A-Z

Eczema (young people)

Emotions and support for eczema at school/university

As well as extra practical considerations around symptoms, triggers and treatments are the emotional aspects of having eczema on school/university, such as: 
  • feeling self-conscious, teasing and/or being bullied (see also ‘emotions’ and friendships)
  • the need for extra support – including for exams, on school trips and during classes
 

Sarah talks about eczema as an extra difficulty impacting on young people.

Sarah talks about eczema as an extra difficulty impacting on young people.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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It’s difficult when you’re younger I think. Cos when you’re like, when you’re at school or when you’re starting uni, you’ve got so many other things that are on your mind that you’re worried about. Like it’s such a stressful time. I found it really stressful. Even if you’re like having the best time of your life in like sixth form or, or at school or at uni. But you’ve so many thing, like there’s so many things to worry about, and stresses and exams and so many pressures on your life, that it becomes just like another thing that you’ve got to deal with. And it’s so like depressing. And you’re just like ‘I can’t believe I have this. And I just wanna be like everyone else.’
Emotional impacts at school 

Lots of people said they had felt self-conscious at school, sixth form/college and/or university (see also ‘emotions’). Some thought that teenagers are especially worried about looks and appearance. It can be difficult to spend lots of time around other people, and eczema was sometimes seen as an added practical and emotional stress. Anissa had wanted to use make-up to disguise eczema and Ele remembers putting foundation on her hands for a while. Hazel found it hard coming back to school after having chickenpox which had combined with her eczema. Georgia felt embarrassed about eczema above her lip, which she had thought was a cold sore at first, and remembers begging her mum to let her stay home. Sometimes people didn’t want to go to school because their eczema was painful or made them feel insecure, as was the case for Shams and Anissa when they were younger.

Although some young people were reluctant to use the word ‘bullying’, many had experienced times in primary and secondary school when other pupils were rude and unkind about their eczema. Anissa and Katie-Lauren had experience of others trying to start fights with them by making nasty comments about their eczema. Aadam had been teased about having “old man’s hands”. Many thought that hurtful comments were usually out of ignorance, such as thinking that eczema is something they could ‘catch’.
 

Shams would have appreciated his doctors talking more about the social and emotional impacts eczema can have.

Shams would have appreciated his doctors talking more about the social and emotional impacts eczema can have.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 7
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A lot of ‘em straight away from mentioning stuff for like the…I don’t know what…if it's deliberately or unintentionally, but none of them mention the sort of social implications that eczema would have, and I would be more happy if they did cos one of my first experiences after having really bad eczema I was in school for first day, and I remember this girl making a really bad comment towards me, cos back then I still used to wear t-shirts and cargo pants, walking around as I normally did before I had eczema. And those comments sort of caused me to be the sort of self-covered self I am, so I always now wear long trousers, long sleeved tops and… It r-really would have helped if a doctor would have said, "Look, if, if you did go back to school in this state, you may get a few comments or something like that; just be wary," and stuff like that. It would’ve helped, but I got no warning and there's sort of, not bullying, but sort of nit-picking, almost sort of alienating feeling that of some of the comments people made after seeing my condition was really, really hurtful when I was…especially when I was young, it was really hurtful during that time  yeah.
 

Naomi felt like she stood out at school because of her eczema and skin tone.

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Naomi felt like she stood out at school because of her eczema and skin tone.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Well, as a kid emotionally – mm, you'd feel not…well as a kid you didn’t feel normal, you didn’t know it was normal. I was the only person in my class that had eczema, so people really didn’t understand it. And I used to be teased for it as well cos I was different.

And I was also…I was also, I think…no I wasn’t, there was another person, but there was only two people that were my skin tone as well back then. So, I was bullied for my hair, my skin, everything and it…and as a kid, you know you don’t feel…I never had that much friends, that’s why that friend I've known for thirteen years was the only one I had during that time. So, yeah that, as a kid, I can't really say cos you don’t…you're just a child, you don’t understand feelings that well, you just sort of know, you know you feel sad. I remember refusing to go to school cos I didn’t want people to stare at me and stuff like that. So, it would get quite psychological.
 

Others' comments and behaviours sometimes make Himesh feel self-conscious at school.

Others' comments and behaviours sometimes make Himesh feel self-conscious at school.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 10
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You get like the younger groups that would like probably just say, would probably look at you and you know, whisper to their friends or I don’t know say ‘eee’ or something like that, I know that they don’t know what I’ve got but it kind of makes me feel like if they’re seeing it like that what are other people seeing, if that makes sense so I would force myself to cover up, force myself to put more moisturiser I guess just to make sure that my skin is better. And like but sometimes again like when people don’t understand when you put the creams they’ll say stuff like oh he’s got cream on his face, shiny face or whatnot you know what I mean, so yeh. But obviously those people don’t understand what I was going through.
School, sixth form/college and university are also places where friendships can grow. Molly’s friends at secondary school all knew she had eczema and were supportive. Abid found there was more choice at college than school: what clothes he wore, what he studied, who his friends were.
 

George is looking forward to university as he hopes his peers will be more understanding.

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George is looking forward to university as he hopes his peers will be more understanding.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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If I go to university I know, obviously people will be older and they’re going to be adults. So I’d imagine they’d be more respectful or I’d think in my head that they wouldn’t be as judgemental as teenagers. So and I think it’d be a generally less stressful place even though doing a degree obviously isn’t, is quite stressful but I’d be doing a subject I want to f-, and I’d be somewhere away from home which I want to go to. So I think I will be happier generally and that would override any negative aspects of the eczema cos I’ll just-. Yeah, it will be, obviously it’s quite exciting going to university.
There were mixed experiences of teachers (including PE teachers). Evie said some of her secondary school teachers were better than others. Vicky felt that her primary school teachers didn’t know much about eczema. Georgia’s PE teachers in primary school would excuse her from classes but she found the secondary school teachers “less sympathetic”.

