Thanks to a breakthrough pill, child and adult sufferers of this often painful and embarrassing skin affliction may find relief as soon as next year.
More than 30 million Americans know the pain and embarrassment of living with eczema. The chronic skin condition, which drys out and reddens patches of a person’s skin, is incredibly itchy, sometimes to the point of feeling tortuous. It can occur on almost any part of the body, including facial skin, and may look unsightly, as well. The dry ruddy skin often gets mistaken for any number of contagious diseases by people who don’t recognize the condition, or may not know what eczema is. Sadly for kids and their frustrated parents, eczema is most common among babies and small children, with as many as 10 percent of infants suffering from itching or oozing rashes.
But sometimes eczema resurfaces in adulthood. Just ask Kathleen Barron, a 25-year-old woman from Virginia, who has struggled with eczema on and off during her lifetime.
She first suffered from eczema as a child, but went through a calm period up until a flare-up from a ring she was wearing two years ago. Doctors gave her topical corticosteroids for her hand, but that backfired when it caused her to get periorificial dermatitis, or face eczema triggered by steroids. It was a nightmare.
|It was uncomfortable shaking hands because the eczema was [on] my right hand.”|
“It was like having acne as a teen all over again,” says Barron. “My eyelids peeled and flaked, under my eyes peeled and flaked, so did my jawline.”
As if that weren’t difficult enough to endure, she says that the area around her mouth scabbed and bled when she moved her lips to eat. She lived with her face eczema for about a year until she used Elidel, an immunosuppressant topical cream combined with doxycycline, over the course of a month.
“My hand wasn’t so bad as my face. My skin peeled off and it was very red and inflamed. Also super itchy. But it could be easily mistaken for a burn or something so I received no comments. It was uncomfortable shaking hands because the eczema was [on] my right hand.”
Among those who live with eczema, Barron’s story of flare-ups, frustration, and uncomfortable interactions is far from uncommon, and certainly not the worst case. But there may be hope on the horizon.
Success in the U.S. (& abroad) is near
A cure for eczema, which would mean relief for everyone affected by the skin condition, is developing as you read this article. In fact, several studies have made giant breakthroughs just in the past few months.
In the U.K, a new study at the University of Edinburgh suggests that the answer to the cure for eczema may lie in our body’s natural defenses. Researchers have found an important compound called human beta-defensin 2 (hBD2), which helps protect the skin barrier from damage caused by harmful bacteria. By applying it to skin, the epidermis is able to better protect itself against bacterial damage. Dr. Donald Davidson, a lead researcher on the study, told The Daily Mail, “This is a great chance to work with something that the body makes naturally to develop new therapies for atopic eczema, which affects so many people’s lives.”
|Nearly 40 percent of participants getting the drug saw all or almost all of their rash disappear.”|
But there may be even bigger advances happening here at home in the U.S. On October 1, 2016, The New York Times reported that two clinical trials on severe eczema, saw treatment success with an oral drug called dupilumab: “Most patients … reported that the itching began to wane within two weeks and was gone in a few months, as their skin began to clear. Nearly 40 percent of participants getting the drug saw all or almost all of their rash disappear.” One woman in the trial even says she experienced immediate relief, and, for the first time ever, her itching was gone.
The Wall Street Journal estimates that these new drugs for eczema may go to market by 2017. And a New York Times source says that it’s likely to be as soon as March 29, 2017, and will be branded Dupixent if it comes to market. The potential price is not yet known.
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What this means for people with eczema
Many people with eczema are currently struggling to stay in control of this condition, as the topical creams and treatments available now are often only partially effective, if at all. So the idea of a cure that works as well as the U.S. trials indicate is fantastic news for women like Barron, who, even though she found some relief with Elidol for her face, has not yet seen her eczema plight come to an end: “I still have flare-ups when I get stressed or do a lot of traveling.”
Those recurrences present both personal and public discomfort, but Barron points out that her wallet takes a hit, too. Overall, she says that she has probably spent more than $400 in treatments and has even driven to dermatologists across the state to fix her eczema. Yet it remains a problem. “It’s frustrating when no one seems to know how to fix things, and it’s on your face,” she says. “There was lots of crying, lots of money spent on medicine that didn’t work, plus special diets, new pillows, and more.”
|One lady at work asked me what was wrong with my face … I felt really self conscious.”|
So a cure could mean less tears, less stress, and less discomfort, physically and socially. Even just heading into work in the morning could become easier for people with eczema.
“Thankfully, I only received a few comments about it because most people in my life are very kind,” she says. “One lady at work who is mean asked me what was wrong with my face and if I was having a reaction. I felt really self conscious.”
And Barron says that even well-intentioned comments about her eczema can upset her: “My biggest issue was when people told me ‘It’s not that bad,'” she says. “That made me feel so angry. I know they were trying to be nice, but it belittled how horrible I was feeling.” In general though, Barron says that her experience with the physical pain and inconvenience caused by eczema has been far worse than the social stigma.
MORE TO READ: Living with an invisible illness
Barron hopes an effective cure will come soon, not just for herself but for the many other adults and children who are dealing with eczema on a daily basis:
“Honestly, the potential for a cure makes me feel so relieved and happy for other people that had it so much worse than me,” she says. “Especially children who cannot control their scratching. It will mean so much to those families.”
Support groups for people with eczema
Whether you parent a child with eczema or you suffer from it yourself, these resources and online communities can be helpful.
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