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Eczema (young people)

Impacts of eczema on exercise, social life and hobbies

Sometimes people felt having eczema meant ‘missing out’ on socialising and hobbies. They tried to balance doing things they enjoyed while taking care of their skin with treatments and avoiding triggers. Some people pointed out that being happy could help reduce flare-ups too. This is why Cat says she tries not to let eczema stop her from doing the things she wants to do. Some hobbies helped people relax and worry less about their eczema. Aadam used to play computer games and found it a helpful distraction.

Exercise and Sport

Being physically active was seen as important for physical and mental health. However, some sports involve contact with allergens, such as grass, and getting warm or sweaty can make the skin itchier and sore. Laura used to enjoy horse riding until it became clear that she is allergic to animal hair. The impact of exercise can depend on where eczema is on the body. Having eczema between the thighs means it rubs when running or walking, and Jessica found that bike rides aggravated her vulval eczema. Activities which use the hands a lot, such as rock climbing for Abid, can damage the skin too.
 

The impact of eczema on Himesh’s confidence stopped him from playing sports for a while.

The impact of eczema on Himesh’s confidence stopped him from playing sports for a while.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 10
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When I started secondary school I was obviously, I was quite into my sports and obviously around that time in year 7, 6 I started having eczema and then it kind of stopped me from doing some sports I love, like I used to I used to do football and all day every day basically, used to be quite good. And then I kind of stopped because my confidence kind of just went downhill because of my eczema, I didn’t like paying on grass. And plus like obviously people, other people that came from different schools were kind of [inaudible speech] and my confidence went right down, so I kind of stopped doing more sports. But as from, currently I’ve started to do more sports or more stuff that I didn’t use to if that makes sense.

So is that different sports?

Yeh so like as I avoid grass sometimes ‘cos it kind of does make my skin bad and at one point I was allergic to it, I do more tennis now and I kind of I do that every Sundays, so yeh I find I feel good doing it if that makes sense and I know I’ve got eczema and sometimes it is bad to like sweat and stuff like that but I do feel uncomfortable at times sweating but I’m at this point where I can control it so it’s kind of good that I do play tennis and I do love my sports so I don’t really want to stop it to be honest. But sometimes I don’t go if my skin is bad but that’s only when the season changes or when I’m unwell I don’t go either.
 

Ele explains some of the difficulties of exercising when you have eczema.

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Ele explains some of the difficulties of exercising when you have eczema.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 2
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Just going to the gym in general just because it makes me sweat, it my skin just doesn’t like it at all and also from the point of view of you know, having to wear sort of gym clothes then I’ve got sort of like three quarter lengths that I can wear but then that kind of exposes my skin and in the gym I feel kind of self-conscious anyway so I don’t want people looking at my skin as well and then I’m worried about sort of touching the equipment even though I always wipe it down afterwards and all of that, I know the gym etiquette and everything, but it just doesn’t really make a difference I still feel like people notice and they’re just like “I don’t want to go on that machine now cos she’s touched it”. which isn’t ideal but yeh and also I did pole dancing for a while which is the best exercise I’ve ever had and it was loads of fun and I want to start doing it again but a lot of the time they recommend that you put chalk on your hands like sort of dried chalk, no [laughter] I can’t go near the stuff because it dries out your hands so badly. So no I just have to deal with sort of getting sweaty and then trying to cling to a pole, a metal pole so it’s fine, its fine.
 

Shams uses wet wraps to keep his eczema moisturised when doing sports.

Shams uses wet wraps to keep his eczema moisturised when doing sports.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 7
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For example, I had one; I had one comment I remember looking at where there was this girl footballer – she was probably a couple of years younger than me, but she commented that during football she would have like these wet bandage wraps around her legs. She suggested that if anyone has major eczema in sort of joint or some joint areas, she would say get a wet bandage, wrap it around your leg with a dry and try and sort of knee-guard as support over on top; hold it in place just to stop the sort of friction between your skin - little suggestions but like but, you know accumulate to helping, you know everyday tasks got more easier, more sort of doable in a sense yeah.

Is that something that you tried with the wet bandage?

