Home > Lifestyle > Health
Sunday September 1, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 1, 2013 MYT 7:59:34 AM
Eczema can affect different parts of the body, including the face. – Filepic
Dry, inflamed, blistered and itchy skin – that’s what a person with eczema has to live with constantly.
THE incidence of eczema is rapidly rising, with as many as one in four children affected by it.
Dr Patricia Lim, a medical specialist and mother of six-year-old Natalie, who suffers from this condition, explains how she has learned to cope with her daughter’s diagnosis.
When and how did you discover that your child has eczema?
Natalie’s condition began when she was only 21 days old. At that time, we were living in a house near a dusty main road when she broke out in a rash, with big red patches at her elbow and legs.
She was understandably uncomfortable – crying and wailing. However, as there’s a history of eczema in both my husband’s family and mine, I was consciously aware that Natalie had a high chance of developing it. I tookher to a skin specialist.
She was prescribed a steroid cream and I was advised to wrap her legs in cling wrap. It was a pretty awful and heart-wrenching experience, to see my little bundle of joy suffering so.
More than a quarter of patients with atopic eczema have been bullied or teased because of their skin condition. Can you share your thoughts on this issue, from your experience as a mother?
I vividly remember her first day in kindergarten. No one wanted to sit next to her, or hold her hands. Even the teachers forbade Natalie to play at the play pen as they were concerned that other children might “catch” the condition, which by the way, is NOT contagious.
Natalie puts on a brave front, and tries to shrug off her feelings, but I can tell that the words still hurt. She always demands that her arms and legs be covered, because she thinks her skin looks so bad from all the scars and inflamed parts.
In our hot and humid weather, it gets pretty hot wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts outdoors.
How does eczema affect Natalie’s quality of life?
Eczema is literally robbing her of her childhood. She doesn’t run around and play freely like other children as sweat is an aggravating factor. She doesn’t know how to swim because her eczema is exacerbated by the chlorine in the pool water.
She scratches a lot, and her skin appears dry, flaky and inflamed. My other older child would sit next to Natalie and pick at her dead skin for her because she finds it “therapeutic”.
Then there are the countless sleepless nights. Her cries would wake me up.
I soothe Natalie’s skin with a moisturiser, rubbing her legs to soothe the itch, and rubbing her face and head to distract her from the itching, whilst lulling her back to slumber. The moisturiser I now use helps tremendously in stopping the itch, and I am confident in using it as often as needed because it is non-steroidal.
Both Natalie and myself often wake up tired and poorly rested in the morning as a result of the interrupted sleep.
What are some of the things that aggravate Natalie’s condition?
She has so many environmental allergies that I just tell people who cannot understand why Natalie can’t play outdoors like other children that “Nature aggravates us, folks!”
She is extremely allergic to dust mites, and we have to keep her bed and any cushions clean with special anti-dust mite agents. Soft toys and animals are a no-no.
We did a patch test on Natalie and found out what foods she is allergic to, so I make sure I do not have those items on the family’s menu. I also have to be careful not to let her go out in the sun too often.
Doctors tell me not to use any of the commonly-marketed products claiming to be good for eczema. I focus more on using specially-formulated cleansers and moisturisers for eczemic skin as these are usually formulated without the presence of harsh chemicals that can trigger an eczema attack, such as an artificial colourant, paraben, fragrance and proteins from animal derivatives.
How has it been like, dealing with Natalie’s condition, and managing the family?
Although I am an eczema sufferer as well, I realised that what applies to me may not be so with Natalie; it has been a long learning process, whilst battling feelings of frustration, exhaustion, desperation and exasperation. And then there is the guilt; sometimes, when we see Natalie suffering so badly, I feel responsible for her eczema.
Our journey with eczema reminds me of a movie I saw a long time ago entitled The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy (Judy Garland) met with several great friends – Tin Man, Straw Man and Lion – and traveled together to seek the help of the Wizard of Oz.
There are bound to be conflicts and tensions in the family. There are many obstacles, but we have met many people who have helped too. Hopefully, everything will end well.
We’ve resorted to all sorts of treatment, from traditional Chinese to ayurvedic. A well-meaning friend even told us that drinking urine helps, and we were really close to doing this.
There are so many expenses that are involved in eczema, and I think that sometimes our doctors forget that. They want to do a follow-up in two weeks, or they prescribe a little tube that says “apply to the affected area”.
When the affected area is everywhere, you need something a little bit bigger. At one time, we had 13 different kinds of lotions in our house!
What is the hardest part of being a mum of a child with eczema?
The hardest part is accepting that there is no quick fix that cures eczema.
It is also about making sacrifices. I realise that her flare-ups often occur at the most inopportune time, for example, when I am at my busiest with my clinic.
Two years ago, I made the decision to limit my clinic hours to coincide with Natalie’s time in kindergarten. When she is home, I stay home with her too; we don’t go to the mall, park or anything. With that, I am able to monitor her more closely and ensure that she applies all her lotions exactly when she is supposed to.
We just spend hours together, painting, cooking and reading books. And her symptoms have improved.
Then there is trying to manage sibling jealousy. I have to divide my attention appropriately to make sure my other child does not feel unloved or slighted because I seemingly spend more time and attention on Natalie, especially during her flare-ups.
Currently, how have you been trying to manage or control Natalie’s eczema symptoms?
Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise! Of paramount importance is choosing a moisturiser with the right formulation, and most importantly, effective in helping to treat Natalie’s condition.
The usual over-the-counter creams and ointments haven’t done much for Natalie. The only thing that works for her is a particular emollient. I’ve tried many different alternatives, and this is the only thing that seems to work for her.
Since eczema is not curable, no matter what treatments a patient adheres to, flare-ups are still expected. But being able to reduce the flare-ups dramatically, whilst reducing the need for topical steroids, is our priority.
Before this, it used to be really difficult to deal with because in your everyday life, you tend to not want to have oily stuff over your fingers all the time. You can’t pick up paper, you can’t type things, your hands are slippery, you leave creams all over the door knobs and door handles, so you want to only use it when you have to.
But now it’s different for my family, and most of all, Natalie.
I heard a saying which I firmly believe in: “If we treat symptoms without attempting to eliminate the triggers, it’s like just putting drywall on your ceiling when your roof’s still leaking.”
There is reactive treatment, and there is also proactive treatment for eczema. Proactive treatment is not just about treating the symptoms that are there. Eczema is a lifelong condition, and although the skin’s appearance may not be red or inflamed, there could be a lot of diffused inflammation going on underneath the skin.
What is your advice to parents with children with eczema?
Learn from the experiences of other people. There are a lot of different emotions involved in eczema. Sometimes, it’s great just to have other people say, “I’ve been through this too. You’re not alone.”
We are responsible for carving a solid foundation for our children. Yes, eczema is a lifelong condition, but if we can build her character and instil a positive mentality or optimism in our child from a tender age, it will bring her very, very far in life.
Psychological research shows that the most valuable thing that you can do for a child is to praise who they are and what they do, what they accomplish every day.
Look beyond your child’s eczema for beauty that’s not merely superficial. Beauty is not about outward appearances. Beauty is about the never-faltering light in your heart, which is illuminated brightly by character and personality. I think that is what we need to teach our children.
Tags / Keywords:
Copyright © 1995-2013 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)