070: Stopping The Itch In Children & Babies w/ Dr. Elisa Song

Chronic skin rashes are frustrating at any age, but they're particularly heartbreaking to see in young children. My guest today has some incredible tips to share about preventing and treating eczema (and itchy skin in general) in children.

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My guest today is Dr. Elisa Song, MD. She is a holistic pediatrician, pediatric functional medicine expert, and mama to two crazy fun kids.

In her integrative pediatric practice, Whole Family Wellness, she’s helped thousands of kids get to the root causes of their health concerns and helped their parents understand how to help their children thrive – body, mind, and spirit – by integrating conventional pediatrics with functional medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and essential oils.

Dr. Song created Healthy Kids Happy Kids to share her advice and adventures as a holistic pediatrician and mama. 

Join us as we talk about childhood eczema: root causes, triggers, treatment, and how to try and prevent it.

Have you healed your child's eczema holistically? Tell me about it in the comments!

In this episode:

  • Hidden root causes of eczema in children and babies
  • Can a mother's microbiome affect the microbiome of the child growing inside her?
  • What issues can manifest due to topical steroid use in children?
  • Possible testing parents can consider for their child's gut
  • The importance of zinc
  • Parasites and the problem with conventional parasite testing
  • If eczema seems to run in your family, how to try and prevent your child from developing it


“Mama's gut microbiome can impact the health of the developing baby inside you and also the health of the baby once the baby's born.” [6:07]

“The problem with steroids is that they're just suppressing the symptoms.” [8:52]

“Zinc is often really critical to help support the healing of the lining of the gut.” [15:34]

“Parasites are kind of a double edged sword because if we have parasites very early on in life, it can actually train our immune system to have a healthy immune response.” [17:34]


Find Elisa online 

Healthy Kids Happy Kids

FREE Guide: Choosing your child's probiotic

Follow Elisa on Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

070: Stopping The Itch In Children & Babies w/ Dr. Elisa Song FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer: Hi everyone. Welcome back. I've got a good friend with me today and she's someone who I deeply respect, especially because she's a pediatrician who knows a ton about helping kids get healthier from a more holistic perspective and she was someone who really helped me when I was coming up with the concept of Skinterrupt and understanding how to really communicate the issues around skin with you guys and so I'm very appreciative that she was willing to be here today. Her name is Dr Elisa Song. She's a holistic pediatrician, pediatric functional medicine expert and mama to two crazy fun kids. In her integrative pediatric practice, wholefamilywellness.org, she's helped thousands of kids get to the root causes of their health concerns and help their parents understand how to help their children thrive, body, mind and spirit by integrating conventional pediatrics with functional medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine and essential oils. Dr Song created Healthy Kids, Happy Kids to share her advice and adventures as a holistic pediatrician and mama. You can follow her blog over at healthy kidshappy kids.com and she's also on Facebook and Instagram as well. Thank you so much for being here.

Elisa: Oh yeah, thanks Jen. This is awesome. Such an important topic and I am so honored to share this information with your audience.

Jennifer: When it comes to kids, it's heartbreaking. I see pictures of babies and kids that are just suffering and it's not like they did anything to deserve it. Not that any of us adults did, but you know, I look at kids and I'm like, that's no way to grow up. That's no way to start out your life. So would you mind sharing with us as far as like Eczema's concerned, what have you found to be some of these hidden root causes that can pop up and kids and babies?

