What Doctors Don’t Tell You About Eczema
It’s a common misconception that conditions like eczema, or atopic dermatitis (AD), and psoriasis are “only” skin conditions. To make things more confusing, eczema is also frequently confused with psoriasis, if you’re not familiar with the differentiators. However eczema is much more than “just” a skin issue.
An estimated 31.6 million people live with some form of eczema in the U.S., which equates to about 10% of the entire population. Common symptoms include severe itching, skin redness and dryness, and all three of these side effects can greatly impact quality of life and self-esteem for those living with the condition. For these reasons, eczema not only affects the skin, but it can also play a role in someone’s perception of self and mental health. AD in adults has also been linked to other chronic conditions, including diabetes, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure and heart disease. So yes, eczema can be much more than just a skin condition; however these comorbidities aren’t always discussed when getting diagnosed.
We talked to members of the Mighty community who live with eczema to see what else they wished their doctors told them about life with eczema. If you think you may have eczema, keep these responses in mind, and bring any followup questions to your doctor:
“That it can be long-term and that it might not be an easy fix. My daughter is 13 and [still struggles with it].”
One estimate, which included 2,000 patients with moderate-to-severe AD, found that patients spend, on average, one to three days in flare (described as a “sudden worsening of symptoms”). In some cases, this can work out to nine flares a year, lasting 15 days each time.
“I wish doctors had told me about the mental health aspect of having a chronic illness and in particular a skin disorder. Perhaps I would have been able to make more sense of how I was feeling then and not so lonely. I wish I had been given some context for my medical condition, for example it’s commonality, so I didn’t feel so alone.”
A recent study from the National Eczema Foundation revealed that more than 30% of people living with AD were also diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. In fact, depression is considered an official comorbidity to eczema.
“I wish they’d mentioned that it can flare up when the weather changes.”
Another study conducted in the Swiss high-mountain area did find a correlation between itch severity and “meteorological conditions.” Translation? Certain weather elements can impact the skin’s comfort and should be considered when addressing seasonal flareups.
“[I wish I knew] how hand sanitizer, certain soap and stress can make my eczema worse.”
In the age of COVID-19, this one feels especially paramount. Traditional hand sanitizers can tend to dry out the skin due to their alcohol content, so it’s important to practice proper skin care and consult your doctor to find what works best for your condition. In terms of stress, there is definitely a connection between elevated stress levels and flareups.
“[I also wish I knew about] the connection to eczema and lung issues [like asthma].”
It’s possible that eczema and asthma have a causal relationship, meaning that one might influence the other. According to one study, eczema could be an early sign of developing asthma down the line, but further research needs to be conducted in this area.