A Case Study by Kath Bartlett

“People generally associate acupuncture with treating pain or stress relief. Many are not aware that acupuncture is also effective for treating chronic or systemic conditions, such as allergies, digestive problems and gyn conditions or fibromyalgia. In fact, the majority of my patients come for treatment of chronic conditions that have not responded well to standard western medical care.”

Skin conditions, like eczema, are a case in point. I have treated eczema in patients of all ages, from infants to 90 year olds, always with effective results. These patients come after having been on steroidal drugs for some time, with little to no effect. Why is Chinese Medicine so effective at treating skin conditions when western medicine can’t help? Simply, because western medicine focuses on treating the symptom: the skin eruption, where as Chinese medicine treats the systemic problems in the entire body that created the symptom.

Pinpointing the Underlying Cause

When a patient comes to see an acupuncturist for a skin (or any other kind of) problem, the acupuncturist examines the skin and asks questions about what makes the condition better or worse. We want to know if the skin is dry and flaky, or red, oozy with pustules? Is it worse with stress or eating certain foods, such as fried-greasy foods or dairy products? Is it worse with exposure to toxins and chemicals, after an emotional event, or does the appearance of the rash coincide with the timing of the menstrual cycle (this is often the case with hives, or urticarial eruptions)? After examining the skin and asking questions about the nature of the rash, the acupuncturist moves on to investigating the other systems of the body, checking digestion, sleep and urine and bowel habits. Lastly we ask about emotions, is this person stressed, anxious, grieving or depressed? After examining all of these factors, the acupuncturist formulates a diagnosis, incorporating the condition of the entire body to explain the systemic problem that has caused this person to have skin symptoms.

Constitutional Pattern

In brief, we look for a couple of general constitutional patterns. Skin conditions that are red, and oozing are called damp-heat conditions: to much water accumulation (oozing) and too much heat (red-hot skin). Or we look for Blood deficiency (different than the western medical condition called anemia) meaning too little blood or fluids to nourish the skin, causing dryness and flaking. Whereas western medicine basically treats conditions of the same name (acne, eczema, psoriasis) in the same way, Chinese medicine treats conditions of the same constitutional pattern similarly: damp-heat or blood deficiency. So the acupuncturist treats different types of eczema, acne, etc. differently depending on the constitutional pattern involved. This individualized, pattern-based approach to diagnosis and treatment explains why Chinese medicine is so often effective at treating conditions that western medicine is ineffective in addressing.

Acupuncture & Chinese Herbal Treatment Lead to Resolution of Eczema, Hives, Asthma, Depression, & Anxiety

A patient age 25, I’ll call her Jenny, came to me for treatment of eczema, hives, asthma, depression and anxiety. Chinese Medicine feels that the lungs rule the skin because both organs filter what’s coming from the outside environment into the body. Often we see allergies and asthma concurrent with skin conditions. Jenny had asthma since childhood, a history of eczema on her elbows and legs that was hot, itching with fluid-filled vesicles (damp-heat). The hives had appeared on her back five months previous to our first meeting. Jenny smoked ½ a pack of cigarettes a day and wanted to quit. I have noticed a direct relationship with skin problems and emotions and smoking: skin getting worse during emotional times or with smoking.
I began treating Jenny with acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas and asked her to come twice a week for treatment. After nine days, Jenny no longer had asthma symptoms, the hives and eczema had improved, and she was no longer depressed. After three weeks of treatment Jenny no longer had eczema on her elbows and her anxiety level had decreased. I reduced visits to once a week. After four weeks of treatment Jenny had cut her smoking in half, to 5 cigarettes a day. After five weeks of treatment Jenny no longer experienced anxiety. I reduced visits to twice a month. After two and a half months, Jenny reduced her smoking 75%, to 3 cigarettes daily. After three months the rash was much improved and Jenny only had a few skin eruptions. I reduced visits to once a month. After five months of treatment all symptoms had resolved completely.