An introduction to varicose eczema
Varicose eczema, also known as stasis eczema, is normally found in sufferers of varicose veins. This condition arises when your veins become too swollen or inflamed, inhibiting the flow of blood and causing fluid to permeate into the surrounding tissues.
When this happens, it can stimulate a reaction from your immune system, triggering eczema symptoms.
As many as 1 in 5 of the UK population over the age of 70 will experience varicose eczema and it usually occurs in the legs due to the dilation of the veins found in the calves and thighs.1
The causes of varicose eczema
As the name might suggest, the primary cause of varicose eczema is usually varicose veins, which can appear for a number of different reasons usually involving certain lifestyle and dietary habits.
Varicose eczema usually appears more in women than in men and is commonly found in those that lead a sedentary lifestyle, or those whose immune system might be vulnerable, such as the elderly or the obese.
- Weak immune system: Varicose eczema, like other forms of the skin condition, can appear in those that have a stressed or weakened immune system. When your immune system is vulnerable, it is more likely to overreact to nonthreatening pathogens such as pollen or skin irritation, triggering an exaggerated response as various inflammatory chemicals flood your body. These chemicals, such as histamine, work to dilate your blood vessels, thereby increasing the symptoms of varicose veins and subsequently varicose eczema. In order to reduce this reaction and calm your symptoms, you should avoid placing further stress on your immune system, either by adjusting your diet, lifestyle or psychological behaviours
- Good nutrition: Your diet can play an important role in the severity of your eczema symptoms. If you follow a diet that is high in caffeine, processed sugars, salt and saturated fats then you are more likely to be overweight and suffer from digestive problems, which can place pressure on the veins in your legs, potentially stimulating the onset of varicose veins. These food groups also contain inflammatory substances such as the chemical histamine, which can stress your immune system and cause your veins to dilate, increasing the risk of developing varicose veins and exacerbating your body’s reaction to the presence of fluids in your skin tissues
- Stress: Stress can place unnecessary pressure on your immune system. When you experience stress, it can stimulate your ‘fight or flight’ reflexes and once this happens, your blood sugar levels will rise, your pulse will increase and your blood vessels will dilate. If you suffer from varicose veins, this can be particularly unfortunate, as the lining of your vessels will become more elasticated, making them more prone to rupturing. The constant demand for inflammatory chemicals will eventually either fatigue your immune system or cause it to become paranoid and liable to response drastically to even minor threats. Stress can also upset your digestive system, with raised blood sugar levels providing more food for the bad bacteria in your gut, inhibiting the breakdown of food and causing episodes of diarrhoea and constipation
- Lack of exercise: Keeping your veins healthy relies on you maintaining and encouraging the circulation throughout your body. If you lead a sedentary life, you can risk obesity as well as developing poor circulation which can lead to varicose veins. Rather than sitting still all day or remaining on your feet, gentle brisk exercise is recommended to improve your blood flow and prevent blood clots from forming
- Obesity: People who are overweight are at a higher risk of developing varicose veins due to high blood pressure, inactivity and too much stress on the veins in their legs. When this happens, the veins become too elasticated, losing strength and allowing fluids to leak into the surrounding tissues, irritating your skin and causing an allergic reaction in your immune system
- Pregnancy: If you are pregnant, you are more likely to develop varicose veins and varicose eczema by association. This is because the pressure of the growing uterus can place pressure on your pelvis and legs. The hormone progesterone, which is normally produced during this time, also works to relax the walls of your blood vessels, allowing fluid to permeate into the surrounding tissues under your skin
- Deep vein thrombosis: Deep vein thrombosis can cause clotting in the veins, damaging the valves and allowing fluid to leak out into the surrounding tissues under your skin. This condition usually occurs if you are over 40, have a history of blood clots, taking the combined contraceptive pill or are on HRT
- Varicose veins: Varicose veins are the leading cause of varicose eczema and normally occur when too much pressure is being put on the veins in your legs, damaging the valves and causing blood to leak backwards. This can cause fluid to leak out of your veins and into the tissues of your skin, upsetting your immune system and triggering a reaction that normally causes symptoms of inflammation, irritation and itchiness.
The symptoms of varicose eczema
The symptoms of varicose eczema commonly emerge in the lower or upper legs but can spread to other areas of the body. It is imperative to start treating such symptoms as soon as possible to avoid complications such as Lichenfication or permanent scarring.
