Monday, 19 December 2011

Crusader Emma T.: Our Battle Against Our Sons' Eczema And Why Frugi makes us Smile

No parent can easily bear to watch their child suffer. The worst feeling when it comes to protecting our children from harm is that of helplessness, not knowing what to do to help them.
One in ten children suffer from a condition called eczema, a form of dermatitis, which is an inflammation of the outer layer of the skin, symptoms of which include dryness, redness, swelling, blistering, flaking, crusting, cracking, and even bleeding. It can be very painful, and the persistent itching can be a great burden for any person, especially children. It is terrible to watch one’s child go through repeated flare-ups and sometimes very long periods of constant discomfort, which are often aggravated by many environmental factors, some of which can we can hardly protect them from. Luckily, there are also some very helpful products which can treat and reduce flare-ups, from creams and other suitable hygiene products, and nutritional products to clothing and toys, etc., which are made from non-aggravating/non-toxic materials and ingredients.
There are many great sites that provide information on eczema and its possible triggers and treatment options, and since we crusaders are not medical professionals, we cannot assume to be able to give great advice for specific cases. All we can do is share experiences and tell you a little bit about how the availability of certain products and companies have made our lives a bit brighter and easier. The following is an account by our lovely crusader Emma whose sons have both suffered from eczema:

I have two sons, now aged 5 and 2, and they both have had infantile eczema.  I was quick to congratulate myself when the eldest's improved, but much faster to blame myself when my youngest's did not.
Our eldest son had eczema: little patches behind his knees.  We were careful about bathing - no bubbles and very mild soap, experimenting for a limited time with some creams and adding ointment to the bath. It was manageable, sometimes a little sore, but with the prescribed cream it was quickly resolved, and by the time he was two, the symptoms had nearly disappeared.  We knew there was a family history: I had eczema as a child, and my partner's brother and cousin both still suffer in their twenties, so we were mindful. In our eldest's case, we felt that we were victorious and gave ourselves parenting gold stars.
My second son, Finn, had lovely newborn skin, but I was no longer duped by promises of Johnson baby perfect skin. I knew what to expect and, until three months, I praised myself for using only organic creams and enjoyed his skin, with its spots and wrinkles.  Then he cut his first tooth and – whether it was hormones or just excessive dribble, the change in weather and temperature, or some other factor – angry, red patches started to appear. These patches were on his face and neck, mainly in the folds of skin in his neck where the dribble collected, the skin rubbed together, and the neckline of his clothing rubbed, too.

I visited my GP who explained that trial and error was the best method as everyone's skin was different and was given a selection of creams with which to experiment. This seemed good advice and I was prepared for the possibility that some of the creams might make it worse. Unfortunately, however, it seemed to get worse much quicker than it ever improved. It was a trying time, I was sleep deprived, trying to meet the needs and demands of two children, and I found it near impossible to keep the treatment as regularly as I should. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember which cream I had last applied. Managing anything was proving problematic. 
Finn's eczema was so visible, it appeared that everyone, family, friends, strangers, noticed and couldn't help but express their opinion.  As a second-time Mum, I knew that babies attracted a lot of usually kindly-meant attention. However, it seemed that everyone wanted to comment on Finn's blemished face: had I noticed it, wasn't it bad, what was I using, had I tried this product, etc. ?  Frankly, the advice and suggestions were dizzying.  I felt guilty that it had got to be so sore, as I told myself that he hadn't been born with it and had had three months without it.  Had he come across something in his environment – possibly our home?  I'd carried him in a sling initially, had cleaned and hovered with him in it. Had I been daft enough to use surface sprays with him in the sling, and why would I do such a ridiculous thing?  Perhaps it was the dust?  I was breastfeeding, so was it something I was eating?  I didn’t seem to be able to make it better - wasn't I doing enough?  It seemed to add another dimension to what seemed like the already enormous responsibility of looking after two little ones.       
I booked another appointment with a different GP (the wait was so long to see my usual GP), who dismissed this as localised to a few areas, nothing to worry about, and just recommended a different cream. It was late Autumn, and everyone got sick with a nasty stomach bug, the symptoms of which lasted with the boys for a fortnight. I was exhausted.  Finn had lost so much weight, I had him checked by yet another GP, who again was very dismissive. I was starting to feel that they suspected I had some sort of National Health Loyalty Card, with reward points for frequent visits. Then Finn caught a nasty cold, and I was so busy just going through the motions of looking after everyone that I tried to manage his various symptoms as best I could. When I took him to yet another GP, he was quick to point out his “very nasty infection” on a patch in the fold of his neck, which I had been trying my best to treat for close to two months. This time, however, I was reprimanded for not bringing him sooner, and more potions and lotions were prescribed.

