Eczema causes itching, redness, and swelling. In severe cases, it can cause cracking and bleeding. It’s a stressful disorder for anyone to deal with; almost all eczema patients report that their symptoms diminish their quality of life, with effects ranging from sleep disturbances to increased anxiety and depression.
Studies show that the condition negatively impacts the quality of life for the majority of teenage patients. Ninety percent report severe itching that interferes with daily activities; 69% report sleep disturbances, and 60% report fatigue.
This is no small matter. Teenagers need more sleep to accommodate the rapid neurological changes that come with adolescence. Inadequate sleep correlates strongly with poor impulse control, emotional dysregulation, and poor academic performance.
The effects ripple far beyond the realms of academics and physical health. Seventy percent of high school-aged eczema patients report being ashamed of their skin, and half report that eczema symptoms have caused them to avoid intimate situations. More than 43% abstain from sports because of eczema symptoms. It’s little surprise, then, that teen eczema sufferers report increased levels of psychological stress–to make matters worse, almost all report that stress worsens their symptoms.
What Happens During Eczema Flares
Eczema has a multitude of contributing factors and triggers–and it never affects any two people the exact same way. Currently, we know that eczema is linked to a few different genetic mutations; some affect the skin’s production and use of filaggrin, a protein that’s key in protecting the skin barrier. Others affect the innate immune system, making it more reactive to stimuli that are harmless for most people.
Eczema flares occur when someone with these genetic mutations encounters something in their environment that sets off–or triggers–inflammation. The redness, itching, swelling, and oozing you see during eczema flares are signs of your immune system’s efforts to protect your fragile skin from a perceived threat to your health.
Treating Eczema During the Teenage Years: Challenges and Considerations
Treating eczema in the teen years can be challenging. Teenage patients aren’t small children who must rely upon an adult to apply treatments. They are more independent, and as such, parents and care providers might expect them to comply more readily with treatment–especially if they’ve dealt with eczema for a long time.
In reality, they may not remember the instructions for treatment from prior years. They might also have come across misinformation about treatments, leading to skepticism or anxiety about their prescriptions.
In addition, impatience with treatment can lead to sporadic compliance—which then leads to delayed healing time. There are more demands on a teenager’s time and attention, so forgetfulness can also figure into non-compliance.
Managing Eczema As a Teen
If you are a teenager dealing with eczema, you can take charge of preventing and treating eczema flares. Below are a few steps that will help you regain confidence and a sense of control over eczema:
Identify triggers. Your triggers might differ from your early-childhood triggers. Keep a record of your symptoms–you don't’ have to go into great detail. Just list your symptoms on a calendar app (or a paper calendar if that’s your preference) with a few words describing where you were and what you were doing. When you’ve established a pattern, you can take steps to limit your exposure to your triggers.
Moisturize every day. This is one of the most important tools in preventing eczema flares. Oil-based moisturizers (creams or ointments) are usually better than water-based lotions, especially during flares, because they keep moisture from evaporating too rapidly from the skin. Creams are also less likely to cause stinging when applied to eczema lesions. You should routinely moisturize twice a day; during a flare, it’s better to moisturize even more frequently.
Avoid irritating skincare products. This includes drying soaps, scented lotions, and harsh, alcohol-based skincare products. Products for managing acne can be especially harsh; try to remember that your skin needs a gentle hand, even if you’re dealing with acne as well as eczema.
Avoid long, hot showers or baths. Long, hot baths rapidly deplete the skin’s moisture and worsen symptoms, including itching. Brief, lukewarm showers are best. Be sure to use a soft towel and pat gently when drying your skin; abrasive fabrics can also exacerbate eczema flare-ups. After every shower, apply lotion and moisturizer while your skin is still damp.
- Don’t scratch! Your skin will beg. It will plead. It will practically scream, “Scratch me, please!” Don’t listen. The itch-scratch cycle is a very real problem for people with eczema; while scratching might bring you a few seconds of relief, it sets into motion an escalating pattern of intense itching, followed by scratching, followed by more intense itching. You get the picture.
Your skin is damaged and vulnerable during eczema flares. The last thing you want to do is damage it further, which will ultimately result in more inflammation (read: more redness. More swelling. More itching). Instead, try to find ways to manage the itching without resorting to scratching. If your doctor approves, you can also apply SmartLotionⓇ; it’s an effective way to treat itching and redness, and it’s safe for most people.
