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25th April 2018

Getting to grips with eczema

I’d never seen it this bad. Jessie was covered in rash and scratching nonstop.

My 12-year-old daughter was having her worst ever flare-up of eczema (or atopic dermatitis), an inherited skin condition that disrupts the skin’s barrier and its ability to hold moisture. Usually it affected the folds of Jessie’s arms, wrists and sometimes the backs of her knees, but this time it had spread to her face and neck.

Unfortunately, I’m one of many parents who has watched helplessly as their child struggles with sleep because of the discomfort, insists on wearing long sleeves in the height of summer because “it looks like crocodile skin” and scratches until they bleed.  

In fact, eczema is the most common chronic skin disease, with one in five children and one in twelve adults in the UK suffering from it. In recognition of this and to encourage greater understanding of the condition, the World Allergy Organization (WAO) has chosen “Atopic Dermatitis: An Itch that Rashes” as its theme for World Allergy Week from 22-28 April 2018.

It’s reassuring to know that I’m not alone, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. This time, I’d had enough. Jessie had recently discovered a love of kiwi fruit, so I thought maybe that had caused this most recent flare up. Or maybe there was something else that was behind the outbreaks, like our pets. These are just a couple of the numerous possible eczema triggers.

I wanted to get to the root of the problem once and for all. After years of trying every type of moisturiser on the market, making countless visits to the GP and pouring over online parenting forums for advice, I decided it was time to visit an allergist.

A skin prick test was recommended as a starting point, with the possibility of a blood test later. This clever bit of medtech involved putting tiny drops of liquid containing around 24 possible allergens onto Jessie’s forearm, and then gently pricking the skin under each drop with a needle. “I was kind of excited that I’d finally find out what I was allergic to but scared as well because I didn’t want anything being poked into me, but it wasn’t too bad,” Jessie told me afterwards. Within 15 minutes, we knew what she was allergic to when an itchy, red bump appeared.

The verdict? It wasn’t the kiwi fruit, or any other common food allergen like eggs, milk, wheat, soy and peanuts. We were also relieved to know that she wasn’t allergic to our dog or guinea pig. Dust mites, trees and plant fungi came back negative, too. She did, however, react to grass and hay. This made sense as Jessie’s eczema flare-ups tend to be worse in the spring, and she has developed hay fever in recent years. Also, she gets wheezy around the guinea pig’s cage, which is full of hay.

“I was surprised with the results because I wasn’t allergic to as much as I thought,” Jessie said. As for me, I wish I’d taken her sooner. The test allowed us to get the right ointments and creams to treat her eczema, and within days her skin had completely cleared up. We still have to be diligent about using certain creams daily to avoid future flare-ups, but at least we’re now well informed about how to do that. And obviously, rolling down a grassy hill in the park is probably not a good idea either.

For more information about atopic dermatitis, check out this WAO fact sheet