At certain stages Christine Pietersz’s eczema has become severe enough to force her to avoid going into her work office and even led to panic attacks in public.
The Melbourne woman has had the genetic disease since she was about five years old, and at different points in her life the red, scaly and sore rashes have covered large areas of her body, including her face and hands.
“It was oozing, bleeding, really, really itchy, like, really sensitive. I couldn’t even wear clothes half the time (or) having a shower, just water would burn the skin,” Pietersz said.
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“It would just feel like something is crawling on my skin 24/7.”
Pietersz said her mental health was five times worse when her eczema flared up, and she was constantly anxious about her appearance.
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“Even just getting dressed like that was just hard. I found most relief while I was sleeping in the dark room because to my mind, like I was asleep … I wasn’t thinking.”
Christine Pietersz has learnt to manage her eczema by managing her diet and stress. Credit: mysavingface/Instagram
Pietersz said her eczema would appear when there were changes in weather, and it would take her a while to control the symptoms.
Interestingly, while she was on a holiday in Thailand, where the weather was more humid, she described her skin as being “amazing” and her eczema gone.
Director of Epworth Dermatology Professor Rodney Sinclair explained that eczema means the skin has a reduced ability to retain moisture, so it is more dependent on the ambient humidity to maintain the skin’s external barrier, which is why in Thailand, Pietersz’s dermatitis was controlled.
“People who come to Melbourne, particularly when they come from Southeast Asia, when there’s a big change in humidity, often develop eczema for the very first time,” he said.
Unfortunately for people with eczema, the Australian Bureau of Metrology predicts hotter and drier conditions — known as El Nino — to persist until February 2024.
Christine Pietersz said her mental health suffered tremendously when her eczema was visible to other people. Credit: mysavingface/Instagram
El Nino occurs when sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become substantially warmer than average, causing a shift in atmospheric circulation that also leads to hotter and drier conditions.
Skincare brand Moogoo, which has products for people with sensitive, skin, reported its recent sales had doubled compared to the same time last year, a result which it believes is linked to El Nino.
Tips to control eczema
Sinclair said El Nino could mean much more frequent flare-ups for people with eczema, as their skin will not be able to rely on moisture in the air to maintain their skin barrier.
“When it gets hot, (the skin is) going to become itchy, and then when you scratch it, you’re going to develop eczema,” he said.
Sinclair had a number of tips for people set to suffer more severe rashes over the summer period.
Christine Pietersz has suffered from eczema rashes since she was five years old. Credit: mysavingface/Instagram
“That we’ve learned with eczema in recent years is that there are some new medications that turn off their itch, and when they turn off their itch, within 24 hours, people with even the worst eczema, when they stop scratching, they feel better,” he said.
“So what we’ve learned is that many of the features of the rash are secondary to scratching, and if you stop scratching, the rash goes away.”
Sinclaire’s tips to manage the eczema itch included avoiding being in the sun for too long, which can dry out the skin.
People with eczema should also wear breathable fabrics and use a light blanket to avoid overheating at night.
He also said to consider getting a humidifier at home, to increase moisture in the air and to frequently moisturise the skin.
“The best time to apply moisturisers is immediately getting out of the shower,” he advised.
Pietersz created a social media page to give people insight into how she managed her eczema without medications.
She said over a period of two years, she learnt what was triggering her rashes, which included diet, managing stress and finding products that agreed with her skin.
“It’s just giving people a sense of hope and educating people through my own experiences,” she said.
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