Eczema in Kids: A Chelsea, Michigan Teen Shares Her Story
This chronic skin disease that affects how millions of children feel, think, sleep, look – even what they do and wear. Take a closer look at this condition through a Washtenaw County kid's eyes.
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"Right now, I can feel the tingling in my ankle. I'm not going to itch it."
When Jacquelyn Busch, 13, scratches, she knows what'll happen. First, it'll feel tons better. But a few minutes later, it'll tickle again – worse – and she'll have to keep attacking it, even if it starts to sting or hurt.
"If I scratch hard enough, it'll really open and bleed and ooze," the Chelsea teen explains. So she twiddles her thumbs or focuses on flipping pages in a book. She'll smack, pinch, push or rub the area. Or she'll apply cold water, ice cubes in towels, or pop a Benadryl.
But it's crazy tough. It's like when someone tells you they know a secret.
"I need to know, I need to know, I need to know – that's the way the itching is," she says. "You know, 'I shouldn't do it.' You just have to. It just feels so much better afterwards.
"The itching is worse than the cuts that you get."
A prevalent issue in kids
For the 20 percent of U.S. kids with eczema (EK-zeh-ma), a chronic skin disease, this can be a daily, even minute-to-minute battle. Jacquelyn has the severe version. "Atopic dermatitis" is marked by itchy, dry, scaly skin – especially the elbow crooks, backs of knees and face, according to the National Eczema Association. On Jacquelyn, it "jumps." Her ankles are the worst; then her knees, wrists and elbows. Recently, it's flared on her face.
"Imagine being itchy 24 hours a day," says NEA spokesperson Diane Dunn. "They can't control it. It's constant." It leaves rashes, scars and thin, infection-prone skin. It impacts sleep, focus and how kids play and dress.
And it's the first thing people notice, says Jacquelyn – a bright, green-eyed teen with dirty-blond hair who loves skiing, Glee and no-bake cookies. "Did I get sunburned? Why does my skin look like I'm a grandma or alligator?" are typical questions. "It looks kind of reptile-y. I just have a lot more wrinkles than everybody else on my knees and my hands. Creases."
There's no cure – yet. Still, there's lots of support to help families manage it – and live full lives. That's a message Jacquelyn, her family and other allies hope to spread during October, which is National Eczema Awareness Month.
Reasons and triggers
As in so many cases, the itching started early, when Jacquelyn was only about 4 weeks old, recalls her mom, Carol Froczila.
"It was all the time," says Frocilza, 46. "She was very ingenious. She'd scratch, and she would use anything she could," from pointed Barbie hands to brush bristles – even Velcro on the infant mittens she wore at night.
"We were pretty desperate. Nobody was sleeping, and everyone was pretty miserable."
At least 17 percent of kids experience eczema symptoms before the age of 5, the NEA notes. While roughly half can "improve" between ages 5 and 15, others, like Jacquelyn, may have life-long flare-ups.