PERFUMED washing powders. Chemical home cleaning products. Rich food. The weather. The cat. All have been at the pointy end of the finger of blame when it comes to the itchy, irritating, sometimes debilitating skin condition eczema. But the recession?
Surprising though it may seem, it is now feared that the stress brought on by the current financial crisis could indeed have led to an increase in skin complaints. A recent survey saw nine out of ten dermatologists reporting a rise in patients coming to them for relief from eczema, psoriasis and other related conditions.
And so it figures that sufferers should not just consider lotions, potions and a new detergent when they are looking at ways to treat that insufferable itch – addressing the underlying anxiety could also significantly improve symptoms. In a study at Sheffield University, meditation, relaxation or cognitive behaviour therapy – collectively known as psychodermatology – were found to make a very real difference.
It has long been accepted that psychological interventions can help patients deal with the emotional impact of their skin diseases,” said Deborah Mason, of the British Association of Dermatologists. “But for the first time, this shows that they can also improve the physical symptoms.”
More than 900 people from 22 studies were taken into account, and psychodermatology was found to be particularly effective in stopping bad habits like itching and scratching.
Bevis Man, of the British Skin Foundation, says “It is already widely acknowledged that distress, trauma and stressful periods of a person’s life are often triggers for the initial development of psoriasis and eczema, as well as subsequent flare-ups. It therefore makes sense that we attempt to tackle some of these underlying issues in addition to treating any symptomatic problems caused by the various skin diseases.
“There has been a dogged approach to treating skin disease using the more conventional and accepted methods of treatment, yet we know these are not always completely effective. Having an additional means of managing and treating common skin conditions through interventions can only be a positive step in the right direction.”
The word eczema comes from the Greek word ‘ekzein’, meaning ‘to boil’. In mild cases, skin is dry, scaly and red, but more severe situations the patient may have weeping, crusting and bleeding sores. And because it’s itchy, constant scratching can leave wounds open to infection. However, contrary to a common fear, it is not infectious.
It affects people of all ages – one in five children and one in 12 adults – and, frustratingly, those who grow out of it as they enter their teens can sometimes see it come back later in life. However, other new research – this time from Australia – has pointed to the possibility of early exposure to bacteria protecting against childhood eczema developing in the first place.
For most, while it is painful and uncomfortable, they find ways of living with it. However, hand eczema is now the second most common reason for people taking time off work in the UK. Some sufferers say they have been verbally abused in the street and, in extreme cases, others have been left depressed, driven to self-harm or even contemplated suicide.
During this year’s National Eczema Week (15-23 September), the National Eczema Society is going on the road to raise awareness and offer support. In Glasgow on 20 September, there will be an opportunity to ask all those awkward questions and get advice on how to deal with the condition.
Did you know, for instance, that a long soak in a hot bath, while it might help you relax, is one of the worst things you can do if you have eczema? Natural oils that moisturise the skin are washed away along with all the cares of the day, while an invigorating rub-down with a towel afterwards just exacerbates the damage. Better to have a lukewarm shower. It may not sound appealing, but ten minutes in not-too-hot water, followed by patting yourself dry, is best for the skin. Then moisturise all over with a gentle cream or lotion.
People who work with chemicals or who get their hands repeatedly wet – such as hairdressers, caterers, cleaners and nurses – are most at risk. So protect the skin by wearing gloves, even if you think you don’t need them.
And staying hydrated is the best way to guard against future outbreaks. If you can, apply a thick lotion to your skin several times a day. And use a moisturising body wash rather than harsh soap.
And if all this still doesn’t help, you could do worse than consider a spot of meditation. Now, relax...
• The Eczema Helpline Live will be at St Enoch Centre, St Enoch Square, Glasgow, all day on 20 September (0800 089 1122, www.eczema.org)
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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