Yeah that was one thing I also got from the doctors as well but I didn’t know in what context to use it. I usually put on wet bandages and just lie in my bed and think “I can't do anything for the rest of the day”, but I didn’t realise if you sort of like…for example, I used to try out boxing, so I would wrap around my wrists and my arms, tie them up and box away. I'd take em off and see that my arms are still moisturised; it hasn’t dried up, cracked or swollen. And it's been really helpful these little suggestions especially when, years or days I've been training, and little suggestions to keep the eczema out of focus, out of a way from interfering has been quite useful.
Another factor which can put people off from sports or exercise was feeling self-conscious about others seeing their eczema. This was also the case for Physical Education (PE) school classes too. 

On the other hand, some people found taking part in sports boosted their confidence. Aadam took up body building which has made him feel more confident about himself. Gary finds that walking helps him relax and feel more positive.
 

Gary finds that going for a walk makes him feel better, even when his eczema is bothering him.

Gary finds that going for a walk makes him feel better, even when his eczema is bothering him.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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But sometimes when I have my skin so bad then when I'm walking, I'm still stressed about that one, and that’s really bad one because sometimes when you're just like, feeling bad, then I go for a walk and I start dreaming about something; start day dreaming and then I'm in my-, my small world and I can go for a walk for three, four hours in a row, maybe sometimes even five, six until I can last. And I'm just dreaming and I dream that I'm the heavy weight world champion of the world and I have so much money and I'm being like really happy and it's kind of quite a stupid thing but when I'm stressful for three, four days in a row, each and every minute, if I go for a walk and I can be out of this bub-, I can be in a bubble out of this world.
 

Abid was nervous about rock climbing at first, but didn’t want to let having eczema stop him from having fun.

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Abid was nervous about rock climbing at first, but didn’t want to let having eczema stop him from having fun.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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In my own like twisted sense of thought I thought if I could, I know this sounds really this might sound really strange to you but I feel like if I actually engage in, in something which is quite abrasive and physical and aggressive and, and possibly damaging to the hand that could lead to prepare, sorry not prepare, repair. So on the way to my old job I always used to go back to go past this like fifteen meter high rock climbing wall and I thought “wow that, that looks fun” kind of thing, saw a lot of people and they were doing it in groups and rock climbing is something that even today I’m apprehensive about because it, you know, you can risk your life doing it so. Thankfully everyone’s on that same level so I told two of my, two of my friends. I was like “lets, let’s do this”, and they were like “yeah, yeah totally up for it”. 

And it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, you know, there’s a possibility that the idea of being ten meters in the air which is I guess equivalent to like four floors or, you’re not gonna complain about your hands and, and want to come down so you kind of just get on with it. And I think that brings along a sense of progression both physical and mental because you, you I think you get on with it. And I guess the term would be exfoliate but I guess if you’re, if you’re grabbing these, you know, these rough rock placements all over the wall, at the end of the day my hands were actually quite soft in a strange way, once I washed them they were quite soft. Well like, okay if there, if there’s a time to put cream on or whatever then that would be the ideal time. 
 

Laura has eczema on her hands and found that doing taekwondo has made her more confident about using them.

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Laura has eczema on her hands and found that doing taekwondo has made her more confident about using them.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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From the whole way through my teens, the whole way through secondary school, I did taekwondo, and that’s indoor, but it's a lot of like movement with your hand and things so, I think you just overcome it; like any discomfort or any embarrassment or anything you just gradually overcome it by, you know, being, doing sport and things like that. So, it's probably quite a good thing for, you know, encouraging and making people more confident with the condition.

So I think like, well I guess with taekwondo, for example, it's a, taekwondo like it is about obviously kicking, but also punching a lot and using your hands a lot. So you sort of… without realising, it probably like really helped me because, obviously I can't just like not use my hands in a sport, in the classes. So, I think it sort of confronts it in a way; like you have to use it, like, you know you're putting your hand to people's faces; a lot of contact. Whereas, you know some people, it could have easily been the other way round – I could have like, over my teens, just become sort of very like, you know covered up, not wanting people to touch me, my hands and things like that. Whereas, like the taekwondo with the tactile side to it makes it a lot more just like, becomes the norm I think. 
Swimming was often talked about as an activity affected by eczema. Chlorine in the pool water often upset people’s eczema, though Evie said it helped her skin heal up faster. Being in salt water was painful for most people too, though Gary had found one sea that was fine with his eczema. One downside mentioned by Ele and Alice about going to the beach was that sand can irritate eczema. Several people said their eczema stopped them learning how to swim as a child.
 

