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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.