Elisa: I love that you said that. You know, some of these babies are really suffering so much and you know, there's the appearance of it. But then even when babies and children that don't have severe looking Eczema, so much of the time, they're just so itchy, so itchy from the inside out. And I'll have parents tell me that they just want to help their kids stop being so itchy because they're not sleeping at night. They're literally wearing gloves and fully clothed. Even in the middle of summer when it's super hot outside, because the second they have exposed skin, they're scratching, scratching, scratching until they bleed. So it really is heartbreaking. And when you can heal their Eczema, literally from the inside out, you see these babies and these children becoming who they really should be, right? They're happy and they're smiling and they're developing normally. So it's so important to get at some of the root causes. And really bottom line, the main root cause of Eczema, childhood Eczema is a disruption to the gut and the skin microbiome. I mean, that's the root cause and there are many triggers of that. The most common triggers in childhood are probably antibiotics and antacid medications. I want to point out, there was this huge study of almost 800,000 kids last year, so April of 2018 that looked at babies who were given either antibiotics or antacid medications in the first six months of life. Which is very, very common. And I would never say don't give your child antibiotics if your doctor recommends it because they can be lifesaving. But what they found was when they followed those children four years out, there was a significantly increased risk of every single allergic disease, including Eczema, asthma, food allergies, anaphylactic food allergies, hay fever, hives, you name it. Right? So, so what the authors suggest is that the reason that could be is because there's such a disruption to the gut microbiome so early in life, which in functional medicine we've known for years and years and years. But now the research is finally catching up to what we as functional medicine docs have known for a long time. And so when we can assess, really heal the gut microbiome, heal any abnormal bugs that may be growing in the gut, heal food sensitivities that are related to having a gut dysbiosis or gut dysregulation (that's something that we call a leaky gut), then we can really help heal. Now, there are some kids who are going to have actual environmental allergies and actual kind of immediate ige antibody food allergies as well. So we need to look at that too. But bottom line, start with the gut. Even though you're looking at the skin, you need to look at their gut first to see, well, where is this immune dysfunction going on that's now showing up on the skin? The skin's a little red flag saying, hey, look inside, look and see what's going on that's imbalanced and what can we do to get that balance back so your children have healthy, clear skin, not itchy skin for the rest of their lives and aren't just, you know, suppressing symptoms.

Jennifer: I have a question for you as I'm listening to you talk and it's a question that I sometimes have gotten from parents who I've interacted with. I don't work with kids directly. I usually transfer them to a colleague of mine, but they'll say, you know, sometimes the moms will say, is it possible that my microbiome set my child up for this? And I know that there is a guilt this mom guilt that they, you know, I love mom, my mom is the best and I don't want any moms to feel bad. But I think this is a question that sometimes people are afraid to ask, but it's something that lurks in the back of their mind. Do you find that there could be a connection between that without obviously without any judgment, like we all come into this world as we are. I don't think it's about judgment, but I think it's a good question.

Elisa: Yeah. And I think, I think that's a great question and I love how you preface it because as mamas, I have two young kids and any little thing goes wrong. I mean, you rack your brain as a mom on what could I have done differently? Did I cause this? Should I have known more? We can't go back in time. We have the knowledge now to know yes, absolutely. Mama's Gut microbiome can impact the health of the developing baby inside you and also the health, the health of the baby once the baby's born. That being said, we want to use that knowledge as power. So if you are pregnant a second time and you have the opportunity to really work with optimizing your gut microbiome while you're pregnant, that would be ideal. But yes, we know that disruptions to mom's gut microbiome can impact the baby's gut microbiome at birth. Also the way the baby is born, you know, whether c-section or vaginal birth can affect the gut microbes that start to colonize and grow inside the baby's gut. And that then sets up a pattern of educating, informing the developing immune system and the developing brain and nervous system so that we can see some impacts later on on baby's immune system and brain health. It's never too late though, right? If you think back and then realize, oh my gosh, I got antibiotics during my pregnancy for a UTI…My baby was born by c-section…I had to formula feed because I wasn't making enough milk…I had antibiotics for Group B strep–and now they're three and they have really bad eczema or asthma. It's not too late. Right? You don't. Don't go back and say, I wish, I wish. I wish. We just move forward and say, now I know. Now I know I can heal my baby's gut microbiome. I know what to do. I know the right foods to get in. I know the right supplements, I know the right regimen, the right lifestyle to support a healthy gut, and we're just gonna move forward from here.

