Living with a chronic condition like atopic dermatitis (AD) can be challenging and frustrating. The symptoms such as itching, rash, scaly skin, dryness, bumps, and papules have periods of remission and reappearance, with AD flaring up over and over again. As a chronic disease, it can cause significant physical and emotional distress. However, many people find that they can manage the symptoms of AD with proper treatment and healthy skin care habits.
The emotional toll of atopic dermatitis
AD can cause significant emotional distress, especially for children. AD is most common during infancy and childhood, and kids with AD may experience teasing, bullying, or avoidance from their peers because of their skin’s appearance. While some people experience a remission or clearing of their AD as they age, AD can rarely appear in adulthood or may continue to relapse into adulthood. Older children and adults with AD also face stigma related to their skin condition.1
Some people with AD experience mood disorders, like anxiety and depression. Adults with AD have a higher incidence of anxiety and depression compared to their healthy peers, and children with AD have higher levels of emotional distress and more behavioral problems than children without skin conditions. Anxiety and depression also aggravate AD, worsening the symptoms such as itching.2
For those who experience emotional distress or who are dealing with mood disorders like anxiety and depression, help is available. Medications can ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and many people with AD benefit from seeing a mental health counselor or therapist to cope with the psychosocial and emotional aspects of living with a chronic, visible disease.2
The impact of atopic dermatitis on lifestyle choices
In addition to the emotional toll, AD means additional considerations regarding many everyday choices.
Cosmetics and perfumes
Makeup, hair dye, nail products, and perfume may contribute to an individual’s sense of style. However, these products can irritate the skin of people with AD. Makeup and cosmetic products that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free are less likely to cause irritation, and many people find that makeup products that are cream-based, rather than powdered, work better.
Exercise can also be a bit tricky for people with AD, as heat and sweat can be common triggers for relapses. Wearing loose-fitting, cotton clothing and avoiding exercise during the heat of the day can lessen overheating, and washing the sweat off the skin after exercise can help reduce the triggering effect sweat can have on AD.3
Sunlight helps improve AD, but exposure to sunlight also increases the risk of skin cancer. Some sunscreens contain chemicals that may irritate the skin of people with AD. Dermatologists frequently recommend physical blocker sunscreens, such as zinc and titanium, which sit on the surface of the skin and are not absorbed into it. People with AD should also look for sunscreens that are hypoallergenic and that provide broad-spectrum protection, which protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.4
Caring for a child with atopic dermatitis
Studies on the impact of AD to the family have found that the chronic flares of the disease compromises family functioning in financial, social, and personal ways. Mothers of children with AD have significant stress, with mothers of children with more severe disease reporting higher levels of stress. Social support is extremely important for parents of children with AD. Parents need a support network, which can include healthcare professionals, family, friends, clergy, a support group, and online support networks.5