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How problem skin can be a real source of agony for some

In this, National Eczema Week, Abi Jackson looks at a common condition that's more than skin deep

Published 21/09/2016

Painful condition: singer Adele suffers from eczema
Painful condition: singer Adele suffers from eczema

This year’s National Eczema Week (until this Sunday) aims to highlight the often ‘hidden’ side of living with a skin condition — the emotional and psychological impact.

As with many skin diseases, or indeed any form of physical scarring or changes, as well as symptoms like discomfort, pain and irritation, these things can affect self-esteem, relationships, careers, and even be linked with depression and anxiety.

In the UK, around one in five children and one in 12 adults have eczema — also known as dermatitis — according to the National Eczema Society — more than six million. Severe eczema can affect large areas and result in inflamed skin that cracks and bleeds. “Dry skin is a very common problem caused by skin dehydration and loss of natural skin oils, which can be due to many factors, including a lack of humidity, using harsh soaps, the ageing process and medications,” explains Dr Noor Almaani, consultant dermatologist at The Private Clinic of Harley Street.

Dr Almaani notes there are a number of types of eczema, the most common being atopic eczema. “This usually occurs in genetically susceptible individuals and is commonly associated with asthma and hay fever. It usually presents itself during childhood,” she adds. Other types include asteatotic eczema, which often occurs in the elderly and typically over the shins; allergic contact dermatitis, where eczema is at the site of contact with a substance an individual is allergic to; irritant contact dermatitis, flaring up on areas that come into contact with irritant substances — such as certain cosmetics or washing powders; and pompholyx eczema, which causes an itchy, “bubble-like rash on the hands and sometimes feet that worsens in hot weather.

Some people may require treatments and medications, including suitable moisturisers and steroid creams. Very severe flare-ups may need to be protected with a suitable dressing too.

“Steroids are a valuable tool in the treatment or control of eczema, giving it a chance to heal,” says Dr Friedmann of the Harley Street Dermatology Clinic.

As with many long-term conditions, indentifying triggers and finding ways to avoid them is important. “Living with a skin allergy can be difficult, especially when there are so many irritants which can exacerbate symptoms in everyday household items,” says Dr Friedmann, who’s teamed up with sensitive laundry and washing up brand Surcare (surcare.co.uk), whose range of household products have been approved by the charity Allergy UK. “I recommend regularly moisturising to retain skin’s moisture, avoid irritants such as soap, wipes and fragrances and wash with creams such as aqueous cream or Dermol.”

Dr Almaani adds that avoiding overheating can help too — so stay clear of hot baths and wearing too many layers. Weather and  central heating may also be factors. If certain foods are a trigger, a food diary might help.

Finding time for relaxation and hobbies shouldn’t be dismissed either. “It’s a fact that stress and exhaustion lower the immune system and make most rashes worse, so it’s advisable to get plenty of sleep and de-stress when possible,” notes Dr Friedmann.

For more information and advice, visit www.eczema.org

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