Introduction - Atopic eczema (AE) is a common inflammatory skin disorder, affecting one in five children and one in twelve adults in the UK. Due to the chronic nature of the condition and its poor management by conventional therapies, AE sufferers increasingly resort to complementary and alternative types of treatment.
Aim - The aim of this study was to document, analyse and discuss Western Herbal Medicine (WHM) practitioners’ views on therapeutic approaches for AE.
Methods - Three participants were recruited using purposive sampling. Inclusion criteria required participants to be: i) currently practising UK medical herbalists, ii) members of an established WHM professional body iii) in practice for at least 10 years, iv) having treated at least 5 cases of EA during the last year and v) living in or within 2 hours of London. Semi-structured interviews were used, each lasting 30 minutes. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and data were analysed using thematic analysis.
Results - Five themes emerged from data analysis: Internal herbal therapeutic approach; Topical applications; Importance of dietary therapeutic approach; Emotional/psychological parameters; and Practitioners’ role and patient individuality. Internal use of herbs such as Viola tricolour, Urtica dioica, Glycyrrhiza glabra and Taraxacum officinale appeared to be the preferred way to administer herbal treatment. Even though no standard “eczema cream” was reported, creams containing anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and healing herbs were used by all herbalists. The importance of tackling emotional issues and improving diet was stressed, with particular emphasis on ω-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
Conclusions – This research highlighted the holistic, patient-focused therapeutic approach of the participants in treating AE. Both internal and external use of herbs as well as dietary and lifestyle modifications were viewed as important by all herbalists. Further quantitative and qualitative studies are needed to investigate the WHM approach to AE treatment.