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Eczema - It's just something I live with

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Monday 31st March 

Tom Branwell, a planning enforcement officer from south London, has had eczema all his life. Here he talks to benenden health about managing his condition. Eczema 200X200

Atopic eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a condition that inflames the skin, causing itchiness, dryness and redness. It affects between two and five percent of the population, and one in ten children. Along with related conditions such as asthma and hay fever, it can run in families, and generally improves with age.

Tom Branwell, now 34, was diagnosed with both eczema and asthma a baby and seldom experiences any issues with his breathing these days. “It's just something I've lived with and it's varied throughout the course of my life,” he explains. “The asthma was quite bad as a child and then it more or less went away. It came back a bit in my mid twenties for two years and then it tailed off, but there are certain things that can trigger it.”

One of the triggers are cats, says Tom, but thankfully his asthma hasn't been an issue in recent years. “It can still be set off again from time to time but not in any serious way. I do have an inhaler but I don't actually carry it with me all the time. I haven't needed to use it for a long time.”

The eczema, however, is an ongoing problem. “It's just one of those things. I got it first as a kid, on the back of my knees and on my elbows, but that cleared up. Then it appeared on my hands, when I was about 14, and it's never really gone away properly.”

He manages his eczema by keeping his hands moisturised, with gentle products such as Neutrogena and Vaseline, and by avoiding soap and other harsh products that could aggravate his skin. Currently he favours a chemical-free Sanex body wash.

“Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, but it's always there and it's just something that I try to manage. Certain things can irritate it – using the wrong kind of soap, or dust, chemicals, that sort of thing. They make it more painful, but that might be partly because it's inflamed already.”

When his eczema is particularly bad, he'll use a steroid cream. “But only when it really flares up. I don't want to use it too much, as long-term use obviously isn't going to be good for your skin.”

Recently Tom was offered a skin-prick test, as part of a one-off health promotion run by Allergy UK, in a bid to identify what he is most sensitive to. “Certain things came up, like house dust mites for example, and that certainly makes sense, because being in a dusty environment can certainly make it a lot worse.”

The results also flagged birch, hazel, and grass, which resonated with Tom, who admits to also getting mild hay fever. “The thing is it comes and it goes, so I hadn't thought about grass, for example, making it worse before. But it probably does have an effect – it's probably one of the things that sets it off.”

Once you have eczema, it's unlikely to go away completely, unfortunately, but there are certainly ways of minimising its impact. Tom has found the information on the Allergy UK website extremely helpful in this respect.

“It's just a day-to-day inconvenience, a hassle, that's all,” he says. “It's something that I deal with. It's inconvenient, but it doesn't stop me doing anything – and at the moment it's not too bad.”

Useful resources 

For information about eczema and other allergies, what causes them and how to minimise their impact, visit the Allergy UK website. You can also call the Allergy UK helpline on 01332 619898.

Members of benenden health can call the 24-hour GP advice line  to talk to a doctor about any health concerns they may have.

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