Eczema: More Than Just a Skin Condition

When some people hear the word eczema, they may think of it as being nothing more than itchy skin. But the truth is, people living with eczema may suffer serious emotional and psychological effects.

Eczema is a common condition characterised by dry, red patches of skin that are intensely itchy. The most common type of eczema is called atopic dermatitis. Eczema usually begins in childhood but can begin in adolescence and adulthood.

Eczema Association President, Cheryl Talent, says that eczema is a huge hidden problem in Australia and New Zealand, causing untold distress for thousands upon thousands of families.

"People who have not experienced eczema tend to underestimate the distress the condition causes. Even so-called 'mild to moderate' eczema can drive people to claw at their skin until it bleeds," she said

If you or someone you know is living with eczema, it’s important to understand the condition and how it may be managed. Read on to learn more.

The impact of eczema on patients

Having eczema can have a negative impact on many aspects of a person’s life. It may affect them:

Emotionally

  • They may feel frustrated by their disease, angry, or embarrassed by their appearance. 
  • Those with severe disease are more likely to develop other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. 

In the workplace

  • They may miss work due to a flare. Or they may also be unable to perform their jobs well because they’re distracted by the itch while at work or because it interferes with their sleep.
  • They may avoid pursuing certain types of employment paths (for example, healthcare, food preparation, and hairdressing). They may also feel that having eczema interferes with their opportunities for advancement in their present job. 

In social situations

  • They may avoid interacting with others and shy away from social situations. 
  • They may feel that they don’t have the right words to describe their symptoms to others and are unsure about how to respond to questions people may have (for example, “Is it contagious?”). 
  • Eczema may affect intimacy with their partner. 

During daily activities

  • Eczema can affect common everyday activities such as clothing choices, wearing makeup, shaving, and what they eat and drink.

“I often tend to avoid eye contact, as I’m embarrassed with what people might see…and think. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been asked things like ‘Who beat you up?’, ‘Did you cut yourself shaving?’, and ‘Ugh, is that contagious?’” 

--An eczema patient

Stress, anxiety, and eczema

Stress and anxiety are known to be common triggers that can cause eczema to flare up. This can then lead to even more stress and anxiety which can, in turn, lead to even more flares. Reducing stress and anxiety in your life may help break this cycle. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about steps you can take to manage your stress and anxiety

Managing eczema

While it can be challenging to live with eczema, there are things you can do to help you manage everyday life. The Eczema Association Australasia provides helpful tips to manage eczema. You can also talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the following tips and other suggestions he or she may have.

Manage stress 

  • Read, listen to calming music or nature sounds, or practice deep breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Take yoga classes.
  • Go for walks.
  • Start a hobby such as writing, painting, or playing chess.

Make sleep a priority 
To relieve the itch that can interfere with good sleep, try:

  • Taking a warm bath or shower and apply moisturiser.
  • Keeping your bedroom cool and dark.
  • Talking with your doctor or pharmacist about other sleep strategies.

Get support to reframe your situation

Eczema symptoms may affect you during your daily life. While you may not always be able to control your symptoms, there are ways you may be able to better cope with living with eczema. For example:

  • Try asking yourself, “What would I do if I wasn’t having these symptoms?” 

Join a support group 

  • It can be helpful to share experiences with other people living with eczema. Consider joining a local or online support group. 

Learn how to talk about eczema

  • Knowing how to talk about eczema may help you feel more comfortable in social situations. Support groups and advocacy groups can help you learn how to address people's comments and questions.

Despite the challenges that living with eczema can bring, there are things you can do to lessen its impact on your life. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you have and steps you can take to help manage eczema.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

References

  • 1. National Eczema Association. Eczema and Emotional Wellness. Accessed February 12, 2019
  • 2. National Eczema Association. Atopic Dermatitis. Accessed February 28, 2019.
  • 3. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Eczema in Children. Accessed March 1, 2019.
  • 4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Eczema Can Have Many Effects on Patients’ Health. Accessed February 21, 2019.
  • 5. National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference. Atopic Dermatitis. Accessed February 13, 2019.
  • 6. Drucker AM, Wang AR, Li W-Q, et al. The burden of atopic dermatitis: Summary of a report for the National Eczema Association. J Investig Dermatol. 2017;137(1):26-30.
  • 7. Drucker AM, Wang AR, Li W-Q, et al. Audit: Burden of eczema. Prepared for the National Eczema Association. 2015:1-65.
  • 8. National Eczema Association. Dr. Drucker Talks “Burden of Disease.” Accessed February 12, 2019.
  • 9. Silverberg JI, Gelfand JM, Margolis DJ, et al. Patient burden and quality of life in atopic dermatitis in US adults: A population-based cross-sectional study. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2018;121(3):340-347.
  • 10. Tuckman A. The potential psychological impact of skin conditions. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2017;(Suppl 1):S53-S57.
  • 11. Howells ML, Chalmers JR, Cowdell F. ‘When it goes back to my normal I suppose’: a qualitative study using online focus groups to explore perceptions of ‘control’ among people with eczema and parents of children with eczema in the UK. BMJ Open. 2017;7(11):1-10.
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