Did You Know: October is National Eczema Awareness Month and according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, around 16.5 million adults in the U.S. have eczema or atopic dermatitis [AD], with 6.6 million reporting moderate-to-severe symptoms. In fact, it is the most common childhood illness.
NOTE: I was compensated by Med-IQ through educational grants from Abbvie Inc. and from Sanofi Genzyme and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to write about the realities of moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis as a chronic disease. All opinions are my own.
I’ve suffered from eczema all my life. As a little girl, my atopic dermatitis was so bad that my skin would scab then crack and bleed. My mom tried everything from anti-fungal creams designed for athlete’s feet to home remedies. I still remember her coating me with Crisco and wrapping me in saran wrap at night because “a coworker recommended it.” [It probably comes as no surprise but this was not the solution.]
I’m dating myself here with the mention of Crisco but the truth of the matter is that my eczema situation growing up was desperate. The condition wasn’t heavily publicized, information wasn’t readily available, and in short, I was suffering. In those desperate times, we resorted to desperate measures. We were eventually able to reduce my number of flare-ups but it left me with significant scarring on my neck, the crooks of my elbows, and behind my knees as a reminder of what atopic dermatitis can really mean for a family.
Now as a mom raising my own child with atopic dermatitis, I feel emboldened to be educated on this matter and be proactive in her treatments. That’s why when Med-IQ asked me to partner with them on this campaign, I jumped at the opportunity. They’re an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals.
Eczema is still around but times have changed since I was growing up. Healthcare partners like Med-IQ help bring the information we need to the forefront so we can know:
- What causes atopic dermatitis and what does it look like
- What does atopic dermatitis mean beyond the skin
- When should you see a specialist for more in-depth care
- What are your treatment options for atopic dermatitis
- How can you advocate for yourself or your child
WHAT CAUSES ATOPIC DERMATITIS/ECZEMA AND WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema and is described as a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. That definition is often tied to patients of a lighter skin tone but for my fellow melanated folks, it tends to look darker brown or maybe even gray [read: ashy] on brown and black skin. The skin is often dry, inflamed, and sometimes scaly like a broken scab. It can also look like small raised bumps on the skin. These conditions are exacerbated when the skin has been scratched and/or broken. The discomfort this causes also results in sleeplessness.
Eczema most often occurs in children but is a chronic condition that can present itself at any age. The itchy patches of skin are usually present on your face, arms, and legs and can come and go. Periods of time where the rashes are present and visible on the skin are called flare-ups.
Healthcare professionals aren’t quite sure what causes someone to have atopic dermatitis. But what they do know is that a protein called filaggrin has been shown to be a factor in the pathogenesis of atopic dermatitis. Filaggrin is responsible for helping our bodies maintain a healthy, top layer of skin so when something with this protein goes wrong, atopic dermatitis can occur.
In some folks, their condition can be mild. But for those with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis, the disease is persistent and comes back with more frequent flare-ups.
BEYOND THE SKIN: WHAT ATOPIC DERMATITIS MEANS FOR YOUR FAMILY
When my youngest daughter developed eczema, it felt like we were both going through it together. Nighttime itchiness led to her having difficulty sleeping which kept us both up at night. I’m sure my fellow parents can relate but when my kid suffers, I do too. In that way, pediatric eczema that is moderate-to-severe disrupts the entire family.
The lack of sleep can impact other things in a child’s life too. Sleeplessness can impact her ability to perform at school, cause irritability [for mommy too], and have a negative impact on her social interactions. The rashes that are visible can contribute to this too. All of these things could eventually lead to an increased risk of anxiety and/or depression. Can you imagine? Thankfully, these things can be mitigated by getting the condition under control. New treatments are available to help minimize the impact of atopic dermatitis and improve the entire family experience.
WHEN TO SEE A SPECIALIST FOR IN-DEPTH CARE
Because eczema is so common, it can be hard to determine when you should take your kid to see a specialist. As a general rule, you should never hesitate or feel uncomfortable reaching out to your primary care physician [PCP]. They are there to help you and your family. In fact, 60-70% of atopic dermatitis cases can be treated by your PCP.
However, if your symptoms are more severe and are impacting your quality of life, consider seeing a dermatologic specialist. Your eczema might be severe if:
- It covers a large portion of your body [larger than your hand]
- Is resistant to topical treatments
- Have flare-ups that last a long time
In these cases, a physician that specializes in treating the skin would be of great value to you.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR ATOPIC DERMATITIS/ECZEMA
Luckily, treatment for mild cases of eczema is pretty straightforward. Practicing good general skincare and small lifestyle changes like using fragrance-free products can make a big difference. For those with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis, treatment is separated into two categories: topical therapy and systemic treatment.
Think of topical therapy as treating the skin from the outside. Taking good care of your skin by bathing regularly, moisturizing after bathing, and avoiding irritants can really help. That can be supplemented with anti-inflammatory topical treatments [both steroidal and non-steroidal] prescribed by your doctor.
Systemic treatment, on the other hand, is treating the skin from the inside. Biologic agents are the latest and greatest breakthrough in this space. They work by targeting the source of the inflammation and therefore the root of atopic dermatitis. The treatments can range from oral medication to injections with varying dosing schedules but all with a common goal of managing the disease.
This new treatment can include oral medication or injections every two weeks or every month, and currently, they are approved for kids ages 6+. These treatments change our ability to manage the disease. Successful treatment allows a patient to lead a “normal life” – in the instance of kids, this would include being able to participate in regular activities like sleepovers and sports without itchiness disrupting their experience. These new treatments can support that goal, particularly for patients who have serious disease-related disruptions in their life [sleeplessness, rash over significant part of body].
HOW TO BECOME AN ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF & YOUR CHILD
Advocating on your or your kid’s behalf can sometimes feel challenging but the first step is to find a healthcare professional you can trust. It’s important to rely on trusted sources to learn about the different medicines and treatment options available. Ask questions and open a dialogue with your provider about atopic dermatitis.
Being able to articulate how your [or your child’s eczema] is, is another important step in the process. Physicians recommend using a stoplight system of describing your days as green, yellow, or red. A green day has minimal itching or disruption while yellow and red reflect increasing levels of irritation. In a standard week, how many days are green? Yellow? Red? Keep track of this information and be sure to use it as part of advocating on your family’s behalf.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral to a specialist if needed. By adding a specialist to your healthcare team roster, you can increase your chances of finding a treatment for moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis that works for you.
HOW TO CONTRIBUTE TO WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT ATOPIC DERMATITIS
Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and needs your input! Please take a few minutes to fill out this survey regarding the challenges you’ve experienced with diagnosing and treating moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis. The survey takes less than 10 minutes and your responses will be kept private [results are shared in aggregate].
Not only will it help develop future educational initiatives but you’ll be entered into a drawing to win 1 of 6 $100 VISA gift cards from SOMA Strategies. You can take the survey without entering the drawing but if you’d like a chance at winning the gift card, you’ll have to provide your email address for contact. Winners are randomly selected and will be notified of their win.
Help make a difference in the field of eczema today!
Want access to [free!] personalized, evidence-based texts to help you ditch the itch?
Med-IQ has partnered with Pro-Change to offer up to 6 months of tailored text messages to help you manage your eczema/AD journey—from appointment prep to self-management tips. Text the word ITCH to 401-214-9651 to start. Available for both patients and caregivers! Learn more at ditch-the-itch.prochange.com.