Extra support

Some young people had been given, or asked for, extra support for their studies because of the difficulties they experienced. Katie-Lauren had extenuating circumstances at college in case of missing an exam because of eczema. Himesh gets extra time in exams for cream breaks. Evie used a separate room for changing before and after PE classes. Himesh’s and Vicky’s teachers would give them work to do during hospital stays. Shams sits his exams in a separate room. Lizzie contacted her university accommodation to ask about getting a water filter installed. She was offered an ensuite room but declined as she thinks others with health conditions would benefit more from this.
 

Lizzie’s university offers support with exams, though it’s hard for her to know in advance when it’s necessary.

Lizzie’s university offers support with exams, though it’s hard for her to know in advance when it’s necessary.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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Does eczema ever affect your studies at all?

Yeah, sometimes I can't write. But usually I do a lot of typing on the laptop anyway so that hasn’t really had a problem. And I always , because I've got, I'm classed as having a disability through the college, they have told the exam schools and stuff, so they always email me saying, “Do you need compensation for your exams, like for writing and stuff?” And obviously it's like a good few months in advance so I'm never going to be able to tell cos it's so, you know, variable eczema, it's not like a long term thing that just, it’s, for me, it's not a complete flare-up for months and months on end, it just changes day-to-day. So, you can never really say in advance, but it's nice to have the option there for them, you know to give me like, “Do you want extended time; do you want to write on a laptop?” that kind of thing.

So is that something that you, unless you were nearer the time you wouldn’t be able to tell them whether you do need a certain-?

Yeah basically cos they want to know like a month or two months-, which is fair enough because, you know, they need to set things out. But to be honest like I'd have to tell them maybe the day before like, and that’s not really workable so yeah.
 

Himesh describes a special medical/welfare room at school where he goes to use his emollients.

Himesh describes a special medical/welfare room at school where he goes to use his emollients.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 10
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It’s just a room basically and like it’s got frosted windows so obviously no one will be able to see. And like it’s, in our school it’s a place called the Student Services so you just go to there and get and they would keep all your creams and like the big tubs but I would carry my own well now I carry like my little tub because I can’t be bothered sometimes to go all the way down to that place and then go back to lessons so I just used my cream and top it up when I need to in lessons, because I only do it less anyway now, so yeh. But yeh that room I’ll just go into that room and just apply my creams I guess there and then give the creams or medications back to the person at Student Services.
 

Shams is grateful for the extra support from some of his teachers at school and sixth form.

Shams is grateful for the extra support from some of his teachers at school and sixth form.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 7
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They’ve provided me with extra resources; teachers who are aware of my situation who've actually been more sympathetic in previous years, who understand what I'm going through, would usually put aside some work for me. In days where they know I'm off ill, more than usual, they'd put aside a few bits of work or they'd go out of their own way, probably stay a, another hour or so after their work time ends just to explain something to me – make sure I understand it, and I find that really helpful and I really appreciate it because understandably some days I can't attend school. I find it really difficult, and knowing that there's a teacher or someone there who's willing to go out their way to help me get through this, get through my studies –it's a really good feeling to know that.
Sometimes support wasn’t available or as good as it could have been. Ele didn’t have any extra time to use moisturisers in exams and found that it streaked her papers. Aadam had time off for appointments, including whilst having immunotherapy, but his school didn’t give him any help catching up. He’s since moved schools and has found his current one more supportive and encouraging of his extracurricular achievements too (such as producing an illustrated book for young children with eczema). 

Moving out and/or going to university was seen as a big change and some worried about support (from families but also medically). This includes concerns about getting medical help and prescription costs/finances. Some chose to stick with the GP they had seen before university and travel home for appointments. Others signed up for a new GP and some found their university-based medical centres were well-experienced in helping young people.
 

Katie-Lauren was unsure about what medical help she would get when she moved to university.

Katie-Lauren was unsure about what medical help she would get when she moved to university.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I was worried about not being able to see my doctor because I didn't know whether I could sign up to a doctors here. I didn't really know much about it. But obviously there’s a medical centre, which is a part of the university. I was worried about getting prescriptions and seeing a dermatologist. But they’ve referred, like the nurse here has referred me to a dermatologist closer. So I’m going to see what this ones like, third time lucky. 

Yeah.

Yeah it’s just I was worried about not getting the same support here that I got at home. But in a way, I get more support here, because there’s a bigger variety of people and a lot more people’ve got eczema than I actually thought, because at school, it seemed like it was just me and one other girl. And we didn't really talk that much so it’s not like I could talk to her about it. 
 

Aman says the doctors he saw whilst at university were more aware of the distress related to eczema than previous doctors.

Aman says the doctors he saw whilst at university were more aware of the distress related to eczema than previous doctors.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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Have any of your doctors whether it’s GPs or dermatologist ever talked to you about sort of the emotional and psychological impact eczema could have?

As I was growing up, not too much. In university and stuff like that, yes, a lot more, because you’re at a bit more of a fragile time I think. ‘Cos you, you move away from your parents and you don’t you have that, you don’t have that same support network that you would at home.  So, they’ve only talked about the times where I’ve gone in at a flare up stage in the middle of exams thinking, oh god, you know, this is just the worst thing ever. And, yeah, having that kind of calming down moment where y’know, they say it’s not really the end of the world, even if you fail your exams, what was more important is, is your own health. And so that kind of puts it in perspective and I wouldn't necessarily say that doctors speak or think about that as much as they could do.
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