Eczema and food allergy

Sep 2010

Author: Jennifer Worth, SRN, SCM, author of the books which led to the popular TV series 'Call the Midwife'

Asthma has always been part of my life, but never eczema. I was fifty seven when it started, just two little itchy patches on my legs. I thought nothing of it. They were so small - nothing could have told me of the horror that was to come.

Within about six months these two little patches had spread to cover my entire body, from my forehead to my feet. My skin was sloughing off all over, water poured out of my body, my legs were swollen up to look like elephant legs. With my hair and eyebrows coming out, and my face bright red and puffed up, my appearance changed beyond recognition. And the itching ...!

Nothing in the worst nightmares of horror stories can describe the itching. I remember writhing around on the floor, trying to scratch my back on the carpet, while I scratched my legs at the same time. I remember lying awake all night, many nights, scratching and crying. I remember plunging into a bath of cold water - not once but many times - in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter. I remember standing naked in the rain and wind outside our back door, trying to cool and ease my frantic body. My mind went to pieces. I could neither read nor write nor listen to music. Sometimes I could barely conduct a rational conversation. I have suffered terrible pain in my life, but perpetual itching is far, far worse, and best described as millions of insects crawling around under the skin, scratching and nibbling and biting incessantly. It breaks my heart to think that other people are suffering in the way that I used to, and that they can find no relief.

"Used to" - these are the key words of this article, and the reason why I have been asked to write it.

One day we had a Chinese take-away for dinner. I bless the day as heaven-sent. I was violently sick after eating it, and could not eat for four or five days. During those days without food the eczema virtually cleared up. As soon as I started eating again, the eczema reappeared. This incident gave me the clue to the cause of my eczema. I told my doctor, told the hospital consultant, told the dietician. They all smiled condescendingly and said it was coincidence - there was no connection between food and eczema.

On my own, I tried cutting out foods, but with no success. In fact it is impossible to succeed alone, with no knowledge and no help. In God's mercy, I met an allergy specialist, a man of eighty-four, who took pity on me and guided me through an elimination diet. Within three months the eczema had cleared.

Knowing how difficult it is to get expert medical help in this area I have written a book - "Eczema and Food Allergy", published by Merton Books, Box 279, Twickenham TW1 4QQ, price £8.95 (inc p&p). It can be obtained from the publisher direct www.mertonbooks.co.uk or from Waterstones or WH Smiths. The book contains a great deal of detail on how to set about an elimination diet, addresses to which one can apply for advice, and other practical information. I have had many letters from people, saying how greatly my book has helped them, and I hope it will help you, the reader of this article, also.

This sounds like the happy ending of my story, but it was not, by any means. I had cured the eczema, but was left with virtually nothing to eat! I lost three stones in weight in three months and the scales were still dropping. Something had to be done. I saw Professor Jonathan Brostoff, and he advised a course of EPD, which I started in 1996 and which I am still undergoing. The success has been total. I can now eat anything and everything, with no return of the dreaded eczema.

Many people have asked me what EPD is; how does it work, where can you get it, and what does it cost? It is a very subtle and complex medical process, and I give below a brief summary of what it is about.

Enzyme Potentiated Desensitisation is a form of immunotherapy developed by Dr. L. M. McEwen in the 1960s and now used world-wide. It has the potential to desensitise anyone to the allergens to which they are allergic. This includes foods, dust, animals, birds, grasses, pollens, moulds, and many chemicals. An ultra-low dose of allergen is used - approximately 1/1000 part of a routine skin-prick test - combined with the natural enzyme beta-glucuronidase which enhances, or potentiates the desensitisation process (thus we get the rather curious name). It is particularly effective for the treatment of eczema, and will work quickly for children - the younger the child the quicker it will work. It takes about 2-5 years to be effective for an adult.

EPD is only available on the NHS at the Royal Homeopathic Hospital (60 Great Ormond Street, London W1N 3HR). Dr Michael Jenkins, Consultant Allergist will see patients via a referral from their GP. EPD has a 'Specials' licence. This means it is accessible only to suitably accredited doctors to supply on a 'named' patient basis. The doctor must be a qualified MD trained in allergies, and who is specially trained to hold a licence to administer EPD.

There are about twenty such doctors in the country, and their names and addresses can be obtained from the British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, PO Box No. 7, Knighton LD7 1WT Phone: 01547 550378; Web site: www.bsaenm.org.uk. This is a charity which will give you the address of your nearest medical practitioner of both EPD and Neutralisation. An adult course of EPD, lasting about five years, will cost around £2000, but far less for a child. This may seem a lot, but, believe me, EPD is worth a second mortgage.

In my book 'Eczema and Food Allergy' I devote two chapters to EPD, which gives far more detail than I can give here.

For general information, there is another form of Immunotherapy known as Neutralisation (commonly called 'the drops method' because you are given drops to put under the tongue). I do not have personal experience of it, but have heard at first hand many excellent reports of its efficiency, and also it is highly recommended by many allergy specialists. The doctor at the centre of Neutralisation in this country is Dr. John Mansfield, Burghwood Clinic, 34 Brighton Road, Banstead, Surrey SM7 1BS, Tel. 01737 361532/352245. I would be very interested in collecting any anecdotal evidence anyone has on this type of treatment.

In a brief article I cannot elaborate more on EPD or Neutralisation, but I have written a paper - 'Immunotherapy ~ the Way Forward' first published by Action Against Allergy.

Eczema is an allergic disease, and such diseases are escalating world-wide, due to the ways in which we are polluting our environment. Such contamination is everywhere - in the air, our water, our food, our homes. We can barely escape it, but anyone who has an allergic disease, or a child so afflicted, must try. The only way is self help, achieved by learning as much as possible about the subject, what things are dangerous, and how to avoid them. My best advice is to join Action Against Allergy, PO Box 278, Twickenham TW1 4QQ. Membership is £15 per year. AAA have a wealth of information on offer, covering just about every aspect of allergies.

Sometimes things get so bad a person cannot cope alone, and needs the help of an allergy specialist. There is no postgraduate training for such a specialisation among NHS doctors. However, there is a training outside the state system, run by the British Society for Allergy and Environmental and Nutritional Medicine (a long-winded name, but that's not my fault!) There are several hundred properly trained allergy specialists in this country, and most of them belong to the BSAENM . Some of them are in general practice, but most of them have to work privately, because the NHS do not recognise the need for allergy specialists, and will not employ them. A list of these specialists can be obtained from Sue Price, Secretary BSAENM, PO Box 7, Knighton, LD7 1WT. Please send a donation of £5 with any request, because the Society is self-funding and has no state support.

I hope that this article may be of help to some people suffering from eczema. That is what I work for. Good luck to you, whoever you are, and God bless you.

Last revised: 3 December 2012