The challenges of eczema Portrait of a sufferer
Eczema effects 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in the UK. There are many types of eczema which all require individual treatment. Atopic eczema is the commonest type and effects adults and children alike. Atopic eczema is thought to be genetic and symptoms include itchy, dry, inflamed skin as the bodies immune system over reacts to external allergens. As dry skin opens, skin can become infected, weep and become very sore and painful.
The aim of this article is to paint a picture of life with eczema to highlight the little bits and pieces of which you may not be aware in the hope to raise awareness and understanding of eczema. Hopefully by the end of this article you will have a much better knowledge of eczema and its effects and be able to use and cascade this understanding to sufferers you come in contact with and your acquaintances.
Eczema has been part of me and my life since being was approximately 18 months old. The eczema gene comes to me from my Dad, whose side of the family are plagued with asthma (a very close cousin of eczema) and eczema.
As a young child despite my skin being at its worst it affected me the least. Mum and Dad made sure I had a good routine and encompassed all skin care into family activities and normal life, (an approach of which I am forever grateful).
Main skin care consisted of bathing at night in some medicated bathing oil, full body creaming directly after the bath followed by arms and legs being wrapped in wet bandages, covered in a layer of dry bandages and pulled over the top a long sock with the toes cut off to keep it all in.
The night consisted of being in and out of slumber, scratching and bleeding and calling for mum. She would come to me with soothing voice and cool hands to tickle my arms until the itching stopped and I was asleep. She tells me this would happen approximately 3 times on a good night and up to 6 on a bad night. This occurred every night until I was around 8 years old. What a mother.
Once the morning came, a wash in the basin, more creaming and dress for school. For the summer Mum made me a little waistcoat and skirt set to put on over a long sleeved shirt as the summer dresses and short sleeved shirts the other children wore were no good for me. Uncovered skin led to high infection risk and the more I could see it the more likely I was to scratch it!
Other daily considerations were body temperature, too hot, too cold led to itching, additives in food and avoidance of other known allergens, frequent trips to doctors for the next round of steroids, new bathing oil, cream, antibiotics, Chinese medicine, herbal delights etc etc! Washing powder, no new powder, no new products ie shampoo, no non-medicated face cream etc.
As I’ve grown older my skin has certainly improved, but bizarrely it has affected me much more. Teen years hit and there is a recognition of not everybody has eczema’ and limitations such as late nights, make-up and alcohol are mostly a big no no, generally driving my skin mad and leading to big flare up attacks.
Body image awareness and fashion limitations didn’t bother me until now, in my 20’s. I feel more conscious when my eczema is not so good. I rash a lot, my eyes are almost always swollen in the morning; if I wore mascara the night before I’ll be suffering big time the next morning. Fashion wise, still no short sleeved items on the whole, no natural fibres other than cotton, a dress no way. Graduation balls etc yes dress was worn but weeks of frustration, new round of steroids and prayers that a big attack stayed off and I could heal in time for the big night!
Sex, now this is interesting I rash to other peoples sweat! Great! So when I have sex its either top up on antihistamines, be naked until we get sweaty then don a T.shirt or wear one from the start! Luckily I have the best partner who is fab and is actually better looking after me and my skin then I am! Sleeping on the whole however is pretty rough. I scratch in my sleep, I get a smack to stop, waking me up, the duvet pulled down as im apparently getting too hot and scratching, I’m too cold so I pull it back up and the pantomime continues!
Work, now there are a few issues here short sleeved uniforms! So I’ve made my own long sleeved version. Places to stash cream, available sinks for mid-day arm dunks when the itch becomes too much and most importantly an understanding boss is absolutely paramount.
Home, heating, keeping all the rooms at the same temperature is really important. Removing most nature fibres and keeping dust to a minimum. Not being tempted by Apple Juice and summer fruits pudding which I love but are an absolute killer!
So as you can see it’s a full time job looking after your skin when you have eczema and it can be pretty exhausting as well as painful and at times debilitating. However as more research is done there is more and more help available. I have recently started Phototherapy which has really changed my life with its positive affects on my skin. My Dermatologist is ace and so things are really on the up. Charities like The National Eczema Society are a brilliant resource for information and local support groups are a real help.
So when you next meet someone with eczema spare a thought for the real impact it has on their life and make sure they are not too hot, too cold, not wearing woollen garments, that they’ve hovered their house this week, that they’ve got some cream with them, that what’s on the menu doesn’t contain flare up ingredients . . . .I’m only kidding. Just be all knowing!