By Rebecca Drew
THIS BRITISH woman wants to show that eczema doesn’t just affect children after a painful outbreak in her early twenties left her unable to shower or get dressed with people telling her to “wash more” and asking why she hadn’t “grown out” of the skin condition and she was on antidepressants for six months.
Digital marketing executive, Amy Tuck (26) from Leamington Spa, UK, suffered with itchy eczema on and off since she was a child with her mum and dad making sure the skin on her arms and legs was always covered with ointments and creams so it was kept under control.
It was only during school P.E. lessons that her peers would notice her skin and ask her questions about it but other than physical discomfort, eczema didn’t faze her mentally. As a teenager, Amy’s eczema improved and was easy to manage and she only suffered the occasional flare up over these years.
However, in 2017 something changed and Amy suffered a huge eczema flare that couldn’t be controlled by her usual creams and kept getting worse, affecting her face, neck, chest, back, arms and legs. Amy was forced to work from home due to the crippling pain she was in which made it difficult for her to do everyday tasks like shower and get dressed.
This saw Amy struggle with her mental health and she went to her doctor for help and was put on a course of anti-depressants for six months to help her sleep and relax. In November 2017, she was referred to a dermatologist who found that her immunoglobulin levels were high and Amy was prescribed methotrexate, which is also a chemotherapy agent, to treat her eczema.
Since taking the drug, Amy has noticed a stark improvement in her skin, has regained her social life, met her boyfriend, John, but has experienced some side effects like exhaustion, minor hair loss and mouth ulcers.
Every now and then her skin still flares but improves after 48-hours, Amy is speaking openly about eczema in adults as she has been asked if she is contagious, why she hasn’t “grown out” of it yet and told to wash more by adults who wrongly assume the condition only affects children.
“As a child my eczema was mostly on my arms and legs, so was fairly easy to cover up. Physically it was itchy and uncomfortable, but it didn’t really affect me much mentally as a child,” said Amy.
“My mum and dad helped a lot with the application of creams and lotions and kept me in a strict routine to ensure my eczema stayed manageable.
“I only ever got a reaction at school during P.E. lessons. This was because I had to wear shorts and short sleeved tops, so it was visible. It was during this time at secondary school that I became a lot more aware of my eczema as other people noticed it and asked questions about what it was. Luckily it wasn’t too severe during my teens so it wasn’t much of an issue.
“When it flared in 2017, I felt really defeated, I had lived with it for so long and it was manageable that I was suddenly faced with something that I didn’t know how to control. I wondered what I had done wrong for it to get so bad, and at this time I was in my early twenties which should be the prime of my life and it really affected my health.
“It affected everything. I was lucky that the job I was in at the time allowed me to work from home, and I did that a lot because some days I was barely able to move. It was too painful to shower, get dressed, move around, basically all the things we took for granted I could not do.
“I’d always try and live my life to the full when my skin was okay, and then I’d pay for it later and spend three to four days at home in bed unable to function. This also led to a massive decline in my mental health and I eventually had to speak to my doctor, he was fantastic and supportive and put me on a course of anti-depressants.
“These were designed to help relax me and help me sleep better at night, which helped my skin to start to improve. It was also around this time that I was put on a course of methotrexate, an immunosuppressant, to help get my skin under control.
“I have tried pretty much everything. Every emollient, every cream, moisturisers, cutting down on certain foods, steroid creams, oral steroid tablets, you name it I’ve tried it. The methotrexate really is a last resort for me right now, and I’m grateful it’s working.
“In terms of side effects, it can be quite mixed. The day after I take methotrexate, I get what people call the ‘methotrexate hangover’ and you really feel like you’ve been out on the town, so Tuesdays are usually not much fun.
“I also suffer from exhaustion and a bit of hair loss too. The worst side effect is the mouth ulcers associated with the drug, but I’m taking folic acid supplements manage those.”
Eczema is more common in children with many noticing an improvement in their skin as they get older, but the condition can also affect adults.
Amy has atopic dermatitis which means that she’s not actively allergic to anything, but her eczema will flare up when she is stressed, rundown and when the weather changes.
She explained how methotrexate has changed her life and how taking it has boosted her self-confidence.
“I have become a person again, it’s allowed me to regain my social life, pursue the job I wanted, I’ve met my boyfriend and life just generally is so much better,” she said.
“I still have days where I flare and I can feel quite down about it, especially if someone makes a comment that my skin looks sore or asks what’s wrong with me you’d be surprised at how many adults have asked if I have some sort of contagious disease.
“But in general, I’m much happier, I’m no longer on anti-depressants and I meet with my dermatologist on a regular basis to make sure I’m heading in the right direction. We’ve spoken about the fact I will have to come off methotrexate soon and we’re putting a plan together to manage my skin when this date comes.
“I’ve got the old me back, i go out again, go on holidays, see friends, I’m so much more motivated now. Plus, the physical pain is minimum so I’m able to enjoy my life without crying in pain every time I move.
“People always associate eczema with children and make comments like; ‘shouldn’t you have grown out of that’, ‘maybe you should wash more’ or; ‘have you tried coconut oil’.
“The truth is eczema can affect you well into adulthood and the affects can be life changing. I became a shell of a person when my eczema was at its worst, the days where I couldn’t even get out of bed were just unbearable.
“So if you see someone or know someone that has eczema, just think before you speak. It might be a lot worse than it appears on the surface.
“’To those of you that suffer from eczema, or any other skin condition. It might seem like a really lonely place, especially as many people just don’t understand what you’re going through unless they have it themselves.
“I’m really lucky to have the support of my amazing boyfriend, family and friends. But there is also a great support network of people out there on social media, and it’s times like these where social media platforms can be a really positive place.
“I’ve met a lot of people on Instagram especially who get exactly what I’m going through, and they have been a vital support network throughout my healing journey, and hopefully I’ve been of support to them when they need it too.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to others, it could be just what you need to get you through a bad day.”