Homeopathy and Childhood Eczema
What is it? Homeopathy is based on the principle that like cures like, similar to the medical theory underlying vaccination. Minute doses of specially prepared remedies which mimic the symptoms of the illness are given to the patient in the belief that they stimulate deep healing responses. Homeopaths make up individualised remedies for each patient following a detailed consultation (lasting up to two hours) on personal and family medical history, diet, moods, emotional wellbeing and mental alertness. Importance is placed on treating the source of the patient's illness rather than suppressing the symptoms. Symptoms may worsen at first, which is interpreted as heralding improvement.
What does it treat? As an alternative to allopathic (conventional) medicine, homeopathy treats every illness and ailment - physical and/or psychological - as part of an overall imbalance. Chronic illnesses such as arthritis, asthma, allergies, migraine, digestive and immune disorders are considered particularly responsive to homeopathy. Homeopathy is not recommended for surgical emergencies or mechanical dysfunction. It can, however, be used as a complementary treatment to enhance post-operative healing. Some essential oils used in aromatherapy can interfere with homeopathic remedies.
A first-timer's experience: (from a 39-year-old teacher and mother of four): I knew a little bit about the format of the consultation so I wasn't surprised that the homeopath spent the whole two hours asking me about every aspect of my life and taking notes. I found the experience very relaxing and therapeutic. I even found myself crying at some points as I recalled certain things. She asked me about any physical illnesses I had had right back to childhood and if I was taking any medication. She asked me all about my work, my children, any problems they had had and how I was during my pregnancies and during their births. She also left the opportunity wide open for me to comment on other relationships and asked me how I reacted emotionally to difficult situations. She asked me if I had any phobias or recurring dreams. I was surprised by the level of detail and the level of interest she took in some aspects of my life. She didn't examine me at all. After the consultation, she said she would study her notes and make up a remedy for me.
"One week later, I got one little tablet sent to me. She said that it wouldn't be an immediate cure and that it was sometimes difficult to get the remedy exactly right the first time. I agreed I would take the tablet at a quiet time and report back to her on how I felt."
An advocate's view: Mary Ainsworth brought her two-year-old son, Niall, to a homeopath with severe eczema, sleeplessness and behavioural problems. "Niall was underweight when he was born and had difficulty putting on weight in the first six months of his life. He was a poor feeder and a poor sleeper and a very unhappy child. He had very dry skin from head to toe which developed into eczema. I had used cortisone cream on his skin which improved his eczema but once you stopped using it, the eczema came back again. I didn't know anything about homeopathy when my husband and I first brought my son to a homeopath.
"She asked us absolutely everything about Niall (his feeding, his sleeping, his energy levels, his likes and dislikes, his relationship with his brother and sister) while he sat on the floor beside us playing. She observed him in his play and also asked me about how the pregnancy and birth had been. She asked us if we would stop using the cortisone cream and use a moisturiser instead. She said that using the cream was not getting to the root of the problem and just suppressing the symptoms. She also said that it was not allowing the body to heal itself and push out the problem, which was why Niall's behaviour was so bad. Then, after checking through all her notes, she made up a remedy for Niall.
"Within a few weeks, he calmed down a lot. He became less tearful. His skin got worse at first but because he was less upset, he wasn't scratching it as much. He still didn't sleep well at night. We kept in touch with the homeopath, telling her all this. She then altered his remedy slightly and, eventually, he began sleeping through the night. We went to her four times when Niall was two and then before he started playschool and when he started in primary school. He is now a bright, happy and sociable boy at school. He gets on much better with his sister and brother, and his concentration has improved. I feel that he had to be treated as a whole in order for his skin to improve and that his emotional state and behaviour were the root of his problem."
The medical view: Homeopaths prescribe oral medicine, but use a different principle to conventional doctors, explains Dr Muiris Houston, Irish Times Medical Correspondent. "Practitioners select a drug that would, if given to a healthy volunteer, cause the presenting symptoms of the patient. This makes it difficult to apply the usual research criteria to prove the efficacy of treatment.
"Most research has concentrated on establishing whether homeopathy is a placebo treatment. A recent large-scale analysis in the Lancet Medical Journal concluded that `the clinical effects of homeopathy are not completely due to the placebo effect'. There is currently insufficient evidence that homeopathy is effective for any single condition. This includes its use in eczema, for which random trials have not been performed."
There are approximately 200 practising homeopaths in Ireland who have a qualification that is recognised in Ireland or another European country. Members of the Irish Society of Homeopaths can be contacted on 091-565040. A homepathic treatment costs between £40 and £60 for the first consultation and £25-£35 for follow-up visits