- Inflammation: Inflammation usually occurs when your immune system triggers an allergic reaction to an invading pathogen or allergen. In the case of varicose eczema, the immune system stimulates a response to physical contact with an irritant, such as the fluid leaking from our veins, causing inflammatory chemicals to flood your body, causing the affected area to become aggravated and inflamed
- Itchiness: Itchiness is one of the more maddening symptoms of eczema, often disrupting your sleep and affecting your psychological health. This symptom normally arises when your skin is inflamed or dry, making you want to continuously scratch the affected area. However, continuous scratching can give birth to other complications such as a bacterial infection or persisting damage to the skin
- Discolouration: Eczema can stimulate an immune reaction that can cause skin cells to deteriorate, often leading to discolouration in certain areas. In varicose eczema, the skin can darken, or become more inflamed with a pronounced red rash
- Dry skin: Dry skin usually appears when your skin lacks moisture and becomes dehydrated. This process can occur during an outbreak of eczema, but it can be made worse by continuous scratching which will irritate the surface of the skin, making it more brittle and prone to flaking and bleeding
- Ulcers: An ulcer can appear when there has been a break in the skin, allowing for contaminants to infect the sensitive skin tissue. In varicose eczema, this can occur when high-blood pressure in the veins ruptures the skin, resulting in the formation of an ulcer
- Disrupted sleep: The physical symptoms of varicose eczema, such as itching or pain, can keep you awake at night, disrupting your natural sleep pattern and causing you to feel groggy and unfocused the next day. This can have a knock-on effect on your psychological wellbeing, making you feel more anxious and less able to cope with your other symptoms
- Stress: Skin conditions and stress often go together like lighter fluid and matchsticks, with one constantly inflaming the other. The visible and physical symptoms of varicose eczema can have serious repercussions for a sufferer’s self-esteem and confidence, often making them feel judged and isolated from the rest of the world. When you feel stressed, your immune system will continue to release inflammatory chemicals as a response to a perceived ‘flight or fight’ scenario, exaggerating your symptoms and further perpetuating a vicious cycle.
There are a variety of home remedies to reduce the symptoms of varicose eczema, however it is important to treat the underlying cause, such as a varicose veins, and to speak to your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any deterioration in your condition or worrying changes to your symptoms.
- Relax: If you are feeling pressured, anxious or down in the dumps about your eczema symptoms then this will influence the production of inflammatory chemicals in your immune system, exacerbating your symptoms and causing you further misery. Instead you should be trying to be kind to yourself during this eczema episode, taking time out of your hectic routine to relax and enjoy your own company. It might be worthwhile taking up meditation as this can calm your mind and body, teaching you proper breathing techniques and ways of coping with stressful emotions
- Good nutrition: What you eat will inevitably influence the rest of your body, including your immune system and digestive tract. It is important that you maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet, rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins that can support your immune system, preventing an overreaction to harmless pathogens. It would be advisable to cut out or reduce your intake of saturated fats, processed sugars, caffeine and alcohol as these food products can place your immune system under a great deal of stress and cause an influx of inflammatory chemicals to be released into your body. Instead, you should be looking to increase your consumption of vitamin C rich foods, which contain a multitude of benefits for your skin and your overall health. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are usually rich in this nutrient and it may also be worthwhile upping your intake of anti-inflammatory foods like garlic and ginger. Remember to drink plenty of water and to try our caffeine-free coffee substitute, Bambu, if you find yourself reaching for a mid-morning cup of coffee
- Exercise: Gentle but brisk exercise can encourage the circulation of blood throughout the body, regulating the passage of blood through inflamed or dilated veins. This, in turn, can strengthen the vein walls and prevent fluid from leaking out into the surrounding tissues, reducing any inflammatory responses from the immune system. Exercise is also great for improving your overall physical and psychological wellbeing, making you feel happier and healthier as a result
- Elevate your legs: Keeping your legs elevated can help to reduce inflammation and prevent the occurrence of varicose veins by regulating the circulation of blood from your legs throughout the rest of your body
- Avoid irritants: If you are suffering from any form of eczema, then it is vital that you avoid aggravating your sensitive skin any further by bringing it into contact with potential irritants. These can include everyday products such as bubble bath or household disinfectants which contain harsh chemicals that might stimulate a reaction from your skin. There are certain steps you can take to avoid these triggers; try to use organic, unscented products and be aware of any atopic allergens such as pollen or dust which might cause an allergic reaction which could exacerbate your eczema symptoms
- Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is rich in anti-oxidants and contains anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, reducing any external swelling whilst internally detoxifying, slowing your production of yeast. This can improve the condition of your skin, preventing dryness whilst encouraging skin cell regeneration. Remember to dilute with water and apply topically to the affected area.2 There are a range of apple cider vinegar products available at Your Health Food Store
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil can be considered an anti-inflammatory agent as it contains anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. When consumed internally, coconut oil can support the immune system or you could apply it topically to the affected area to stimulate the revitalisation of your skin. Coconut oil works to retain moisture in your skin cells, providing it with fatty acids to renew the protective layers.3 Your Health Food Store stocks a selection of coconut oil products that might be worth your consideration
- Oatmeal: Oatmeal can help to ease itching and skin irritation, nourishing and hydrating skin cells as well as containing natural anti-inflammatory properties. You can apply oatmeal topically to your skin as a paste – Colloidal oatmeal works best – or by adding a few handfuls to your bath.
