Atopic dermatitis, also commonly referred to as simply “eczema,” is a common skin condition most notably characterized by patches of dry, itchy, red, and flaky skin (Mayo Clinic).
While these are the most common symptoms associated with this condition, many people who struggle to manage severe eczema can experience a variety of invisible psychological and psychosocial symptoms as well.
Because of this, the most effective treatment methods should address both underlying psychological side effects of the condition, as well as the symptoms that show up on the skin’s surface.
If you or someone you know is having trouble managing severe eczema, the first step is to understand the causes and its psychological and physical symptoms.
Then, you can take steps to treat and better manage both types of symptoms for an overall improved quality of life. Read on to learn how.
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What Is Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects over 31 million people in the United States (National Eczema Association).
Signs of this condition typically begin to show up in early childhood and will either resolve on their own or progress into adulthood.
The most common symptoms of eczema are:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Patches of flaky, cracked skin
- Small bumps on the skin
For some people, eczema flares up only when exposed to certain triggers, which can include factors like very hot or cold temperatures, excessive sweating, certain foods, and common allergens.
For others, however, eczema can be an ongoing problem that is difficult to manage and that can lead to other secondary conditions, including trouble sleeping and emotional and social issues.
What Causes Eczema?
While more research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms within the body and skin that cause eczema, experts do know that this condition is linked with genetics and therefore is not contagious.
It is believed that eczema occurs due to a mutation in a specific protein gene called filaggrin, which has also helped researchers to uncover a link between eczema and asthma (F1000 Reports Medicine).
The underlying factor that brings about an eczema flare-up, though, is chronic inflammation.
Although inflammation is technically part of your body’s natural healing process, it can lead to serious skin and health problems if left unchecked.
This chronic inflammation causes redness, itching, and flaking that you see on the skin’s surface.
Then, when the skin is itchy and you scratch it, you can actually worsen your symptoms by breaking open the skin and making it more susceptible to bacteria and infection.
Thus, the best treatment approach is to select topical products that can help to nourish and improve the skin’s outer protective barrier without creating adverse side effects that could make matters worse.
However, because of the nature of eczema symptoms, which can be difficult to hide, many people with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis also develop underlying psychological and psychosocial issues that can make the treatment of this condition even more complex.
Why Eczema Symptoms Are More Than Meets the Eye
Numerous studies have shown that atopic dermatitis can lead to a variety of emotional and social issues that can become so great that they begin to interfere with everyday activities and a person’s quality of life.
Mental disorders like depression and anxiety are very common among people with moderate to severe eczema, especially if this is a skin condition that they’ve had a hard time dealing with since childhood.
In fact, studies have found a correlation between the intensity of itching due to atopic dermatitis and symptoms of depression (News Medical).
While it is possible that the stress of struggling with depression could contribute to itchier skin and more noticeable eczema symptoms, researchers believe that the inverse is also true in many patients.
That is, people with severe eczema change the way they view themselves, become socially withdrawn, and begin to experience symptoms of depression.
This depression, in turn, can put added stress on the body, which can cause skin symptoms to worsen even further and thus spiral into a never-ending cycle of worsening physical and mental conditions.
Social withdrawal is, by its own right, another common mental health complication associated with eczema.
The outward symptoms of eczema can leave many people self-conscious of the way they look and they may even feel isolated, embarrassed, and disinterested in socializing with friends or partaking in activities that they used to enjoy.
Many research studies have also pointed to a growing problem among children with eczema and the effects that the condition has on their development and the quality of life of their family members.
Challenges arise from the economic impact of dealing with not only physical symptoms but also emotional and social problems in families of children with severe eczema (International Journal of Clinical Practice).
Eczema and Sleep Disturbances
Dermatologists agree that virtually all atopic dermatitis patients experience sleeping problems at least once in their lives due to itchy skin caused by eczema.
In some cases, itchy skin can be so severe that eczema sufferers struggle to fall asleep on a regular basis, or cannot stay asleep for very long without waking up to a horrible itch.
As is the case with depression and eczema, sleep disturbances can create an ongoing cycle of aggravated eczema symptoms, which makes falling asleep more difficult, which triggers another flare-up, and so on (American Academy of Dermatology).
In addition, sleeping problems can also contribute to a variety of other health complications and chronic conditions, including weight gain, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and an increased risk for developing heart disease (Harvard Medical School).
If itchy skin is keeping you up at night, or if eczema symptoms are interfering with your mental health or quality of life, it is crucial that you consider all of your options for the most effective and well-rounded approach to treatment.
What Are the Best Treatment Options for Eczema?
When managing eczema and its underlying emotional, social, and secondary health complications, it’s important to devise a treatment plan that looks at the person as a whole, and not just their superficial symptoms.
The first step is to find an effective method of calming the underlying inflammation that causes an eczema flare-up, rather than just covering up its visible symptoms.
Many people who have not been able to find any other effective treatment method have seen amazing success using Eksem Moisturizing Body Cream to calm and soothe their eczema symptoms.
Unlike most other products out there, Eksem does not contain harsh ingredients like steroids, petrolatum, parabens, or fragrances.
Instead, it consists of a unique blend of essential micronutrients such as vitamins A, C, and E to help nourish and moisturize the skin while also helping to calm inflammation.
Because Eksem is so gentle on the skin, you don’t have to worry about how many times each day or night you apply it.
Simply apply Eksem when your skin starts to feel itchy, and experience a fast-acting calming and soothing effect.
Additionally, while Eksem is not the cheapest option, it also does not come along with a $37,000 per year price tag, like the latest eczema medication to hit the shelves.
Once you’ve found a safe, gentle, and effective way to calm underlying skin inflammation, the next step is to address any underlying psychological or psychosocial issues that you or your loved one may have developed.
The best thing you can do is to be aware of these types of symptoms and don’t just write them off as “normal.”
A comprehensive treatment approach to both the outward skin symptoms and the inner emotional, social, and self-esteem issues that can come along with eczema is key to improving your quality of life and getting back to doing the activities that you’ve always loved.
About the Authors
William Goolsbee has spent his career in Life Sciences including leading roles in drug development in immunology and genetic medicine. Recent senior positions include Chairman of the Board at Sarepta Therapeutics and Founder and CEO at Metrodora Therapeutics.
Dr. Gil Price
Gil Price M.D. is the Chief Medical Officer at the Propharma Group, where he provides medical supervision for all clinical trials. He previously served as the Chief Executive Officer of Drug Safety Solutions, where he oversaw safety monitoring for drugs in clinical development. Dr. Price also served as the Director of Clinical Development at Medimmune Oncology and Director of Medical Affairs at Glaxo.