has natural properties that soothes and protects against itchiness and the silver adds antiseptic properties, drastically reducing the growth of any potentially harmful bacteria on the skin.  The products available are boxer shorts for girls/boys, long sleeves and short sleeves Tshirts, socks and leggings. One can buy these products at  http://www.everythingforeczema.com/skin-to-skin.html (they deliver to India) and their website is http://uk.skintoskin.eu/ incase you need further information.

Diet and eczema

The other aspect of managing eczema that keeps coming up again and again from other parents who have successfully brought their child’s eczema under control and others who have been able to manage their own eczema is through their diet. This is something which my husband and I have been contemplating for some time for our daughter but have not been able to implement by ourselves. For a child, a well-balanced nutritional diet is critical for growth and well being and this is even more true when the child is on a restrictive diet due to eczema, allergies etc.

Fortunately, I came to know of a naturopath based in Mumbai recently and we have approached him to help us streamline Aiyana’s diet to help us to possibly decrease her dependency on medications which keeps her eczema under control currently. Even though no doctor will really recommend a change in the diet for eczema unless it directly affects a person due to his or her allergies, more and more people with severe eczema are going down this path especially when their dependency on powerful medicines with equally powerful side effects becomes too great. Hence the role of naturopaths, natural formulations and home remedies in chronic conditions like eczema.

But you must take the same precautions that you would take before giving any mainstream medicines to your child by finding out about the impact of dietary changes, side effects of any supplements given, regular monitoring required etc. Thus even in the case of managing your child’s eczema through changes in the diet and supplements, you should be clear about why you are eliminating some foods while keeping or even increasing others and not just follow all the recommendations blindly. For a child, a well-balanced diet is very important for growth and the dietary changes should take into account protein, calcium requirements of a growing child amongst other things.

Eczema-Diet-2nd-Ed-Front-Cover-192x300

On this front, after quite a bit of research on the resources available on diet and eczema, I have come across a book called “The Eczema Diet” by an Australian nutritionist Karen Fisher. Twelve years ago Karen’s daughter developed eczema soon after she was born. By the age of two, her daughter’s eczema had become so severe that Karen decided it was time to find her own solution.  Karen successfully controlled her daughter’s severe eczema by formulating a diet plan for her daughter. This book is based on a decade of extensive research of the causes of eczema by Karen Fischer.  It has helped a lot of people to bring their eczema under control and has also helped a lot of parents to manage their child’s eczema in a much more natural way.

I had ordered this book on http://www.theallergyshop.com.au/the-eczema-diet-by-karen-fischer/. This book has recently been delivered to me and I am still going through the same. So far I have read about how it works, the top eczema safe foods as well as the ones which trigger eczema.  In case you have already taken help of this book and tried this diet on yourself or your child, I would be really happy to hear from you.

 

I have tried to bring together in one place a variety of products (creams, moisturisers, clothing) which have helped many children and adults control their eczema and live a comfortable life. Eczema, while not usually life threatening in nature, can really hamper a family’s quality of life on a daily basis since lack of sleep, discomfort, itchiness, medications and their side effects take a toll on children with eczema and their parents alike.  However, there have been a number of parents who have found a way that has worked for their child to some extent or the other and all the trial and error they have gone through has been worth it in the end. While I am also one of those parents still struggling to bring my daughter’s eczema under control with minimal or no medication at all, I would like to live you with a thought that I often have to remind myself on those days when it all seems so difficult-

“In between goals is a thing called life, that has to be lived and enjoyed”- Sid Caesar 

 

 

 

Our journey continues….( a look at our ancient way of healing- Ayurveda and mindfulness meditation)

I am back! I am back with more stories to tell, experiences to share and hopefully some tidbits of information which might help another parent to cope with their child’s eczema along the way. Only a parent who is a first hand witness to their child’ s suffering due to this skin condition ( and any other such chronic medical conditions)  will be able to empathise with another family’s pain, exhaustion and some times negative thoughts that can arise out of dealing with sleeplessness, social and psychological impact that eczema can have on on a child. And that is what keeps me going to share what works for us ( most of the time) and what products, methods etc help in dealing with my daughter’s eczema.

Our introduction to Ayurveda

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I had recently taken my daughter, Aiyana to an ayurvedic hospital ( IAIM Healthcare centre – an Institute of Ayurveda or Integrative Medicine) in the outskirts of Bangalore (the capital city in the southern state of Karnataka). I was not looking for a quick fix solution or a cure to her eczema, but just exploring other traditional methods of Indian medicine which go back a very long way and seeks to heal from within. My hope is to see if our traditional medicine has something to offer to help my daughter to control her eczema in the long run without the help of other powerful medications like she is on currently.

A rigorous process

At IAIM Healthcare Centre, she was first put on an increasing dose of medicated ghee ( it is a type of clarified butter made by simmering the butter made from the milk so that it gets caramelised which gives it the unique taste and aroma) along with a severely restricted diet. This was done to remove all the toxins from her body prior to starting medications, since Ayurveda considers ghee to be satvik ( in the mode of goodness)  and is the main ingredient in many traditional Ayurvedic medicines. She was given this for 4 days till her body was saturated with ghee (as they could make out from her stools). All this while she was ONLY allowed a diet of fruits (non citrus) and plain khichdi (which is a preparation made from rice and pulses); she was also not allowed to go out anywhere but stay in one place in a warm environment to facilitate this process. The 5th day was the day of purging and she was given a laxative in order to prepare her for the medicines to follow from the next day. All this while she was given a daily medicinal ghee massage and a warm bath mixed with herbs.