Jennifer: That's really helpful and thank you for that. I know that sometimes that's a curve ball. It's like these are questions that are uncomfortable, but people feel embarrassed to ask them even though they're thinking them. And I love that we have the capacity to answer some of that here. So one of the other issues is that, say your child develops Eczema and they go to the dermatologist and the dermatologist is going to hand you a steroid cream. Yeah. What are your thoughts around that? There's a lot of concern. I get a lot of emails about the concern around topical steroids. There's also issues with one's skin can become essentially addicted to the topical steroids. So what are some unique issues that might pop up in kids when you use topical steroids?

Elisa: So steroids are like magic, right? I mean, you know, you have an asthma flare, you have a really bad eczema flare, you've an itchy rash, you put steroids on and it goes away, right? And so people feel, or you know, especially if you're watching your child miserable, itchy, you think, wow, this is awesome. I'm just going to keep using steroids because my kid won't be itchy anymore and the rash won't look bad anymore. The problem with steroids is that, and I know your listeners know this, but it's just suppressing the symptoms. And one of the things that I look at is what is that skin trying to show you? What is it trying to show you that's going wrong? And if you just suppress its ability to come out of the skin, where might it go? And we do see this allergic atopic march in children where we see a progression from Eczema to asthma to hay fever and allergies often. So we don't want to just suppress the symptoms, but there are some special concerns with children and steroids. You know, when I was in residency and Medical School, I'm going to date myself. I mean this is more than 20 years ago, like 20, almost 25 years ago that I was in training and when I was in training and I saw a child with Eczema, I was told by the dermatologist, the pediatric skin specialist, never ever, ever, ever anything stronger than 1% hydrocortisone cream on babies and never ever, ever, ever on the face or the diaper area. And now what are we doing? I mean, we don't start off with hydrocortisone 1% anymore. I say “we” meaning conventional pediatricians, we start off with Tacrolimus, right? Or we start off with the hydrocortisone 2.5%. We started with the prescription stuff. And so with, with that, we have to remember that children and babies, they have a larger skin surface to body ratio. And their skin barrier is thinner. So they're going to absorb everything though their skin. Even more than adults are. So that steroid will absolutely get absorbed through the skin. It doesn't just stay on the skin, it goes deeper under the surface and gets absorbed to their bloodstream. And I have seen babies and children develop adrenal crisis from just just topical steroids. I'm not talking even oral steroids. I'm talking about topical steroids. I've had kids skin thin and discolored to the point that it's permanent. Right? And you know, we don't want to have, you know, you think, oh, well, at least their Eczema is better. Well, you know, their Eczema is not better. We've masked better, right? We've, we've helped them feel better. We've helped to suppress the symptoms and what it doesn't do is then keep it from coming back because parents go, well, it looks better, but after I stopped using it, it comes back. So they start using more and more and more. And as you said, the skin kids develop a tolerance and an and an addiction to steroids. And when you then start, let's say you're starting a baby at six months of age on topical steroids, what happens when they're three and they still have the Eczema keeps coming back, you move to a stronger steroids and now they're seven and it's gotten even worse. Well then what do you do? I've had kids being hospitalized for IB antibiotics for IB steroids and being given medications like Cyclosporin, which is basically an anticancer drug, right? It's an extreme immunosuppressant drug. So I can't say that I never ever used steroids, right? Because when kids are miserable and they can't go to sleep a little bit, just to take the edge off is fine. But we then need to work on, well, why are kids having such eczema right now and what can we do about it?

Jennifer: Mmm. And I want to go back to the point about the gut stuff. Cause like actually a lot of people are probably having their minds blown right now about the adrenal connection. I have known about that for a while and I was, I was horrified by the research that I looked at and it also was very clear in stating that the effect of the topical steroids on children and babies is a lot worse in that population compared to adults. And I'm like, hmm, this is interesting that no one's being told this. No one's being really properly encouraged of how to use these safely because I do agree there can be a time and a place to try to knock some inflammation down so you're comfortable and you can sleep, but there are other ways to do that as well. So that's why I want to back up for a moment around the gut stuff. With babies, like is there some sort of testing that you can do or that parents should think about if there are gut issues and they want to look there, are there some suggestions that you have as far as what testing they should consider?

