You Don't Have Eczema

Jeanne Sager

skinWelcome to winter, when everyone and their sister start scratching that red spot on their elbow and declares they've had it up to here with this blasted eczema.

Excuse me while I cough a little something into my napkin that rhymes with "mull bit."

Sure, you itch. But the chances are you don't have eczema.

You just have a bout of dry skin. It's itchy, it's red, and it's temporary. Once you get a good moisturizer worked in there (repeat a few days in a row), and put a humidifier in your house to make up for the dry heat flowing out of your air vents, you'll be as good as new.

My apologies -- eczema sounds more dramatic. It crops up in the news every third day with studies describing new diets and new causes. (It's linked to asthma! No, autism! Treat it with bleach! No, medicine!)

In reality, eczema affects around 30 percent of the population. One in 10 kids will develop it before age 5, but a good number will show signs as an infant and grow out of it by age 2.

Which leaves the rest of us.

You've got a few days of itchiness. Our arms feel like they're on fire, and the cool water works for only a minute or two. We've been rubbing a hairbrush vigorously over our feet for the past 30 minutes, and still no relief. And it's been that way for as long as we can remember.

Oh, it comes and goes, but unlike the temporary troubles of dry skin, eczema is a chronic condition. Once you get a flare-up controlled, you have to keep at the treatment, coating your body in lotions even on the stickiest of humid summer days to lock in the moisture that will keep the interminable itch at bay.

We're still using the same laundry detergent our moms used because it's the only one guaranteed to keep our shins from turning on us, and blast the lab tech who changed the make-up of our favorite perfume. He's going to get an e-mail from us. Just as soon as we stop scratching our wrists on the edge of the keyboard. 

Yes, you have dry skin because it's winter. You don't have a pigment-changing irritation that has turned your ankles brown. Permanently. Even five years after you got that particular break-out back under control.

You can enjoy the sauna at the gym without wondering: will the sudden temperature change when I go outside leave me in agony?

You don't have to avoid stress. Or wool.

You don't have eczema. Aren't you glad?


Image via mecredis/Flickr


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