Most readers know that eczema is a rough, red patch of itchy skin. But did you know that eczema can cover your whole body? Did you know that tiny babies who have eczema sometimes scratch until they bleed? How about the fact that many adults get eczema on their hands, causing cracking and soreness that can be debilitating? Most surprisingly, eczema can lead to feelings of sadness, frustration and isolation. According to the National Eczema Association (NEA), more than 30 million Americans live with this disease. For some, outbreaks can be managed and triggers can be avoided. For others, eczema is a chronic, recurring disorder. Those are the people for whom I am itching for a cure.
My twin sister had eczema growing up. The condition surfaced mostly on her arms, but she had dry skin all over. I heard my sister scratch until she bled from her eczema breakouts. I used to scratch for her when she was tired from scratching. I watched kids make fun of my sister because of this, say she had the cooties and generally just make her life even more miserable. The misery prevented my sibling from sleeping well. She remembers those years with a heavy heart. Actually, those nights of scratching, the bloody sheets and the mean comments left an impression on both of us.
Fast forward to eight years ago when my husband and I were blessed with our precious daughter Paige. We found out early when Paige was about 10 months old that she would have eczema. The tip-off was the first angry red patch of skin. And after a life-threatening food allergy diagnosis for Paige, the occasional spot turned into full body eczema.
I have had many sleepless nights with Paige, rubbing my daughter’s legs to soothe itches and caressing her face and head to distract Paige from the itching in her legs and arms. Even with a great dermatologist, we battle the itch every day. We have figured out the best way to get blood out of purple gingham sheets and lime green flannel blankets.
Basic Bathing & Moisturizing Tips
- Take at least one bath or shower per day. Use warm, not hot, water for at least 10-15 minutes. Avoid scrubbing skin with a washcloth.
- Use a gentle cleansing bar or wash, no soap.
- While the skin is still wet (within three minutes of taking bath or shower), apply any prescribed skin medications and then liberally apply a moisturizer. This seals in water and makes the skin less dry and itchy.
- Apply moisturizer on all areas of your skin whether it has or has not been treated with medication.
- Keep in mind that moisturizers are available in many forms. Creams and ointments are more beneficial than lotions. Petroleum jelly is a good occlusive preparation to seal in water. However, as it contains no water it works best after a soaking bath.
Paige has suffered staph infections as a result of her scratching and even a few bouts with MRSA, followed by nasty antibiotics. We’ve tried frequent baths, non-frequent baths, bleach baths, baking soda baths, oatmeal baths— you get the idea. Lotions, creams and ointments line our cabinets. We wrap Paige in what we in the eczema world call a “wet wrap,” which makes her resemble a little mummy. Paige’s skin has hardened in the worst spots, causing her skin in these areas to look like that of an older woman. Still, Paige rarely complains. She merely asks for Band-Aids a few times a day. Paige’s teacher helps out by keeping lotion in her desk for when Paige experiences extremely itchy spells, as well as a cool paper towel from a friend on the playground that offers relief. Paige scratches in her sleep and often keeps Band-Aids on bad spots so others won’t see them. All in all, Paige and other eczema sufferers live a life that most of us— those of us who take our smooth skin for granted— do not understand.
Then there are the constant questions and comments from others: What’s that rash, Paige? Is that contagious? You must fall a lot! You have many scabs. Why are you limping? Did you put lotion on that? Did your cat scratch you up? What are you putting on that poison ivy? Paige, what is wrong with your legs?
In the summer of 2010, I found the National Eczema Association when our family attended the NEA Patient Conference & Kids Camp in Chicago. Paige got to meet other kids like her; kids who scratch while they talk and can’t stand still because they have to bend over and scratch their legs. My husband and I talked with adults who suffer from eczema to better understand what Paige endures. After the conference, I contacted NEA to see if there was a charity walk for eczema where I could channel my energy into something productive. As no such walk existed, NEA and I jumped into action and the Itching for a Cure 5K Walk was born.
On April 28th, 2012, in the heart of Asheville, North Carolina, people from all over the United States will be walking on the UNC-Asheville campus to raise funds and awareness for eczema. Paige will cut the ribbon to begin the walk, and behind her will be children and adults who know they are needed to walk for a cause that needs much attention. We will bring this disease into the light and celebrate the progress we make just by putting one foot in front of the other.