An interesting change

One very interesting change that took place during this time was that her skin condition was the softest and the smoothest I had seen in some time. While Aiyana’s immunosuppressive medication continued at the same level with no change, her skin condition improved dramatically with all the diet restrictions (and no other medicines). However, once the medicines started the next day and her diet restrictions eased up, her skin condition slowly came back to normal in the next few weeks. I guess her extremely restrictive diet played a key role in improving her skin condition during the first week at the ayurvedic hsopital (even though it is simply not possible to continue with this kind of diet for more than a few days).

However, Ayurvedic medication demands that one follows a restricted diet since certain food types do not go well with the ayurvedic medicines. Hence, Aiyana has been asked to stay away from fermented products (inc yeast based bakery items) like yogurt, dosa, idli etc; all citrus fruits and vegetables like oranges, lemons, tomatoes; root vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes; other processed and refined foods like white rice and refined sugar; leafy green vegetables. She has also been advised to have everything cooked in ghee. As you can make out it IS a difficult way of life to follow since it does not involve only medication but also a whole lot of changes in one’s diet. In any case, she has been very cooperative and we have been able to follow most of the food restrictions so far.

Our goal

The goal of Ayurvedic medicines according to Dr Gangadharan (who is the Head of the Dept. and treating my daughter) was to strengthen her immune system from within so that over time her body was naturally able to bring the severity of her eczema within a manageable level. I will keep you posted on her progress and any changes as far as Ayurveda is concerned. We have been back in Mumbai for 3 weeks now and her skin condition has come back to normal. I will however have to continue with her Ayurvedic medication for some more time if I want to give it a chance to work. I will also be taking her for a follow-up to IAIM Healthcare Centre next month in order to assess her progress, change in medication etc.

The good, the bad and the ugly

It is always a case of a mix of good days and bad days for her even with her medications. And since there are various triggers to her flare ups, it is nearly impossible to pin point and avoid the the same completely. This leads to a  yoyo like swing in her moods making it difficult for her and all of us especially on those bad (and ugly) days and nights with her itching and inability to sleep. I have already touched upon this psychological impact (which can lead to lack of self-confidence and social skills) and I have described how I have been dealing with it in my daughter’s case in my post Beauty is not just “skin” deep- helping your child cope with eczema.

Let them sleep, for when they wake…they will move mountains

We have been grappling with sleepless nights ever since she was 1-year-old (even though her condition was mild at that time) and when you add to that the mild eczema that my 4-year-old son has as well, you can see that it leads to a lot of sleepless nights and fatigue for the entire family. It is an aspect of eczema ( and Atopic Dermatitis in particular since it affects children) that severely impacts a child’s well-being leading to lack of concentration in school and a lack of self-confidence amongst other problems. It also one issue the entire family (which has children suffering from Atopic Dermatitis) will have faced some time or the other. As a result I have been searching for a way to improve our quality of sleep (without further use of medicines) by reducing stress levels and learning relaxation techniques.

Mindfulness Meditation

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To this end I have been reading about a form of stress reduction technique called ” Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction”  (MBSR) program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. It is meant to work by making one more “grounded” or “aware” of the present moment and simply means paying attention in a particular way: “on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” as described by Dr Kabat- Zinn. In this post, I will be just touching upon this topic since we have just started following the same ourselves.

My goal in trying to incorporate it in our daily life is very simple – to help my daughter reduce her stress and frustration levels and hopefully cope with her medical condition better with time and practice. The good thing is that one does not have to be a Buddhist to practice this though it has its roots in Buddhism, Taoism and yoga. Mindfulness is the art of conscious living so that you live a life being who you are already and not try and be someone that you are not. Hence, one’s religious beliefs does not interfere with this practice.

Meditation and coping

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I am using the book and CD combination- “Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children which is based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s (a Zen Buddhist monk) thirty years of teaching mindfulness and compassion. They are designed to help relieve stress, increase concentration, nourish gratitude and confidence, deal with difficult emotions and improve communication.

While we have just started practising this, Aiyana has been enjoying our daily sessions of “deep relaxation” before bedtime since it is helping to calm her (and me) down quite a bit and relax. While it is too early to comment on the results of practising this, I can say that it has made a slight improvement in her sleep quality. And anytime that she wakes up feeling itchy, the music is soothing enough to lull her back to sleep most of the times. I am also planning to use another well-known book for practising mindfulness meditation with children – “Peaceful Piggy Meditation” by Kerry Lee Maclean for the same purpose.

Be happy for this moment, this moment is your life

And in the end, this is what matters. How well we lived our life, how well we loved, how we counted our blessings along the way; how we learned to accept the things we simply cannot change and faced our most difficult moments. This is the lesson I strive to teach my children, one lesson that I am myself learning every day of my life.