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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The cause isn't clear. But it often coexists with asthma and allergies, particularly hay fever. Physicians call this the "atopy triad," since all three issues cause instant, hypersensitive reactions.
"People have different triggers," adds Dunn. Jacquelyn, who's allergic to nuts, pollen and pet dander, has to be careful with her two dogs – especially Bedo, a 12-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever who lives with her mom.
"Me and him still play and everything," Jacquelyn says. "When he sees my cuts, he licks. The licking makes me really react. I get patches of rash."
Genetics can play a role, too. Froczila's brother had eczema as a child, and some nephews and nieces had mild cases. Even she had a brief brush.
"I thought it was gonna be something she grew out of," she says. "I didn't think it was going to be so long-term, and every day."
Managing and treating it
Bathing and moisturizing are especially time-consuming – yet critical to controlling eczema. "Every day, I probably say that I spend maybe a good hour on it," Jacquelyn says. After a 10- to 15-minute lukewarm shower or bath, she gently pats dry. Then come all the creams. Greasy ointments, like Aquaphor, lock in moisture at night. By day, she uses lighter Eucerin or Vaseline, that don't block her pores. "I don't want to be all greasy for school. It gets really hot. It doesn't really let my skin breathe as well."
"Wet wraps" sometimes top off her evening routine: She covers really bad spots in wet cotton bandages. Parents often wrap littler kids in damp pj's, covered by a dry pair. Until age 7, Jacquelyn wore a wet hat, too.
"She would fight it, like any little kid," Froczila says. "It was hard to contain her. It was just like a greased little pig, trying to catch her."
Treatments are a moving target, too. For some, a bit of bleach diluted in bath water is key. Coconut oil and UV light therapy have helped Jacquelyn.
Still, something may work for six months, Dunn says, then stop. "There's this process of starting all over. That can be very emotionally draining."
And appointments abound. Between her UV and pediatric allergy/immunology specialist, Jacqueline is at the doc's up to twice a week. It adds up economically, too, Dunn says – between prescriptions, OTC meds and lost school and workdays. Yet the alternative is worse. Due to high levels of bacteria on the skin, improper care leaves kids more vulnerable.
Even then, things happen. One morning, Jacquelyn had a tiny mark under her armpit. By the time she came home from school, she was in a makeshift sweatshirt sling.
"It was just all raw – like it had burnt," Froczila says. "It's unpredictable. When the phone rings and it's the school, you're like, 'Oh my gosh.'
"You're just kind of always thinking about it."
Scares can spiral into an ER trip and prescriptions for antibiotics. Fortunately, for Froczila, who co-parents with Jacquelyn's dad over in nearby Ann Arbor, insurance has covered all the costs.
Clothes, sports and other challenges
Jacquelyn can't wear polyester, wool or skinny jeans. Too tight; too hard to scratch. And black shirts show dead skin if she scratches her neck.
"It does sometimes get annoying that I have to put on cream all the time or that I look different from everybody else," she says. "And that I can't do certain things because of the way my skin feels."
Stuff like that adds up. For vacations and sleepovers, she brings her own pillow and bedding, washed in fragrance-free detergent. When she goes on her eighth-grade field trip to Washington, D.C. this school year, she'll need to bring an extra bag just for her creams.
"My school's really good about that," Jacquelyn says. "I have to go and put on my lotions and stuff, and they'll excuse me from class."