Alice doesn’t like going to the beach or swimming in the sea because of the impact on her eczema.

Alice doesn’t like going to the beach or swimming in the sea because of the impact on her eczema.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 7
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I think the only thing I can think of is going swimming in the sea. If I were to do that there would be [laughs] a long kind of ritual afterwards with having to wash the salty water off and moisturise all over again because sea water makes it just flare up really badly and that was something that I had when I was little as well. I remember it just being a nightmare coming out of the sea afterwards and then just being itchy everywhere and stuff and then I suppose it’s also an element of having the sand stuck to you and like pebbles and stuff, ergh, ergh, just, yeh, that would be the main thing that I would avoid doing. other than that I can’t really, even actually swimming at the swimming pool – chlorine, it doesn’t make it flare up but when I get out of the pool my skin just feels really itchy and horrible, so that would be another incident of having to like grease myself up again [laughs] afterwards, yeh, generally stuff like that.
Socialising, hobbies and having fun

Eczema can affect many leisure activities, including hobbies with friends, family or on their own. For the people we talked to, their hobbies included: clubs, societies and groups; going out (to clubs and bars); bowling; going to the cinema; reading; creative writing; and travelling/going on holiday. Some of these activities can involve triggers which make eczema worse too, such as nights out which might include going to warm clubs, becoming sweaty with dancing and drinking alcohol.

As with exercise and sport, sometimes eczema made it physically uncomfortable to do some activities. Hazel was unable to do the washing-up at Girl Guide camp because her skin was sensitive to the detergent. Sarah says there have been times at parties when she’s had to go to the bathroom to scratch her legs because wearing tights has made them unbearably itchy. The irritation of eczema means that Katie-Lauren sometimes struggles to get comfortable when reading books or watching films. She says “it’s hard to concentrate” when she’s “itchy and squirming”. Evie tries to keep busy as she finds it helps distract her from itchy eczema.
 

Shams talks about how his eczema makes it difficult to spend time with friends.

Shams talks about how his eczema makes it difficult to spend time with friends.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 7
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A lot of times eczema's really bad. I ju-…some days I just won't leave the house. They'd phone me up and say, "Hey come along, we're going to this and this," and especially difficult when they're going to like a physical activity. I remember once they went bowling and they forcefully made me go with them, in a nice way, and my eczema was really sore that day; I was all sort of scrunched up, I could barely move, and I had to play bowling with them, and it was just difficult. Overall there have been many activities that I’ve missed out on. One was this place offered an opportunity to go paint-balling at one point, but I couldn’t go cos my eczema was really bad that time and I just wasn’t feeling that well. I knew if I went I'd probably become even worse so I had, had to just stay at home and it is really annoying especially when you go on things like social media later on and you see they’ve had a great time but you're just stuck at home, you know, applying your medication or waiting for your next doctor's appointment.
In other situations, social activities and hobbies were affected because the person’s confidence was knocked by eczema. Georgia explained how “my skin stops me from feeling comfortable in going out” and doing the things she’d like to, such as dancing. Choosing clothes for going out was a concern for some of the young women we talked to. They wanted to be able to dress up like their friends but sometimes found fabrics uncomfortable or were self-conscious about others seeing their eczema. Vicky cancelled plans when she felt low emotionally as well as physically run down. Aman tended not to worry about his eczema on nights out. He found it was not on his mind when he was having a good time with friends.
 

Ele feels self-conscious about her eczema and related scars when she goes out.

