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Meet the Northern Ireland people battling eczema who are finally comfortable in their own skin

Campaigning voice: Myrtle Johnston (left) and Orfhlaith McAreavy at the eczema information desk at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast
Campaigning voice: Myrtle Johnston (left) and Orfhlaith McAreavy at the eczema information desk at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast
Itchy irritant: Michelle Laverty and her son Henry, who suffered from eczema
Better days: Angela Morgan and her daughter Evie

By Leona O’Neill

Eczema can be painful and debilitating. Leona O’Neill meets three NI families who have learnt how to live with the condition.

Eczema — also known as dermatitis — is a dry skin condition that can come in many different forms. In mild cases, the skin is dry, scaly, red and itchy while in more severe cases, there may be weeping, crusting and bleeding.

Constant scratching causes the skin to split and bleed and also leaves it open to infection. At its worst, the condition can be very painful.

Dermatitis affects people of all ages but is primarily seen in children — one in five children and one in 12 adults live with eczema.

Three Northern Ireland women tell us about their family’s experiences and how they’ve learned to cope with the condition…

‘I’ve heard of heartbreaking stories of people who’ve had to think of giving up their job’

Myrtle Johnston, from Belfast, represents the NI Support Network for the National Eczema Society. She joined the society after her son and daughter were both diagnosed with the condition. She says:

I got involved in the National Eczema Society 40 years ago when both my son and daughter had the condition.

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My son had it when he was a baby and throughout his school years. My daughter developed it a bit later.

There are people who have experiences that are a lot worse than ours, and I just hope they know they can talk to people about it.

What people don’t realise is how eczema can affect a whole family. Children do suffer badly, meaning their parents do, too.

Some children have it really quite bad on their face and I know another mother who was taking off her son’s socks and the skin just came off with it.

There are some really heart-breaking stories where people have had to think about giving up their career and lots of other things.

Eczema won’t kill you, but it is very disabling.”

‘Henry scratched himself and it looked so red and awful ... it really affected his confidence’

Itchy irritant: Michelle Laverty and her son Henry, who suffered from eczema

East Belfast mum Michelle Laverty (48) says her son Henry’s eczema left him feeling itchy and uncomfortable and was starting to impact on his confidence, before she found something that worked for him. She says:

My son Henry has eczema on his upper arms. He has had it from he was a little baby and it really came out as he started getting older.

It seems that it had something to do with him getting ready in the morning. The stuff I was using on his hair was coming down over his upper arms and that was causing his eczema.

It had never even occurred to me that could happen. He had raised red spots and it was so itchy and uncomfortable for him.

He would have scratched himself and it looked so red and awful.

Eczema does not have a nice appearance and it really affected his confidence. He was lucky in a way because it was on his upper arms, so it was quite covered most of the time.

I mentioned it to one of the girls in my office and she suggested Elave cream, which she said worked for her child.

Obviously eczema is a huge thing for children and it affects so many.

So, I got the shampoo and the shower gel and within about 10 days it was significantly better. It worked really well.

I nipped it in the bud before it got any worse, because I know how bad some children can suffer with eczema.”

‘Evie was on various types of creams, antibiotics and steroids. None worked’

Better days: Angela Morgan and her daughter Evie

Mum-of-three Angela Morgan (42), from Belfast says her daughter Evie’s (5) eczema was so bad there would be blood on her bed clothes. The Four Winds beauty salon owner says she “felt helpless” about the condition until she found something that worked for her little girl. She says:

My youngest daughter Evie has eczema, asthma and allergies.

“She has had all of those from birth. Since she was very small her skin would be itchy and red, particularly in between the creases of her arms and legs. Then it spread. Her face would be totally broken out. Around her cheeks, the skin was raw and would get quite infected, particularly when she was teething.

“It was really hard to manage. She was on all types of creams and antibiotics and steroids. We tried everything but nothing worked.

