Eczema sufferer who’s been battling itchy, flaky skin since ditching steroid creams says strangers fear she’s contagious

A WOMAN has revealed how her eczema makes her skin feel like it's "five times too small" and gets so painfully hot and tight it rips open and oozes.

Irene Tempelaars, 29, has opened up about how people will stare at her when she goes food shopping, and how cashiers with try and avoid handing her receipts because they think she is contagious.

The council worker from Nijmegen in the Netherlands has experienced the skin condition – which affects an estimated 15m people in the UK, and causes symptoms of dry, red, itchy, scaly skin – on her knees, her neck, back, stomach and hands since she was just ten years old.

She was prescribed increasingly strong steroid creams by doctors for more than a decade.

But by the summer of 2018 the condition spread and was soon covering all of her body apart from her lower legs and feet – indicating that the steroid creams had stopped working.

To find a solution, Irene searched the hashtag #eczema on Instagram and came across fellow sufferers who had decided to withdraw from using steroid cream – a painful process known as Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW) – and use other solutions.

What is eczema?

Eczema (also known as dermatitis) is a dry skin condition.

It is a highly individual condition which varies from person to person and comes in many different forms. It is not contagious so you cannot catch it from someone else.

In mild cases of eczema, the skin is dry, scaly, red and itchy. In more severe cases there may be weeping, crusting and bleeding. Constant scratching causes the skin to split and bleed and also leaves it open to infection.

Eczema affects people of all ages but is primarily seen in children. Those who “grow out” of their eczema during early childhood may see it recur again in later life.

Source: National Eczema Society

Irene decided to stop using the cream in November 2018 and focus on finding a more long-term solution for her eczema.

“Over the years, my eczema covered my whole body except for my lower legs and feet," she explained.

"Sometimes I was completely covered and sometimes I had a few patches which disappeared after a while.

"However, the worst parts were always my arms, upper back, neck and hands.

“In the summer of 2018 I noticed the eczema was spreading to my face. It started with a small spot on my forehead, but the eczema soon spread to my eyelids, temples and upper lip.

"I felt super frustrated and I didn’t understand why my body couldn’t just behave.”

How can eczema be treated?

Treatments for atopic eczema – the most common form of eczema – can help to ease the symptoms.

There's no cure, but many children find their symptoms naturally improve as they get older.

The main treatments for atopic eczema are:

  • emollients (moisturisers) – used every day to stop the skin becoming dry
  • topical corticosteroids – creams and ointments used to reduce swelling and redness during flare-ups

Other treatments include:

  • topical pimecrolimus or tacrolimus for eczema in sensitive sites not responding to simpler treatment
  • antihistamines for severe itching
  • bandages or special body suits to allow the body to heal underneath
  • more powerful treatments offered by a dermatologist (skin specialist)

Source: NHS

But while Instagram has helped her feel less alone about going through TSW and be less reliant on steroid cream, it has been difficult for her to come to terms with how her skin has changed over the past six months as a result.

“My eczema spread all over my face when I gave the steroids up," Irene explained.

"I started oozing in random places and my skin was hot, painful and got so tight it would rip open.

"It feels like your skin is five times too small and it’s being stretched around you.

“I was used to itchiness because of my eczema but nothing can prepare you for the intense itch TSW causes. It makes you want scratch your skin to the bone.

"Some other thing I experienced when I stopped using steroids were swollen eyelids and lymph nodes, insomnia, zero energy and joint pain. I also had a hard time regulating my body temperature.

“I'm very open about TSW to my friends and family so they never comment on my skin in a negative way.

"Although I do notice people watching when I go food shopping and sometimes the cashier hesitates to give me the receipt.

"I think it’s because she's afraid it's contagious. I wish people would just ask so I could explain that it isn't."

Irene added that she is hopefully her skin will heal as soon as possible as she goes through TSW.

"If you’re lucky, you'll heal in a couple of months, but in most cases it will take a year before you start to get better," she added.

"I think the uncertainty is one of the hardest parts about TSW. It's a roller-coaster, you never know how you'll wake up in the morning, when the healing will start or whether it’s going to last."

Yesterday, we told you how a mum uses a "get paid" pinboard to get her lazy kids to help out around the house.

We also revealed how you can buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner for your child for £20.

And a woman fulfilled a stranger's dying wish by using his frozen sperm to have a child.

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