What its like to suffer from eczema

After reading about a fellow member who was sadly diagnosed with cancer yet managed to remain positive despite this shattering news, I thought I would share my own experiences as an eczema sufferer.

Now I am in no way trying to suggest eczema is anywhere near as bad as cancer, yet all those who suffer from or have a loved one who suffers from eczema will know how truly awful this illness is.

I have suffered from eczema all my life (well from the age of around 6 months according to my parents) & have been admitted to hospital for extensive treatment on several occasions.

To people not familiar with eczema, it is a condition where the skin cells multiply faster than is needed, causing a build up of skin cells which then often dry out. This causes itchy, dry skin. When you scratch the affected area it causes the area to get inflamed. Just talking from my personal experience as well as conversations from my G.P, the only relief is when you scratch it so hard it breaks the skin. The only problem with this is when you break the skin, any bacteria can get into the now open wound causing it to get infected. Even if it doesn't get infected, the body tries to repair the broken skin by 1st coating the area in a sticky liquid (the same as if you have ever burned or grazed the skin). It also tries to repair itself by scabbing, before producing new skin cells - but as mentioned before, eczema creates too many new skin cells, bringing you round in a full circle & back to square one again. When not having a dry & flaky appearance, it can also appear to be very red & inflamed - almost looking like you are suffering from severe burns.

Oh, and the pain when your skin is stretching because it has dried out but has lost its natural elasticity is pretty unbearable. I can remember on too many occasions when my skin is so dry it literally tears off like sheets of tracing paper, & to combat the pain I have took far too many painkillers than is recommended.

Again, just talking from my experience, no part of the body remains unaffected, including face, scalp & even inside the ear (believe me, this is hell when its itchy)

Now the advice of many medical professionals is to use an unscented moisturiser about 4 or 5 times a day, even when the eczema is not inflamed. This would be great except life gets in the way of this, what with working full time (this takes about 10rs a day including travelling to & from work) and also having to sleep between 6-8 hours a day.

When not at work or asleep, there are also other challenges in the way of having normal, moist skin like everybody else does. Fragrances can trigger it, different foods can trigger it, soaps & detergents can trigger it. That means not being able to use deodorants, air fresheners, having to watch what I eat, not being able to use soap or shower cream when bathing & having to watch what I use to wash my clothes in (using the wrong washing powder or soap can literally feel like its burning the top layer of skin off).

Although my eczema is not bad all year round, it seems to flare up every couple of months or so & once every few years can be extremely severe (usually when I have to be admitted to hospital for extensive treatment).

Now being here in Britain with 'free' healthcare might not seem that bad, I don't know how I would cope if I had to pay every time I went to see a doctor like what happens in some countries. However or 'free' healthcare only covers consultations & hospital treatment. To get the medicines to treat the condition at home there is a standard cost of £7.20 per item (although if it is cheaper to buy it 'off the shelf' the staff at the chemist's usually tell you). Now £7.20 might not seem a lot but when I go to the chemist's I usually come away with between 5 & 10 items - every week. Suddenly the free healthcare is very expensive. Luckily the NHS (National Health Service - the state provider of health care in Britain) offers people the chance to buy pre-payment cards to sufferers of long-term illnesses such as mine. I pay about £120 per year (over 12 monthly direct debit payments - interest free). This entitles me to get unlimited medicines for any medical problems I may have, provided a doctor has prescribed the medicine to me.

Now the different medicines I use to treat my skin conditions are:-

Steroid creams for my body

Slightly weaker steroid cream for my face

Potassium permanganate additive for bathing (only when eczema is severely inflamed)

Paraffin oil based bath additive for general use - even when eczema is not inflamed (adds protective layer to skin in attempt to lock in moisture)

Steroid lotion for my scalp

Fragrance free moisturising cream for general use

Fragrance free moisturising cream for use instead of soap in the bath - has a thick, lard like consistency.

Anti-histamines to try & combat itching

I have recently started trying baby oil on wet skin straight from bath to try & lock in more moisture

I estimate I spend at least an hour a day just trying to keep my skin from getting dry & flaky. Even more when my skin is sore & inflamed.

I am very lucky to have a supporting wife who assists me when I need to apply my different creams, lotions & oils to hard to reach area's like my back. Without her I don't know how I would manage.

There isn't any how-to message in this post for combating eczema, there isn't any cure for it. It has been described as a sort of Cinderella illness - its there but since it can't actually kill people, healthcare researchers don't dedicate as much time or money into the causes & looking for a cure for it. However if you ask any sufferer who has had a severe bout that has lasted about 2 months of constantly itching, having your skin basically falling off, having your clothes stick to you, the pain of dry skin tearing as you walk, the suffering could cause you to consider suicide. Certainly in the past I have wondered if it would be better to end the suffering than to put up with it on a daily basis. Luckily I have had too much to lose in life (my family) & the positive sides of life have outweighed the negatives.

By this post I am hoping to try & raise awareness of this condition to people who might not be aware of just how nasty it can really be for the people who suffer from this.

A final note to people who have healthy skin & coat it with god knows what different chemicals, please don't take healthy skin for granted, you don't know how lucky you are.

I hope this post has given you an insight into what its like to suffer from eczema.