There can be three types of heat rash seen in the last trimester of pregnancy. These are prurigo gestationis, papular dermatitis of pregnancy and PUPPP (prurititic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy). Western medicine does not have a lot of treatment to offer apart from corticosteroids and anti-histamines. Many women are hesitant to take steroids during pregnancy and anti-histamines are reported to offer little more than slightly improved sleep. Traditional Chinese Medicine theory views itchiness during pregnancy quite differently to western medicine. Chinese medical texts dating back hundreds of years state that “wind” is the predominant factor causing itch.
Modern scientists and researchers do state that environmental stress can be a pre disposing factor for many illnesses including skin diseases. Chinese medicine practitioners also view that an environmental stress such as wind, when combined with heat, can result in itchy skin.
Many women suffering from itch during pregnancy notice that it can get worse if they have eaten hot spicy type food or are overdressed causing them heat distress.
Acupuncturists have at their disposal specific acupuncture points that have the time proven recorded function of “clearing wind” and “removing heat” and are used for many types of itch whether it be from PUPPP or eczema.
Debra Betts, a New Zealand based researcher and author, outlines two major imbalances causing “wind” and leading to itchiness during pregnancy. These are recorded in-depth in her book “The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth”. The two causes of wind are deficient blood and the other is what is known in Chinese medicine terms as blood heat.
In the first type, the blood during pregnancy may become deficient in the last trimester because, for example, the growing baby tends to take as much blood as possible from the mother which the baby needs for its own supply of nutrients. The mum’s blood and skin suffer as a consequence.
There is a saying in Chinese medicine “When the blood is deficient, wind diseases can arise”. Wind diseases include itchy skin.
Serena Joe , an acupuncturist in private practice in Wellington who also sees many women for pre and post IVF supportive acupuncture treatment says “Many women are concerned if the wind heat rash is on their belly or breasts that the needles will be inserted there. This is however, not the case. The main acupuncture points used for this condition are actually in the legs and arms. There is also a special point on the ear that is used with a special technique where a drop of blood is squeezed out after a sterile lancet has pricked the point. This lets the heat out of the blood, a bit like letting off steam”.
People with severe itching disorders often will scratch the afflicted area so much out of desperation to relieve the itch, which then causes the area to bleed. Serena Joe said “By scratching the area until it bleeds, they are actually trying to get the heat out of the blood. Blood letting the specific and appropriate acupuncture points works so much better as it clears heat which stops the itching and prevents further damage to the skin”.
Heiko Lade of The Acupuncture Clinic – Hastings is a former lecturer of Chinese herbs and acupuncture who taught in Christchurch and Auckland. Acupuncture in New Zealand is taught at Bachelor level and is a four year full time degree which includes an extensive specialised section on acupuncture and pregnancy related disorders.