- Manage stress. The teenage years are incredibly stressful. There’s no way around it. While you can’t live a completely stress-free life, you can and should take any steps possible to reduce your stress and manage it. Don’t over commit your time. Get plenty of sleep (and if you can’t sleep well, speak to your doctor). Throughout your day, take a few seconds here and there to breathe deeply and slowly. Journaling is an excellent stress-management tool, as is moderate exercise (No need to run a marathon if that isn’t your thing–a simple 10-20 minute walk or some gentle stretching helps a lot).
If stress is really ganging up on you, speak to your caregivers and/or another adult–such as a guidance counselor–about what’s going on. Be honest and open if you feel that you’re under too much pressure. Don’t be afraid to speak to a licensed therapist, too; they’re trained in identifying and interrupting stressful thought processes, and they are obligated to maintain confidentiality in almost all cases.
Take an active role in your treatment. It can be hard to make the shift from the more passive role you played in your healthcare as a child to a more active and involved role. But understanding what your doctors are telling you about your condition and treatment is key to knowing how to address your symptoms–as is communicating your own concerns. Come to doctor’s visits prepared with your own questions. Ask your doctor to explain your condition and any prescriptions you’re given.
Then, comply with your treatments. Don’t skip them! Eczema is a chronic disorder, and treating eczema is a long-term game. You’ll set yourself back a few steps if you skip a treatment or apply treatments incorrectly. If you are concerned about side effects you’re experiencing, don’t hesitate to call your doctor outside of appointment hours; most offices will allow you to leave a message for your doctor or their nurse. Your doctor might also use a patient portal you can communicate through. If they can’t answer you immediately, they’ll follow up later.
For Parents: Helping Your Teen Cope with Eczema
There is no doubt about it–eczema is a stressful condition, not only for the patient, but for their family, as well. If your teen is struggling with eczema, along with all its stress and discomfort, take heart. As independent as your teenager is becoming, you still play an important role in their lives, and there are things you can do to help them.
Validate their concerns. If they express insecurity about their condition, or you notice that it is causing them to avoid social situations or hobbies, take a moment to acknowledge their struggle. Don’t minimize their feelings or dismiss them as vanity. Their anxiety and concerns are very real to them, and failing to recognize that will not encourage them to confide in you in the future.
Involve them in their healthcare. Resist the urge to take charge and talk over them at doctors’ appointments–you’ve done an admirable job of guiding them through childhood. Now, it’s time to show them how to be an adult. Encourage them to ask questions at their appointments, and encourage the doctor to address their instructions to your child instead of you. Before you leave the appointment, ask your child, in front of the physician, whether they understood what was communicated and ask them to paraphrase it.
- Support treatment compliance. Your teenager no longer needs you to apply their eczema cream, but they still may need a reminder. Help them set up text reminders when treatments are due. If you notice that they’re balking about their treatments, check in with them. You might ask, “You seem to be unhappy about your treatment. Is there something that’s worrying you about your prescription?” Listen to them with an open mind, and if they express hesitance, help them find good sources of information. Encourage them to reach out to their healthcare providers with concerns.
SmartLotionⓇ: An Empowering Tool For Teens With Eczema
Eczema is a frustration no teen wants to deal with. Fortunately, the last few years have seen many advances in treating the disorder. Teens should be empowered to make the most of these advances. They should have access to the care of an experienced dermatologist, as well as helpful patient education sources.
SmartLotionⓇ is an eczema cream that can give teens a leg-up against eczema, especially for those symptoms that persist in spite of medication. This unique, topical treatment was developed by Dr. Steve Harlan, a board-certified dermatologist who wanted to give his patients with chronic skin conditions a safe way to treat their symptoms. Like many eczema creams, SmartLotionⓇ uses hydrocortisone to reduce the inflammation that leads to redness and itching. Unlike other creams. SmartLotionⓇ uses a probiotic formula that promotes a healthy microbiome and improved barrier function–and this enables it to use a much lower amount of hydrocortisone (0.75%) with greater effectiveness than other creams. This means you don’t have to worry about topical steroid withdrawal or skin atrophy, even if you require long-term treatments.
Dr. Harlan’s Knowledgebase at HarlanMD.com is a wealth of information about eczema and other skin disorders; it also provides Dr. Harlan’s protocols for using SmartLotionⓇ during a flare. Most people can safely add it to their prescription treatments under their doctor’s supervision–ask your dermatologist about adding SmartLotionⓇ to your treatment plan if you are struggling with residual symptoms.
Check out Harlan MD today and see how our SmartLotion can help bring back your confidence!