Elisa: Yeah, well that goes to, you know, what I do in my practice and what I teach online is really how can we take that functional medicine approach towards healing your child's gut and their immune system. With gut dysbiosis and leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability, unfortunately you can't just look at a child and know what's going on inside their gut. This does require specialized stool testing, a functional medicine sort of comprehensive stool analysis that's different than what you'll get in a conventional lab like Wuest or Lab Corp or a hospital lab. What these tests do will really look at the breakdown of the Microbiota in your baby's gut or in your gut, will let us know what is the composition and quantity of the beneficial bacteria are the probiotics, what is the breakdown and kinds of abnormal or dysbiotic, you know, not healthy gut flora. And this can include bacteria, it can include yeast, it can include parasites. So we want to look at all of that. When you do a stool culture through Quest, all they, all they really are looking at is are there a lot of certain bad bugs like the bad e-coli or you know, Salmonella, you know, things that you hear about in the news that are really bad, but we're not worried necessarily about those really bad things. We're worried about balance, you know, how balanced or imbalanced is your child's gut. And are there tweaks we can make in optimizing the healthy, you know, Microbiota, getting rid of or suppressing, removing the abnormal bugs so that we can have that good balance. And also the gut lining know that's really important too. When you have a leaky gut, you want to heal the gut lining. But I also want parents to think about, you know, if your child's gut lining is impaired, there's a correlation with the skin lining, right? The skin barrier impairment. And I want parents to think about zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral for lining repair wherever it is. But that includes gut lining and includes skin repair. So when your kids have broken open skin, that's weeping and bleeding and oozing and not repairing, not healing the way it should you want to think, could my child have a zinc deficiency and would zinc be beneficial? But same thing with gut healing. If your child has a leaky gut and food sensitivities, zinc is often really critical to help support the healing of the lining of the gut.

Jennifer: And with that point about the bugs living in the gut. One of my colleagues who does work with kids, she was saying that she's found an abnormal amount of parasites and pinheads and worms and all sorts of things that end up in some of these kids. Do you find that that could also be an issue? Like maybe the pets unfortunately are walking in some microbes into the home, that children who are touching everything and putting their hands in their mouth could accidentally end up ingesting them.

Elisa: You know, parasites are much more common than most American people would like to think. It is not a problem of the third world. You know, parasites are so, so, so common. The problem with identifying parasites is that the conventional way we have to test for parasites is not that accurate. It's not that reliable. So what we have to, in a conventional, what's called an ova and parasite test, literally you're taking that poop sample, you're sending it to the lab, and the lab technician is taking a piece of that poop, looking at it under the microscope and seeing can they identify any eggs or actual parasites. So there's a lot of variables there. That particular poop sample has to have an egg or a parasite in it. Then the technician looking at the poop has to have taken a part of that sample that has the egg and the parasite in it, and then they have to be able to identify what egg or parasite it is. So lots and lots and lots of variables, which is why they're almost always negative or it can take 20, 30, 40 stool samples to even identify. So if you're suspicious for parasites, which are very, very common and an underlying reason, when I see high, a lot of allergies and a white blood cell count called eosinophils that are really high. I think about could there be parasites. I might just do a little parasite cleanse just in case parasites are kind of a double edged sword because you know, if we have parasites very early on in life, it can actually train our immune system to have a healthy immune response. So there's this idea that, you know, with the hygiene hypothesis, we're too clean, we're hand sanitizing everything, baby wipes on everything, you know, wipe the toy down before you give it to the baby, you know, kind of thing. That we're not allowing our guts and you know, children to play on the ground and play in the dirt and get a healthy dose of parasites to train our immune system against these allergic illnesses like Eczema and asthma. But then of course as we get older, if we haven't had that training, parasites can be a problem.

