The human skin is the outer covering of the body. In humans, it is the largest organ of the integumentary system. These figures are not so surprising when we enumerate the skin’s many functions. Some are fairly obvious: protection against chemicals, radiation, microbes etc; preserving a balanced internal environment by keeping us warm, preventing us from drying out; and the sensation of touch in all its variety. But the skin has less obvious functions: subcutaneous fat is a major reserve of energy, vitamin D is synthesized in the skin when exposed to ultra-violet light. The skin also has important social and sexual functions: it secretes pheromones which play an important role in sexual attraction, while the hair and lips play a more conscious social and sexual role.
Skin problems are common: surveys suggest that large number per cent of us have a skin problem which deserves medical attention, but that most of us do not see doctors about them, preferring to treat them ourselves. Skin problems are among the commonest reasons for which people, especially children, seek Electro-Homeopathic treatment. Of course, as always with Electro-Homeopathy, it is important to be sure that Electro-Homeopathic treatment is appropriate – it is for many forms of skin disease, but there are important exceptions. The most conspicuous is malignant melanoma. This is an aggressive form of skin cancer whose incidence is increasing (although fortunately it remains rare) because of greater sun exposure and thinning of the ozone layer. The warning signs are a “mole”, which grows, bleeds or is irregular in shape or colour. It is better to be safe than sorry, and have any such skin lesion removed surgically.
Also known as dermatitis, eczema is among the commonest forms of skin disease, and it often responds well to Electro-Homeopathic treatment. It affects up to 20 per cent of schoolchildren and seven to eight percent of adults. Children tend to grow out of it and the majority improves greatly by their mid-teens. It is an inflammatory condition in which patches of skin become red, inflamed and itchy. The affected areas may also be covered in small, fluid-filled blisters. There are a number of different forms of eczema.
The commonest form is atopic eczema, an inborn condition which usually starts before the age of two, and may continue to flare up throughout adolescence and adulthood. “Atopy” means an inherited tendency to allergies, including eczema, asthma and hay fever. It runs in families and is getting commoner for reasons that are not entirely clear. A currently popular theory, known as the “hygiene hypothesis” suggests the reason is basically that kids today are too clean. It is based on the observation that children who grow up on farms and the younger children of large families are less likely to be atopic. The theory is that such children are more likely to be exposed to certain kinds of bacteria and that this stimulates their immune systems to mature. But not all the scientific evidence agrees on this and the jury is still out.
Contact dermatitis is caused by contact with a substance to which an individual is sensitive, such as nickel, rubber or various plants. It can occur at any age. Nickel is one of the commonest skin sensitisers – it can usually be spotted by the areas it affects: earrings and jean buttons often contain nickel.
Seborrhoeic dermatitis occurs in adult and infantile forms. In babies it is often known as cradle cap because it affects the scalp, although it may also affect the nappy area. The adult form usually affects the face and scalp.
Finally varicose eczema occurs mostly in older people, as the name suggests it is often linked to varicose veins: the blood stagnates in the lower legs resulting in a poor supply of oxygen and nutrients. The skin becomes dark, itchy and inflamed. If left untreated the skin may break down, forming an ulcer.
This too comes in several varieties, but all involve reddened areas of skin covered in large, adherent silvery scales. The basic problem is excessively rapid division of the horny cells of the epidermis, probably provoked by inflammation whose cause is currently unknown. Psoriasis tends to run in families; it most commonly comes on in late teenage or early adult life. It can be triggered by some medicines, including antidepressant, anti-hypertensive and antimalarial drugs, and infections with streptococcus bacteria.
The main types of psoriasis are:
- Plaque psoriasis: the patches appear typically on the knees, elbows, lower back and scalp. Unlike eczema, the patches often appear on the extensor (outer) sides of knees and elbows. The nails may develop small pits, or more serious deformity.
- Guttate psoriasis, where the patches are scattered, small and roundish, may follow a streptococcal infection, typically a severe sore throat.
- Pustular psoriasis, a severe but rare type affecting mostly the palms and soles.