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Eczema (young people)

Diet, alcohol and eczema

The young people we talked to felt that a ‘healthy lifestyle’ was important for managing eczema, as well as using treatments like emollients and steroids. However, keeping good routines, such as eating well and having enough sleep, can be difficult – particularly when the person became more independent.

Food, eating and cooking

A wide range of foods were said to make eczema flare-up (see also triggers). Some people tried cutting some foods out of their diet to work out which made their eczema worse. Hazel remembers being unable to eat sweets given out at birthday parties when she was little. Himesh found that goat milk was a good alternative to eating/drinking cow milk. Others didn’t know of any particular food that affected their eczema, but thought an ‘unhealthy diet’ of processed and sugary foods was bad for their skin. In contrast, drinking lots of water to keep hydrated was seen as good for the skin.
 

Ele tries to have a healthy diet, but finds there are barriers. She also doesn’t want to miss out on eating the foods she enjoys most.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 2
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So far the best thing I’ve found for it is just drinking loads of water and staying away from caffeine as well, stay away from caffeine as much as I can.

So you’ve found that to be a trigger?

Yeh I just, but working full time now, then I do kind of, my caffeine intake has gone up so much and its really showing in my skin actually but I don’t think about it, someone says “Oh do you want a cup of tea”?, it’s just like “Yeh go on then” and realise oh that’s my sixth one in the past 20 minutes [laughter] yeh it, it doesn’t help. But yeh the thing is with my skin pretty much everything is a trigger so it’s kind of I could do this whole thing where I never eat junk food and I never go out drinking and I never drink caffeine or anything like that but, but you know, that would take so much that I enjoy out because you know, I love pizza I don’t want to give pizza up I know it’s full of salt and it dehydrates you and it’s awful for you and all of that but it tastes so good. I’m not, I will take the dry skin if it means I can have a lot of those.

It’s finding a balance between.

Yeh and that’s the other thing with living by myself, I’m not very good with getting fruit and vegetables because I normally get in from work at sort of half eight at night and at that point I’m so tired I just can’t be bothered cooking properly so I’ll just grab something I’ll just eat some pasta or something like that and I definitely don’t get enough fruit and vegetables into my system and I know that that makes my skin worse, but at that point I just don’t care. So I, I should really sort that out but it’s just effort and I’m lazy [laughter].
 
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Aisha isn’t allergic to eating any foods in particular, but she thinks a healthy diet is good for managing her eczema.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I don’t have any sort of food allergies that affect it or anything. But obviously I try to eat healthy because processed crap isn't going to make me feel good at all or help my eczema. But, no I've been OK with food allergies I think yeh.

So, nothing sort of food related to the eczema. So, that’s what makes it even more frustrating – sort of, if I was allergic to say like, I don’t know a certain type of food and that’s what brought my eczema on, then I would just cut that out and I wouldn’t have to deal with the eczema but because I'm not allergic to any - I mean I've had an allergy patch test when I was with the dermatologist so, because I'm not allergic to anything on that patch test anyway, just who knows why this happens [laughs].
Some people found they could eat certain foods but not touch or prepare them in raw form, such as: tomatoes (Aisha), potatoes (Laura), chicken skin (Ele) and citrus fruits (Lizzie, Sarah). This can make cooking difficult and be painful. Katie-Lauren and her boyfriend divide up cooking tasks so they can still make dinners together without her eczema being irritated by touching raw ingredients. Naomi enjoys baking cookies but doesn’t like it when the dough “gets all caught” on her hands. 

It can be difficult to work out if changing diet helps with the skin. A trial time of cutting out the food and keeping a food diary may be useful, if someone thinks certain foods are making their eczema worse. Some people who tried to maintain a healthy diet said they hadn’t noticed any change in their eczema. Other triggers, such as season changes, may make more of a difference to some. Many people wanted to find a balance between managing their eczema but not missing out on the things they enjoyed. Molly said that cutting out sugary foods would probably help her eczema, but that she doesn’t do this because she enjoys eating them. Himesh strikes a balance when eating cheese by taking an antihistamine tablet to counteract the impact.
 
