Scratching the surface of childhood eczema, the Eczema Association is urging parents and the community to become eczema aware, highlighting that as many as one in eight children are suffering from the inflammatory skin condition – the same number of children who experience chronic asthma.
The plea comes as the organisation prepares to hold Eczema Awareness Week from Monday 13 May, hosting a series of free eczema clinics across Australia to help educate and arm communities with facts and solutions for the debilitating condition, to help reduce the childhood bullying it can attract.
"Other childhood conditions such as asthma are widely understood but as well as the physical scars eczema leaves on kids, there are considerable emotional scars coming from harassment and bullying that we want to stop in its tracks. The condition is most prevalent in childhood, but one in twelve adults suffer from eczema as well, so we want people to know there is support out there," Eczema Association President Cheryl Talent said.
10-year old Ryder Taylor of Northern Beaches Sydney has suffered from eczema all over his body since he was three months old, and often has to miss class to visit the school's treatment clinic or hospital, changing his clothes, getting IV drips and trying wet wraps, bleach baths and creams to soothe his flare ups.
"I hate not knowing when I'm going to have an attack or where it will show or how it will feel," Ryder said.
"It's annoying and sometimes people look at you or ask questions, but I try to explain what it is, so they know for next time."
Ryder's mother, Michelle wants parents and the broader community to realise how severe eczema is but also says when it's managed well, it doesn't have to interfere with life too much.
"I've been stopped by strangers telling me I'm a terrible mum for letting my child get so sunburnt, or for letting him be in public with measles. They don't know about his eczema condition. Even some GPs we've gone to haven't known how to properly manage it, so it still feels taboo sometimes," Michelle said.
"It's heartbreaking to know that other kids use his eczema as a reason to bully him – the words they say to him probably hurt more than his eczema does. He used to love being around people and he's an incredible rugby player but lately he's becoming more isolated and that's a worry for me as a mum," Mrs Taylor said.
The Eczema Association will hold the clinics in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne as part of Eczema Awareness Week 2019, offering the public the opportunity to speak with medical professionals and association representatives about eczema management.
For more information about the EAA call 1300 300 182 or visit www.eczema.org.au.
Question: When were you first diagnosed with eczema?
Ryder Taylor: When I was 3/4 months old.
Question: How does your eczema affect you on a daily basis?
Ryder Taylor: It makes me tired, itchy and makes me look different to others as I usually have red flare ups on my skin. It also makes me less tolerable as I get limited sleep each night as I am always itching.
Question: How do you treat and soothe your eczema?
Ryder Taylor: I have bleach baths, put cream on and need to be wet wrapped when it's bad and take medication each day.
Question: Is there anything in participate that aggravates your eczema?
Ryder Taylor: When it's hot and I sweat a lot but unfortunately it's not really known so I can flare up at any time. Also when the seasons change.
Question: Has your eczema ever meant you couldn't participate in any sports or events?
Ryder Taylor: Yes, lots of times I couldn't go to events due to my eczema being bad or I was in hospital. Also if it's super bad I don't like going out too much as people just stare or comment on it. But now if it's bad and I want to play sports I put on my wet wraps and still play rugby.
Question: What message do you want to spread for Eczema Awareness Week?
Ryder Taylor: I would love people to understand more about it so they stop staring and commenting constantly on my skin. I also hope that people learn more about it so one day there is a cure and people don't have to live with this disease. I also want others to know who have eczema that there are others out there going through the same thing and make sure you listen to your mums and doctors as they know best - even when it's annoying to put your cream or wet wraps on.
Question: What message do you have to children who bully those with eczema?
Ryder Taylor: I would like them to think about the itchiest mosquito bite they have ever had, then image if those were all over your body, not just for a few minutes but day in, day out and feeling really tired and run down as you never get to sleep cause the bites feel so itchy and imagine how uncomfortable that feels. Then add on top of that people staring at you and teasing you because you're itching so much or have red spots on your body. This is pretty much how I feel most days with my eczema.
Maybe next time you go to bully someone about their eczema try and picture how they are feeling and remember you can't catch eczema from anyone. Or otherwise I would love to see them take a bleach bath and then wear wraps for a day to get a better understanding of what it's like to live with bad eczema.
I have been bullied so much at school for my eczema and it's super hard sometimes to deal with it but I try and play with friends that support me and understand my appearance may be different but inside I am still the same.
Question: What advice would you give other Australians dealing with eczema?
Ryder Taylor: Make sure you follow your doctors and parents advice. My doctor Gaile Fischer has made a massive difference to my life. She has helped my eczema a lot and she understands everybody's eczema is different. Even though it's annoying make sure you put your creams on, and wet wraps and don't let the people bullying you or starting at you affect you too much. I put my wet wraps to play sport, to go out or to go to school- they are a great fancy dress costume too at Halloween time. Most of all get lots of cuddles from those that understand and love you.
Interview by Brooke Hunter