Ele feels self-conscious about her eczema and related scars when she goes out.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 2
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When I go out and stuff and you know you want to look nice want to wear a dress want to wear a heal want to look pretty and it's just like boom look at all this scarring I’ve got on my leg. And the last time I went out then as I drank throughout the evening even though I was trying to balance it out, you know, the alcohol with drinks that actually really hydrate then I could feel my skin tightening up throughout the evening where I was getting dehydrated and in the end the bottom of my leg actually looked like melted wax, it had really drawn together like it is quite severe just above my ankle which is why I wear tights and very rarely wear I’m not really wearing dresses at the moment like without tights or anything like that which is fine because it’s cold anyway. But in the summer I’m just really hoping that it doesn’t scar too badly because it’s going to look horrible if it does and I’ve got fairly severe scarring on my hand anyway, you can’t really see it because its covered in eczema at the moment but when it clears up then you can see that my, that it has scarred and it just doesn’t look nice. But yeh just from the point of view of going out and everything then it, it would be nice to not have to worry about how my legs look, you know, on top of the whole oh do I look fat in this, does my bum look big in this, does my skin look disgusting in this [laughter] it’s just that kind of thing.
 

Anissa challenges the idea that eczema is something to feel insecure about.

Anissa challenges the idea that eczema is something to feel insecure about.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Cos I have my big sister who’s, who’s always been really supportive and just been like, “If anyone cares about what you look like, that has no bearing on you, it’s just them.” But also, when it was getting bad, I just felt like, ‘Oh, I can’t leave the house. What am I going to do?’ And I wanted to leave the house. I didn’t want to stay in and it just made me feel like, ‘Well what am I going to do?’ So I, it started slowly. I didn’t like wake up one day and say, “I love my skin. Screw you.” 

[Laughs]

I started slowly and then I realised no ones’ going to say anything and if they do, everyone else in this place is going to look at them like they’re arseholes, because they are. And then I started thinking, ‘Well, if no one’s going to say anything, are they even noticing?’ Like when it was massive, like really bad and spread over big parts of my skin, I’d be like, ‘yes they can notice. I bet they think that it’s disgusting. I bet that I’m putting them off their food or something’. And slowly I’d go out and probably sit in a café and I’d be like quite, and I’d notice that no one, no one was looking. No one thought anything of it. They did not care.  Occasionally you’d probably got someone look at your arm and then walk off. And I realised that they may think like, ‘Oh, look at her skin,’ for five seconds and then they’ll never think about it again. Or even pass through their mind at all after that one second of them going, ‘Oh, look at her skin.’ And that doesn’t even, just because they looked it doesn’t mean that they’re hating like on your skin.
Going out to socialise can require lots of planning. Some people avoid showering daily, as it upsets their eczema. They have to think about when to shower and make sure there’s time to apply emollients. Georgia says she starts to “prepare” for going out a week in advance in order to get her skin in a good condition. Even then she feels very self-conscious and finds it hard to talk to or make eye contact with other people. It can feel like routines of using treatments get in the way of socialising. Shams sometimes doesn’t put on his emollients on when he’s been out with friends and then will “suffer the consequences” of itchy skin.
 

Katie-Lauren has to plan ahead about showering because moisturising is so time-consuming.

Katie-Lauren has to plan ahead about showering because moisturising is so time-consuming.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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If on that day I’m having a shower, because I try not to shower a lot, because it hurts. If I’m having a shower I will put eczema cream on before I have a shower, sometimes during the shower and then after I shower, so it’s like I’m not actually washing the cream off. It’s really irritating. 

I have to plan whether I can have a shower or whether I’ve got time to do all the creaming like before and after and during and if I’m going out somewhere, like if I’m going out on a Saturday then I will think about whether I should have a shower the night before and then just do cream in the morning or whether it’s going to be a long day and so I really should have a shower in the morning, so that I’m not sweaty all day and stuff like that. So it takes a lot of, a lot of planning. And if I’m just waking up and I’ve got a day off, if I am just in my room then I will be doing my eczema cream all day. I mean, it’s a good thing, but it’s also annoying, cos I will just keep scratching.
 

Cat finds it’s easier to cope with eczema in her social life nowadays than when she was at university.

Cat finds it’s easier to cope with eczema in her social life nowadays than when she was at university.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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At uni you spend a lot of time in the evenings going out and getting sort of hot and sweaty, and sort of nightclubs and things like that, which is not very sort of, like cos I think it was quite difficult in the first couple of years especially when that’s a lot of socialising happens in the first year, first year or two at university. Which it is quite difficult to sort of do that but you just, you wanna sort of make friends and things like that, so you just sort of have to grin and bear it and skip… instead [laughs]. No, that’s definitely not the thing to do [laughs]. 