If convention medicines are not working for you, then it might be worth trying some of our natural, herbal remedies.
These remedies are all organic and aimed at treating specific aspects of varicose eczema, from internally supporting the immune system to soothing the external itch and skin irritation.
If you feel as though your eczema symptoms are getting worse, however, then you should consult with your GP as soon as possible.
- Neem cream: Neem Cream is made from extracts of neem leaves, a natural solution that has been used to soothe skin irritation for centuries. Applied topically, neem cream can ease skin irritation, itchiness and uncomfortable eczema flare-ups. Neem cream is not suitable for those who suffer from nut allergies or women who are pregnant
- Vitamin C: Nature-C is a natural vitamin C supplement which can be taken to support your immune system. Vitamin C is an essential anti-oxidant when it comes to the health of your blood vessels and your skin, promoting proper blood circulation and preventing inflammation. This solution is made using the extracts of vitamin C rich fruits and can be taken by anyone over the age of 6
- Molkosan®: It is estimated that 70% of your immune cells are found in your digestive tract. Molkosan® is a lactose free prebiotic rich in L+ lactic acid that, when taken internally, can aid the absorption of essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. It also stimulates the growth of healthy gut bacteria, which can improve the health of the immune cells that are found in the digestive tract and prevent digestive complications such as constipation, which could compromise the immune system and worsen your existing eczema symptoms.
- Venoforce: Venoforce contains extracts of horse chestnuts, a tried and tested solution for treating the symptoms of varicose veins. This herb is starting to gain popularity in recent years, particularly with doctors in Switzerland and Germany. A study by the School of Health Sciences in the University of South Australia concluded that horse chestnut seed extracts could be useful in managing venous leg ulcers, providing some insight into the efficiency of the remedy, although more research is needed4
- Dormeasan®: If your eczema symptoms are preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep then it might be worth trying Dormeasan®. A natural sleep remedy, Dormeasan works to restore a normal sleep cycle but will not leave you feeling fatigued and disorientated the next day. Made using extracts of Valerian and Hops, Dormeasan should not be taken if you are pregnant or on medication that is affected by mild usage of alcohol
- Stress relief daytime: Stress Relief Daytime is a natural stress remedy to help support you during times of pressure or insecurity. Made using extracts of Valerian, stress relief daytime will enable you to cope in stressful situations, helping you to take control of your eczema symptoms and go about your daily routine unencumbered by feelings of doubt and apprehension.
If your symptoms are causing you distress and discomfort then it is likely that your doctor will prescribe you a range of conventional medication. These medicines should be applied or taken as directed by your doctor and if any detrimental side-effects occur, then it is imperative that you go back to your doctor and look into alternative treatments for your varicose eczema symptoms.
- Steroid creams: Topical steroid creams might be prescribed by your doctor and should be applied to the affected area to reduce swelling and inflammation. However, steroid medication should not be taken over a prolonged period of time as it can stimulate a range of unpleasant side-effects ranging from increased hair growth to acne. If you feel as though you are suffering unduly because of your steroid medication then you should speak to your doctor about the alternatives
- Emollients: Emollients, or moisturisers, are applied topically to the skin to prevent dryness or irritation. They can come in a variety of forms from creams to bath oils or be specified to treat a specific symptom such as itching. However, some emollients might disagree with your skin type, leading to unhappy side-effects such as a rash or an allergic reaction. Try to speak to your doctor about what emollient might work best with your skin type and remember to go back if you find that your symptoms are getting worse
- Compression stockings: If you are suffering from varicose veins then it is likely that you will be recommended to wear compression stockings by your GP. These articles of clothing are designed to regulate the circulation in your legs by gently compressing them, improving the flow of blood. These can sometimes be uncomfortable to wear over prolonged periods of time, but they are the commonest form of treatment available for varicose veins
- Anti-depressants: If your mood is starting to suffer as a result of your varicose eczema symptoms, then your doctor might prescribe a course of anti-depressants to regulate any feelings of anxiety or depression. This form of medication can come with a range of negative side-effects and you may have to try a few different types before finding one that works for you.