Living with Eczema: Treatment Options and Mental Health Impacts

Living with Eczema: Treatment Options and Mental Health Impacts
Eczema (Ternavskaia Olga Alibec/Shutterstock)

The common skin condition, eczema is not as easy to handle as one may think, as it can severely impact the daily life and mental health of those suffering; however, there are treatments that can help people manage the condition.

A study published in the National Library of Medicine has found that eczema affects 31.6 million people in the United States, with 10.7 percent of the population reporting the suffer from verified eczema. According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), the condition affects 20 percent of children below the age of two and can cause itchiness, redness, and, in some cases, infections.
Eczema is a condition where the skin does not retain moisture, causing it to dry out easily. The dry skin is more accessible to allergens and irritants, which can trigger the skin to release chemicals that make the skin feel itchy. However, scratching the skin only causes more chemicals to be released, which makes the skin become even itchier.

Moisture Is the Key to Treating Eczema

So what can sufferers do?

In an email to The Epoch Times, Dr. Li-Chuen Wong from the Australasian College of Dermatologists and the Sydney Skin Clinic said that to treat eczema, it’s important to moisturise all over regularly.

Wong said that people suffering from eczema should moisturise at least two times a day, using a fragrance-free emollient —medical moisturiser—which is free of anti-ageing additives and specific to the treatment of eczema.

“Then, to the eczematous patches, topical steroid creams/ointments should be used intensively till there is complete resolution. The strength of the topical steroid used depends on where the eczema is.”

“If the condition is more severe, there are now new wonderful medications called biologics that target specific defects in the molecular pathway that causes eczema.”

“These medications have minimal side effects and are game changers in how we now treat patients severely affected.”

However, treatments for the young who often suffer the most is limited. This is despite recent research developing a safe test suitable for newborns that can offer an eczema diagnosis that predicts the onset and severity of the skin condition during the first two years of the patient’s life.

In an email to The Epoch Times, the President of the Eczema Association of Australasia, Cheryl Talent, said that treatment options for the management of eczema in babies are quite restricted.

“Topical steroids, moisturisers, bleach baths and wet wrapping are the mainstays of treatment–for older children and adults, we have other systemic treatments which can be accessed for successful management.”

“Many parents visit a specialist to have allergy testing, which can be helpful in managing their skin problem but unfortunately does not always clear it completely.”

“Also, accessing a specialist such as a dermatologist or an immunologist can be problematic—there are just not enough available.”

Talent said that one of the things that the association talks to parents about daily are the application of topical steroids. She said that when topical steroids are used correctly, they have a high rate of helping to manage eczema. However, correct information about how to use them is seldom offered.

“Parents of babies are often too scared to use a topical steroid, and this can really impact on the quality of life for the baby plus add to the stress felt by the parents who are caring for them.”

The Side Effects Of Eczema

“Eczema sufferers are more likely to catch other people’s infections, so care must be taken when they are around someone who is unwell,” Talent said.

“For children and adults with eczema, even when they are on systemic treatments for management, there is a lot of time taken visiting their specialist, receiving the treatment and all with not much support.”

“Some treatments are subsidised, but all the over-the-counter specialised products and others such as bandages for wet wrapping are very expensive but necessary.”

Talent said that eczema also affects the patient’s parents, who may experience emotional and mental anguish because of the very tangible helplessness they can feel when trying to manage their child’s eczema. She said that there is a need for health professionals that give better information to parents and treat the condition more seriously, rather than saying, “just a rash–put some cream on.”

“Unfortunately, parents caring for babies/children always have that guilt feeling that it is something they have caused. People try to help with advice which actually can put even more pressure on the sufferers/carers.”

“When you are a parent with a new baby, you want to celebrate and show them off to the world—with the exception of those babies covered in eczema.”

“Their parents often are too embarrassed to take them out because of the unwanted advice they can receive.”

Talent said that she will often say to parents: “If your baby has not been hospitalized due to infection, you are doing a great job managing their eczema—let’s just see if we can tweak a few things to get better results.”

She said that no one ever tells them this, and when they hear it, she can feel their stress levels disappear instantly.

Suffering From Severe Eczema

Talent said that severe eczema could make life very challenging.

“Having eczema can, in itself, be stressful, and that can set up a vicious spiral,” she said.

“Eczema makes you uncomfortable, you feel stressed, you scratch, your eczema gets worse, and you feel even more stressed! Looking after someone with eczema is no picnic, either.”

“Often the mental anguish of suffering from eczema can lead to feelings of unworthiness and sometimes even suicide.”

Talent said that looking and feeling different from everyone else and being unable to comfortably socially interact, even with family, can lead to depression.

She said that the association often advises those who are struggling with their mental health to seek professional help to deal with the mental anguish that comes with this condition.

Lily Kelly is an Australian based reporter for The Epoch Times, she covers social issues, renewable energy, the environment and health and science.
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