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Fasting for Ramadan helped Maham work out some of her dietary triggers.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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So I was fasting this month, last month, because it Ram-Ramadan and, and that meant the whole month I was, the fasting in England is very difficult because it’s like, you eat in, at sort of sunrise and you open your fast at sunset, which meant in the, in British summer time it’s 3am to 9.30pm I wasn’t eating any food.

And that was good for me because it meant that I could isolate all of the food in my life and then I’d, I was only having one meal a day because around 9, 9.30 if you’re eating and then by 3am you’re not really hungry again. So I was only eating one meal a day but that meant I could really isolate … exactly what triggers my eczema had. 

So if I had a coffee during the fast time then and I’d get a reaction then I’d know that coffee is, is a trigger for me, then so on and so forth. So that was an experience I had that really helped with the food. So I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t suggest that people should fast, but I would say that [uh] isolation diets are something that people do so they’ll only have rice for like a couple of days and then they’ll see if they get a reaction and they’ll only have whatever else and then they can figure out if food is a trigger. 

Yeah. Yeah.

So I found the isolation diet was helpful. It, it’s quite an extreme thing to do but it’s …it, if food does seem like a trigger then it might be a good idea.
Alcohol and smoking

Drinking alcohol often dries out the skin, as well as dilating the blood vessels, meaning eczema becomes more red, itchier and uncomfortable. Gary finds rum in particular causes his eczema to flare-up. One exception is Lizzie who hadn’t noticed a difference to her skin from drinking alcohol. Alcohol shouldn’t be drunk with some medical treatments, as for Cat taking immunosuppressants and Sarah when she was on antibiotics.

Smoking was also said to make eczema worse. A few people smoked occasionally on nights out but thought it would help their skin to avoid this. Gary once quit smoking to see if his eczema improved but found it made no difference. Instead, he says that alcohol and smoking helps him relax which he thinks is good for his eczema overall.
 

Gary finds having a few drinks help him cope better with stress.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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If I have two or three beer, it's much better than not having any. But I think because I can handle alcohol, after four beer I'm not getting drunk or anything, I'm nothing than really getting tipsy, probably barely, but if I have two, three beer in the evening with dinner it just always like chills me down; it's just like I just feel chilled down and I feel relaxed, not this kind of ‘I took so much drugs and I'm out of my world’, but I'm just feeling a little more chilled. I'm thinking in the more positive way, maybe had a stressful day at work or with family I have two, three beer; I watch a movie and I'm just feeling much better. But I try not to drink an hour before sleeping as well.

Cos I, yeah. I experience that if I have a beer and smoke the last cigarette and I put them down and I go to bed, then the next day's it's become like, becomes like a little more dry. And if I, in the last one hour, or the last 40 minutes before going to bed, I'm not smoking, not drinking any more then, then actually it doesn’t affect anything, and actually it's better.
 

University life, especially drinking alcohol, can cause Molly’s eczema to flare-up.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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For example I had a glass of wine last night, I woke up and my eczema’s like exactly the same but if I went out and got drunk with friends and was in a night club sweating, dancing, outside smoking and then got into bed, fell asleep for a couple of hours, God knows how many hours, anyway – wake up knackered obviously, hung over obviously my skin literally will be red and fiery but usually here [points to body part off screen – to arms?] which is really weird, that’s where I kind of get it from alcohol. And so that’s kind of consistently bad now I’m a student [laughs]. But because it’s kind of there, people don’t think its eczema, people think it’s a rash or I’m really contagious [laughs] and avoid me, they don’t really. And so yeh I know when I go out on a night out that I will wake up with a rash if I’ve had excesses amounts of drink. But kind of on a day-to-day basis, its fine and it never flares up so much. I mean I say that, if I was doing like a week of loads of partying I’d bring, and if I wasn’t at home, I'd being loads and loads of cream and I’d probably be putting on the steroid cream before it was even flared up, knowing that the alcohol was going to kick it all off.
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