According to a survey conducted by the Eczema Society of Canada (ESC), 87 per cent of Canadians with severe atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, say their stress levels are negatively impacted by the condition.
Eczema is a genetic, chronic, inflammatory skin condition, characterized by dry skin, with patches that are red and intensely itchy. There is no cure for the condition and it’s common for patients to experience eczema from infancy throughout adulthood.
November is Eczema Awareness Month, and to raise awareness for the condition, ESC has created an initiative to help others understand what it’s like to live with eczema.
The group’s ambassadors, who live with moderate to severe forms of eczema, invited their friends and family to set an alarm to sound off once an hour for 24 hours to replicate the interruption of itching.
Participants would experience the frustration and disruption throughout their day and even overnight.
The group says the challenge is only a small glimpse of what it’s like to live with the condition.
Toronto dermatologist Dr. Sandy Skotnicki tells CityNews the condition can impact a person’s job, ability to play sports and how well kids perform in school.
“Unfortunately, a lot of patients with eczema don’t get the opportunity to see a dermatologist because there’s so few dermatologists so they kind of suffer in silence,” Skotnicki says.
Some symptoms of eczema include skin patches that may ooze, become scaly, crusted or hardened, and it usually occurs at the bends of the arms and backs of the knees.
The survey also found almost half of adults with moderate or severe eczema describe their itch as debilitating, almost 90 per cent of adults with severe eczema have scars or marks on their skin due to scratching, and 76 per cent of children with moderate or severe eczema are woken from sleep due to their itch.
Skotnicki says the number of people with eczema has tripled since 1940 and one of the big triggers of the condition are soaps and detergents.
“A lot of patients who are adults who have had eczema as a child just need to change how they wash, what they wash with and that changes a lot,” she says.
“You shower less, you don’t use true soaps, you use cleansers that are PH balanced, all these things can make a huge difference and a lot of parents haven’t been told that in detail so when we make those changes, kids often need less medication.”
Skotnicki says when the weather changes from warm to cold in Canada, people’s eczema can start to flare.
“When everybody is born, our skin barrier’s not functioning well because we’re still developing. As your skin starts to develop its barrier, it starts to retain water.”
She compares people’s outer skin barrier to a brick wall, and when someone has eczema, they’re missing a protein that helps keep that wall hydrated so they can’t hydrate their skin on their own.
The Ontario government’s health insurance plan provides more than 5,000 drug products at no cost for anyone aged 24 years or younger who is not covered by a private plan, but ESC say healthcare decision makers need to do more to support those living with eczema.
“Eczema is too often minimized or seen as nothing more than just dry skin, but the hard truth is that there are many Canadians who struggle deeply with the daily skin care routines, nonstop cycles of flares, and the incessant itch and pain that can accompany this condition,” Executive Director of ESC Amanda Cresswell-Melville said on the group’s website.
Skotnicki says some of the more targeted moisturizers that have the benefits to repair eczema symptoms can be expensive, especially since most medications require multiple daily applications.
“It’s a step in the right direction to have basic medications covered for kids under 25. But moisturizers are not covered. It would be nice to have that as a prescription, but I think that would be difficult, but it is a cornerstone of treatment of atopic dermatitis.”
ESC plans to share stories of those suffering from eczema with government officials and health agencies responsible for improving access to new eczema therapies and treatments.
“Recent research and treatment breakthroughs are bringing new hope to patients and their families; however, these advancements won’t help if the people who need them most can’t afford or access them,” says Cresswell-Melville.
“By showing decision makers the realities of living with this condition, we hope they will make choices that support and help to improve the lives of patients and their families.”