Eczema is so much more than a little dry skin

Eczema can have a wide-ranging impact on sufferers and their families.

By Created for a member of Innovative Medicines of Canada
Eczema is so much more than a little dry skin

Unless you’ve actually experienced atopic dermatitis, or eczema as it’s commonly known, it’s easy to write it off as nothing more than a little dry skin. But eczema – a chronic inflammatory skin condition distinguished by patchy, red, dry, intensely itchy skin1 – is so much more than that. And it can have a wide-ranging impact not only on the person who has it but on their family, social, work and school lives as well.

Eczema typically begins in infancy or before the age of 5.2 While some cases do resolve as the child grows, many won’t, and adult-onset eczema is also possible.3

Eczema forms in red patches that may ooze or be scaly or crusted.4 Patches may come and go and spread to anywhere on the body, though eczema does tend to favour the bend of the elbows and back of the knees, as well as the face, neck and hands.5 Patches are itchy, but scratching only inflames the area and aggravates the itch, providing little to no relief and often causing pain.6

Scratching may also break the skin, leaving it open to infection.7 “The primary feature is itch, and this is what is most impactful to patients and their quality of life,” explains Dr. Sonya Abdulla of Dermatology on Bloor in Toronto. “With itching comes scratching, and this can increase the risk of infection and trigger further eczema flare-ups.”

Eczema can also be constant and relentlessly uncomfortable, affecting sleep, mood and the social life of the sufferer as well as taking a toll on family members.8 “Itch is extremely uncomfortable for children – it impacts their sleep and focus,” says Dr. Abdulla. “Eczema is most challenging when it impacts a child’s social and developmental well-being.”

Certain things may trigger flare-ups of eczema – a particular soap or detergent, dust, certain fabrics, overheating and sweating, stress and some types of foods, among other things.9 Eczema may also flare up for no discernable reason, which only compounds how difficult the condition can be to manage.

According to reports from the Eczema Society of Canada and a recent 2020 Angus Reid survey:

  • Of the children who miss school because of the eczema, 25 percent miss 10 or more days per year10
  • 11 percent of children with the condition skip social activities10
  • 21 percent of caregivers and parents reported that their child experienced anxiety because of eczema10
  • Nearly 65 percent of Canadians with eczema state that they are unable to fall asleep due to itching and claim that they wake up during the night to itch11
  • 58 percent of caregivers claim that their child’s eczema contribute to interrupted or loss of sleep for the child11
  • 53 percent of Canadians diagnosed with eczema and children who suffer from eczema claim that bleeding and scratching impact their quality of life the most.11
  • 12 percent of respondents say that they can completely control any flare ups11

But while there is no one cure for eczema, it is possible to find the right management program for your child. That may involve determining triggers – and trying to avoid them – as well as experimenting with lifestyle changes, moisturizing and bathing routines, and treatment options.12


With the right program for you or your child, it’s possible to manage eczema well and live comfortably.13

“Winter is a common time for flare-ups, but prevention can start now,” says Dr. Abdulla. “And early treatment can relieve symptoms. Opt for short showers with warm water; use a gentle non-soap cleanser and apply any medication as recommended by your doctor. If you are struggling with eczema control, your doctor can help streamline your treatment plan to ensure you are using the most appropriate options to help you and your loved ones live your best life.”

For more information and resources about eczema, please visit

11 Canada Eczema Survey hosted on the Angus Reid Forum

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