Eczema and how it affects childhood
Treating eczema isn’t just about treating the skin
Treating eczema isn’t just about treating the skin. Eczema has a major psychological impact on the sufferer. Knowing how eczema affects a person emotionally and physically should be part of understanding the disease.
Although eczema affects all age groups, childhood eczema impacts a person the most as it’s harder for children to understand what’s happening to them, their disturbed sleep and the itch-scratch syndrome.
“Sleep deprivation, exhaustion and feelings of helplessness – these are what my family goes through. With my eldest son going to primary school this year, managing his emotions from being called the “skin dropping boy” is not easy. It’s definitely not just about treating the skin. He had steroid withdrawal when he was a toddler. Even though I knew the dangerous effects of steroids on him, I have contemplated – many times – to give steroids to him to spare him from being teased by his friends. I don’t know how would this situation affect him as he grows up, but it’s definitely not just about treating the skin.”
– Patricia Chen, mom of two boys with eczema
“I have been rubbing her thighs gently every single night, for two weeks straight. After she falls asleep, I stop, assuming that she has fallen into deep sleep and I can finally get some rest. Less than 30 minutes later, she wakes up crying again due to the itch. No amount of anti-histamines, creams, lotions can ease her other than the gentle rub. However, sometimes I do wonder if the rubs are helping or making it worse. I’m falling behind on work deadlines, drowning in coffee and I often start screaming at my 3-year old, telling her to just go to sleep even though I know she really wants to sleep if it isn’t just too painful for her.”
– Jen Yee, mom of a 3-year old who started having eczema only 6 months ago
Picture credit: National Eczema Association
Picture credit: Morgan Bishop, a 5-year old boy who told his mom to let him die because his eczema was so severe, he could barely walk or sleep. Read more about his story here.
Understanding how eczema affects a person should be the starting point for recovery. For example, without knowing more about eczema, one would have thought they might “catch the disease” by being nearby. This affects a child deeply. Once awareness about eczema is created and people talk about it more openly, it will no longer be a taboo to tell others that they suffer from this issue.
Understanding the Itch-Scratch Cycle
Itch comes with eczema, being its first sign. It affects almost all aspects of a sufferer’s life, leading to a reduction in quality of life.
For adults, most understand the itch-scratch cycle. However, for children, especially younger toddlers, all they know is that they are itchy and they NEED to scratch.
The problem is – the more they scratch, the more itchy and inflamed it will be. On top of that, possibility of spreading it to a wider area is increased. Worse, if the skin is broken, it’s more susceptible to staph infection, warranting a necessary visit to the pediatrician.
How can you help ease eczema?
Finding out the cause of allergies is very important. Allergens come in all sorts – food intake, personal care product that you’re using or even the environment. And yes, there are billions of allergens in the world, so sometimes it could be mission impossible to find out which is the possible trigger. While tracking the possible allergens, one could:
1. Make use of anti-histamines
Anti-histamines help to reduce allergies and more importantly, the itch to prevent it from spreading.
For rough or broken skin, the skin barrier has been compromised and might not be able to keep the layers of skin beneath hydrated. Keeping it moisturized as much as possible would be essential.
3. Create a barrier
As the skin barrier is compromised, having a layer that acts as a barrier would be essential to prevent further dehydration. Choose a barrier that has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties to help with the itch.
4. Use a product that helps with long term recovery
Having a healthy balanced skin microbiome creates the ideal condition to long term recovery. Some products do focus on short term recovery. However, once the sufferer stops using these products, his condition comes back to square one. Building a healthy skin microbiome is where the skin learns to build its building blocks and immunity of a healthy skin for long term recovery.
Besides medication, what can one do to help emotionally and physiologically?
1. Parent bonding and eczema
Depending on its severity, inflamed skin can be irritating and sore and the child might not want to be touched even when the parents are trying to be affectionate. Although touch is an important way to bond with your children, this might not lead to effective bonding as it may have negative impact.
If the sensitivity is due to roughness, parents can give the sufferer an oil massage right after bath. A bath massage with soft bath bag would also be good for bonding.
Alternatively, if the sufferer is too sensitive to touch, bedtime reading, board games, blocks building could be good bonding time with your children too.
2. Encourage talking about eczema
One of the most common side effects of eczema is depression – be it poor self-image, lack of self-confidence, shyness, being teased by friends, difficulty concentrating due to itch or sleepiness, refusing to attend school and a whole lot of negativity. As your child might still be very young to tackle these issues, encourage talking about eczema and planting thoughts and ideas about how they should talk to their friends about it would be important.
3. Create awareness
I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. Although eczema is such a common problem, it’s as big a taboo as a woman’s cup size. Once awareness about eczema reaches a wider audience, be it educators, family or friends, more people would understand and it would also be an easier topic for a sufferer to talk about.
Sometimes, it could be as simple as family members or relatives who don’t understand that a child’s eczema could be related to allergies feeding the child without asking his or her parents’ permission.