More than skin deep

14th September 2007 at 01:00
Thought eczema was something that only affects pupils? Think again. The insatiable skin condition is also endured by adults. Hannah Frankel reports

Getting naked at school is never easy. So imagine if you needed to do that three to four times a day, covering your entire body with moisturiser to soothe the insatiable itch.

Teachers with moderate to severe eczema do not have to imagine. For them, the dry, hot and itchy skin can have a huge impact. Tomorrow, the National Eczema Society (NES) is launching National Eczema Week to raise awareness about this misunderstood condition.

One of the most common misconceptions is that eczema just affects children. In fact one in 12 adults in the UK have it a threefold increase over the past 30 years.

Ruth Mason is a 49-year-old special needs co-ordinator at Grayshott Primary School in Surrey. Her atopic eczema the common form that often runs in families is on her body and her hands and face.

"I've had times when my skin has been covered in weepy patches that are very dry, cracked and itchy," she says. "It got so bad in my twenties that I had to go into hospital for a week." Her dermatologist told her to stop teaching as stress was making it worse. Ruth now manages her eczema more successfully. Heat affects her, so she tries to keep the radiators off and windows open, but changing classrooms means this isn't easy.

"I explain to the kids about eczema and how it affects me, but I still get comments about my face being red, or questions about why I'm scratching my head. Until you've lived with eczema as an adult or lived with someone who's got it, you can't under-stand how bad it can get."

Schools pose all kinds of problems, according to Margaret Cox, chief executive of NES. As well as dust, cleaning products, art, pottery or cookery can cause problems. "Schools need to be aware just how seriously people can be affected. It's an unpredictable condition and you never know when it might flare up."

Reduce the itch

Wash laundry at a minimum 60 degrees to kill dust mites.

Limit soft furnishings (where dust mites lurk) and vacuum regularly.

Banish furry pets.

Do not overheat your house or classroom.

Avoid cosmetics. If you do use make-up, test on non-eczematous skin first.

Avoid soap. Moisturise twice a day.

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