Jennifer: Any final thoughts on if you've got Eczema and then you have kids and you're worried, like, are my children going to end up with this or it runs in the family, dad's got it. Or another sibling has it. I mean, Eczema is not contagious but can run in families. So do you have any thoughts on that, about preventing that from happening?

Elisa: Yeah. Oh, definitely. So one of the things that we want to do is we spoke earlier about really making sure Mama's gut microbiome is healthy during pregnancy. But there are some really great studies looking at mothers receiving a particular probiotic called lactobacillus rhamnosus during pregnancy and while nursing and those babies had a significantly lower chance of developing atopic disease like Eczema, asthma, allergies later in life. So that's one simple thing you can do. Now for the babies. If you have a really strong family history of Eczema, asthma, you know, start them early on on your omega three essential fatty acids especially you want to three, six, nine type of fish oil that has the GLA gamma linolenic acid from borage or black currant or evening promote oils. Start your baby on probiotics early, especially if they were born by c section or have had antibiotics or were formula fed. Also the other things that you want to focus on are just the healthy whole foods diet, right? The power of food, right? Don't forget the power of food. If your child needs antibiotics, it's not the end of the world, but know how to heal and support your baby's gut so they don't develop gut dysbiosis later on with things like probiotic or glutamine and you know, if they're sick, I mean, this is what I do in my practice when kids are sick with a cold or an ear infection or you know, a lung problem instead of jumping immediately to antibiotics unless I decided to really need it at that time, I'll use things like homeopathy and essential oils and acupressure points so we can hopefully try to avoid antibiotics in the first place. So there's so much you can do. I mean there's a lot of hope if you already have a child with Eczema and you're thinking, well, how do I prevent it in my next child cause I want to get pregnant again. Or you're thinking about getting pregnant, but you're worried about your child developing eczema. Just do your research, you know, start with the gut and you know, have a clean, healthy diet and lifestyle and you're going to go a long way in preventing that from happening to your baby.

Jennifer: Yeah, I totally agree. And I just, I want to thank you so much for all of this wisdom and dropping all these knowledge bombs with everybody because, you know, it's one of the things that the skin issues are so rampant in our society and yet somehow conventional dermatology seems to struggle in figuring out how to really get people toward back toward healthy skin that doesn't involve suppressing the immune system and whatnot. And I just love the fact that we can offer people more options so that way they don't end up going down a route where they're like, Ooh, if I had known this I might've made a different choice. And now at least you know, and you do have that opportunity to make a different choice and whatever you choose is personal, but at least you have the opportunity to do that. And I love that you're able to give parents the power to be able to make the best choice for them. So thank you so much for joining us. I know that everybody can find you. Tell us where we can find you.

Elisa: The best place to find me is going to be on my Healthy Kids, Happy Kids website. That's where I have articles, I have resources, I share information about the online courses that I have. So that's healthykidshappykids.com so that's where you can sign up for my newsletter and get more information from me. And then I also, my Instagram account and my Facebook account, they're really, really fun. I post a lot of articles, but also just fun information and the things that I'm doing with my kids to keep them healthy. So on Instagram its healthy kids_happy kids and on Facebook just search healthy kids, happy kids Elisa Song and you'll find me.

Jennifer: Awesome. And you've also got a great guide for everybody if they want to grab that. It's your guide to choosing your child's probiotic. Is that, where can they actually get that?

Elisa: You know, I'll send you the link so that they can download it really easily. So that will be there. Yup.

Jennifer: Awesome. We'll put it in the show notes for everybody who's listening again. Definitely go check out my dear friend. Thank you so much, Elisa, for joining us today and I hope that we can have you back some time.

Elisa: Oh yeah, thanks Jen. This was super fun.

“Mama's gut microbiome can impact the health of the developing baby inside you and also the health of the baby once the baby's born.”