Dry, itchy, red skin isn’t what most people would call desirable. But if you have severe eczema, you’re familiar with these symptoms. As our Living with Eczema Facebook community knows, even if your friends and family members are there for you, what they say to support you may not always be the most welcoming.
Here’s a list of troubling things that you shouldn’t say to someone living with severe eczema, and what you should consider saying instead.
Eczema is a common condition, affecting more than 30 million Americans. The word “eczema” is a general term for inflammation of the skin. Symptoms vary from one person to another, but the most common symptoms are dry, itchy, and scaly or patchy skin.
There are different types of eczema, each classified by severity. Atopic dermatitis, or severe eczema, is considered a chronic condition. This means it’s long-lasting, and treatable but not curable.
The number of over-the-counter products for dry skin is constantly growing. While this gives people living with eczema a lot of options, it can also make choosing a treatment more overwhelming and confusing.
Even though you may not be able to offer any medical advice or tips, you can ask your friend if they feel like they’re getting the treatment they need. Checking in on your friend may be the little push or nudge they need to take another look at their options or schedule another doctor’s appointment.
Telling your friend with eczema to stop scratching is similar to telling someone who wants to lose weight to never eat dessert again. They already know it isn’t helping them out, but it’s not easy and it won’t happen immediately.
Instead of telling your friend how they should manage their condition, ask how they’re feeling. Maybe they’re looking for an outlet and you can help them. Maybe they need a shoulder to lean on and you can be there for them. No matter the case, asking your friend how they’re feeling is a supportive gesture.
The exact cause of eczema is unknown. It’s believed that the inflammation is a result of the body’s response to the presence of irritants. Still, numerous triggers can lead to a flare-up. Your friend may be sensitive to temperature changes, certain chemicals, or even synthetic fabrics and other rough materials. It can take years for your friend and their doctor to pinpoint their exact triggers.
And, unlike the common cold, eczema isn’t contagious. It does tend to run in families, but it can’t be passed from one person to another.
Eczema treatment usually begins with over-the-counter creams and a variety of lifestyle changes. If these methods aren’t enough, a doctor may prescribe prescription medications.
If you think that your friend is struggling to find a solution, ask if there’s anything you can do to help them out. You may be able to help distract your friend from their condition by grabbing a bite to eat together or inviting them over to watch a movie.
It’s perfectly natural to want to identify with the things someone is telling you, whether you have personally experienced them or not. But someone living with eczema has likely done a ton of research, tried several treatments, and read stories from fellow patients to better understand their own condition. Second-hand anecdotes from someone who doesn’t really understand aren’t usually helpful, and can come off as judgmental or patronizing.
Instead, allow your friend to lead any conversations about what they’re going through, and make an effort to really hear what they’re saying and asking. They may not need or want help, but reaching out and offering your support shows that you really care — and sometimes, that’s worth a lot more than even the best advice.