“They thought initially that it was baby eczema, but as she started getting older, nearing a year old, we realised that the likes of strawberries, bananas and tomatoes would have set her skin off.

“So by the time she got that little bit older, it was very much tied to food as well.

“At its worst, during a really bad flare-up, it would appear all over her.

“I remember one day when she was very young, taking her into a cafe before a doctor’s appointment and people were staring at her because her face was so raw.

“She would have just scratched herself until she bled.”

Angela says that she tried every cream on the market as well as everything the doctor prescribed, to no avail.

“Any time her skin looked in any way dry at all, we plastered her in cream,” she says.

“She would have scratched herself in the middle of the night, so there would be blood on the bed clothes in the morning. And I felt terrible because there was nothing I could do about it.

“The doctors were giving me cream after cream, hoping that something was going to work. And with Evie being so young, I didn’t want to resort to antibiotics all the time.

“It was a constant battle trying to get to it before it got to the stage where she needed antibiotics.”

Evie also lives with asthma and severe allergies, associated with her eczema.

“Evie would take an anaphylactic reaction to nuts, pulses, legumes, kiwi and eggs,” says Angela.

“We knew that she was sensitive to certain things. But at that stage, she hadn’t been tested for anything. I just didn’t give her any nuts, because I assumed that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

“But I came home one day, and Evie was coughing while sitting on the sofa. I asked my husband how long she had been doing that and he said around half an hour.

“I could see her skin also starting to break out, so I picked her up and took her around to the chemist.

“They gave her some Periton and told me to take her to the hospital.

“She had eaten a peanut M&M and that was the start of it. She had an overnight stay there.

“Then, a few weeks later, she had a mouthful of vegetable soup which had lentils in it. And it was the same again — her face and lips swelled, and we had to go straight to the hospital where she got adrenaline and all sorts of things.

“We have had a few dramas.

“We had an issue where someone gave her peanut butter recently and I had to give her the EpiPen and take her to the hospital.

“Because Evie is that little bit older, she is more aware of it and has become more vigilant about what she eats now. We don’t have anything that could harm her at home and her school were very good — they are nut-free. But we have to be very careful and carry an EpiPen and Periton around with us everywhere, just in case.

“When she was three years old, we discovered that she was asthmatic as well. She takes inhalers now also.”

Angela says that she finally found her ‘miracle cream’ in the form of Elave skincare.

“All the stuff that we got from the doctor just didn’t work,” she says.

“And then I heard about the Elave products and started using them on Evie’s skin. Her skin has been amazing since.

“For the majority of the year — as the change in the weather can flare her up — she has been really good.

“We just keep the cream on the spots that are more likely to flare up.

“I use the whole range; the bath wash, the shampoo and the cream with Evie. Using all three works a treat.

“I love it because it is a totally natural product, there is nothing harsh in it that can harm her skin. The condition is so easily triggered.

“For something as simple as this product is, to be so effective, has been amazing and is working really well for her.”

The National Eczema Society confidential telephone and email Helpline provides information, support and reassurance to people struggling to cope with eczema. You can contact the helpline on 0800 089 1122. Myrtle Johnston is also available through the helpline if you want to make contact with support from Northern Ireland

Long history of skincare treatment

The Gardiner family history of creating skin care products goes back to 1934 when Joseph Gardiner created the first Family Apothecary in Ireland.

Their expertise in making traditional Ovelle apothecary products like Silcock’s Base, Aqueous Cream and Emulsifying Ointment allowed them to draw on dermatological advances in skincare to create the now multi-award winning Elave skincare — headed up by Joseph’s granddaughter Joanna — which helps prevent flare up of sensitive including eczema, dermatitis and rosacea prone skin.

Their promise of absolute purity means no sulfates SLES/SLS, no parabens, no perfume, no formaldehyde, no methylisothiazolinone (MI), no alcohol, no soap, no colours and more. Elave sensitive skincare has been awarded cruelty-free status by PETA and is also vegan friendly.

Their products are available in most pharmacies and online at

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