That patch improved somewhat but the area around his mouth flared up again and cracked open one evening when he woke up for a nappy change. I worried about infection and didn't want to wait too long again. However, I knew that the cream prescribed for the infected area on his neck contained strong chemicals. I don't like the idea of applying these to babies' skin anyway, especially not around the mouth, and the guidance on the packaging seemed to suggest it wasn’t suitable for that location. I looked on the NHS Direct website but couldn't find whether it was safe to apply, and as the surgery was closed, I phoned NHS Direct, who redirected me to the out-of-hours Doctor.  The nurse who handled the call couldn't answer my question either, so she asked me to drive the 12 miles to see the Emergency Doctor. I am fully aware that eczema isn't necessarily an emergency case, and at 9pm on a November evening, the last thing I want to do is get in a car with my five month old baby and drive 12, dark, cold, miles to see a Doctor, but I was concerned for my son, and wanted an answer to my question, and so I did as she said. 
The Emergency Doctor forcefully told me I was misusing the service, and I snapped. Since becoming a mother, it felt like I had received so much conflicting advice from medical practitioners and had my judgement about needing to see a doctor and make an appointment criticised (on record, I only make a GP's appointment when I feel it is absolutely necessary). I was frustrated that none of the advice and practices seemed to be working, I was tired and angry. The Emergency Doctor didn't seem to realise that I didn't want to be in that appointment room. I explained that I never asked to see a doctor, I had just asked for a health professional to answer my very clear and simple question about applying a certain cream to the skin around my child's mouth. I was given apologies, prescriptions for more creams and a soap substitute to use in the bath, and a follow-up - with yet another Doctor. 
I started taking stock of my medicine cupboard, which now looked like a pharmacist’s, quite literally overflowing with prescription creams and ointments, every doctor, it seemed, favoured a certain product, all of which contain a list of ingredients which I didn't recognise. Overall, there had been very little change to Finn's eczema.
In the first conversation with the initial GP, I remembered telling her that, in my opinion, allowing the area to dry out and having clothes that didn't aggravate it would help, but I hadn’t yet achieved that, especially due to layering up in the cold season.  Feeling I was losing the battle with the artillery of prescription creams, I decided to try a new strategy. 
Rather than regarding his eczema as problem skin which needed treating, I started to think of it as highly sensitive skin that needed protection and care. I searched on the internet for clothing made from organic and natural fibres and kept reading the words “recommended for eczema”, “for the most delicate skin”, “gentle” and “breathable”, and finally seeing clothing which seemed designed with children like my son in mind. I suddenly started feeling like we were in with a fighting chance. We also found Frugi organic cotton vests, without label in the neckline and a wide envelope neck. On their website, I found organic cotton t-shirts with tractors and trucks on them, with the same wide envelope neck, in bright, bold colours, and I smiled.  When the items arrived, and I felt their quality, their softness and their general cheery gorgeousness, I smiled some more.  My son looked gorgeous, we all smiled, and I became a devoted Frugi customer. 

Finn's eczema did improve at this point. In my memory, it happened rapidly, and while I am certain that the clothes played their part, it would be over-simplistic to say this was the only variable.  However, by changing his environment - his clothing, using fewer household chemicals, eating more organic products, using creams with organic ingredients, I was taking charge – and managing his eczema. It seemed that by doing less, I was doing more, by changing some aspects of our day-to-day life I ended up not having to worry about the around-the-clock, ritual cream routine. By doing things our way, by following our instincts a little, rather than trying to follow often conflicting and confusing advice, we were achieving something.
Finn is now a happy two-and-a-half year old. He still has eczema, little patches behind his knees. They fluctuate, and we are still learning: a recent holiday in Ireland suggests that softer water might be really beneficial. I have, at times, described our journey as a battle, with winners and losers, and there have certainly been points where I have felt like I was losing. From experience, the problem felt more manageable when I started focusing on simple changes to and choices in our everyday life, on what I could change, rather than on what I was failing to do or not achieving.  The first doctor was right in her emphasis on trial and error, but for us, thinking about our home environment and day-to-day living overall was easier that thinking about the effectiveness of a range of creams. 
We are aware of the fact that, compared to many others, our experience has been of a relatively short duration and may be considered minor. We have never had to stay in a  hospital or resort to bandaging or stressful allergy tests. I know that we have been very lucky to not have been worse affected, but anyone who has had to experience dealing with eczema, especially when it affects our children, will understand that it has nonetheless been a real source of stress and anxiety. We have been fortunate, Finn's eczema is now very manageable, thanks to some very lovely organic, natural products and companies such as Frugi, and I am so thankful and so very pleased for him that it is!
Emma T.