[Laughs]

So yeah so, yeah I think yeah, it did impact a bit on that, but yeah by the time I'd sort of sorted it out I'd moved on with my social life, so you know, only go out once a week or something, so it was sort of easier to cope with and just sort of things like bars and pubs sort of, once you sort of move, a bit older, bit more mature, and that’s the sort of socialising you do. It's a bit easier to sort of cope with those sort of things so.
Having photographs taken at social events and seeing these on social media can add to feeling insecure about eczema (see also ‘friendships’ and ‘emotions’).
 

Aisha avoided having photographs taken of her when she was younger.

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Aisha avoided having photographs taken of her when she was younger.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I think I have only like a handful of photos from the time when my eczema was really, really bad on my face. Other than that I rarely ever took photos and if I did they'd be in sort of really dark lighting [laughs] or I'd have some weird facial coverage going on, like maybe I'd throw up a scarf or, you know. But I never took photos. 

I would run out of the room when photos were being taken. I would sort of say, "No, no I don’t want to take a photo," and I would put my hand up over my face and then people would be like, "Ah." Well, this was my family they'd be like, "Fine, just get out," [laughs] “Get out of the photo if you don’t want to be in it." And, I mean they were OK with it because I was just sort of me to them and they just wanted a photo of me but, me I was like, "I don’t want, I don’t this to be a sort of a immortalised on film forever." I don’t want… yeh this is before digital cameras so, this is when you couldn’t delete them; this is when you had to take them to get them processed and everything. So, yeh it's just… yeh other than that, insisting that you don’t want to take a photo or miraculously happen to move suddenly as the flash went off and just, yeh. I mean there are a few photos where, for instance, like I went on a residential trip I think, when I was about 14 and I covered my face up. I mean we were climbing a mountain but, still I covered my face up with like the coat and I drew the drawstring around my face so you could only see my eyes. And it's just one of those weird things where I just didn’t want to be photographed at all.
Holidays and travelling abroad can have practical difficulties and cause anxiety for some people. Eczema can affect decisions about holidays, such as where to go and how long to go for. Even so, many people said they looked forward to holidays for the chance to enjoy themselves and relax. One thing to consider is packing eczema treatments (such as emollients) and restrictions on flights about carrying liquids/creams and medication (see 'resources'). 

Many people thought warm and sunny climates helped their eczema clear up, but that sweating could irritate their skin. Whilst dry heat was okay, some people found humid climates triggered their eczema. Another concern for some was finding ‘eczema friendly’ sunscreen. Himesh, Laura and Georgia found it difficult to enjoy themselves whilst on holiday as they often worried about their eczema.
 

Georgia talks about the worries she had when she went on holiday.

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Georgia talks about the worries she had when she went on holiday.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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I remember the first time I went abroad with my friends, I was scared about whether I’d lose my suitcase and all the creams that were inside it. And what would happen if I did and what I’d be able to get if I didn’t have them. Or if I’d even be allowed them in the country, because I know some countries have certain restrictions on what you can take in medically wise and things like that.

I went with my boyfriend and his brother and his wife we went to Italy. And it was quite cold, so it wasn’t, there wasn’t a lot of heat to aggravate my skin and make me hot and bothered. But it wasn’t too cold that it would dry out my skin. So it was just right in that sense. But I remember packing and getting really stressed out about what I could take and about certain weights and what clothes I should wear and things like that. And it came out on my face and on my skin all over my arms and my chest area. And I was red, like bright red and puffy for about the first half of the holiday. And then I calmed down and I was relaxing and enjoying myself and it seemed to dissipate and it went back to normal almost. So in that sense it was quite traumatic for the sense that it was my first holiday and I had to sort it all out on my own. And I had to worry about all those little things that people shouldn’t have to worry about [laughs] when they go abroad. It’s just little things that really irritate me that, about having eczema. 
Some people had lived abroad for periods of time and usually found ways to cope with their eczema. Ele said her eczema improved whilst living in a hot-dry climate as she finds the skin helps her skin. Gary saw doctors in other countries and was able to communicate in a different language about the treatments he wanted for his eczema.
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