Atopic Dermatitis and Stress – What’s the Relationship?

March 6, 2018

We don’t tend to relate physical problems with emotional ones, like stress. However, the relationship between these two is quite strong. In fact, all emotional problems have a closely related physiological problem. Here, we are going to talk about atopic dermatitis, also known as atopic eczema. Many people suffer from this condition in embarrassed silence, which leads to a myriad of other problems. One of those is relationship problems. How? Read on to find out.

Atopic dermatitis is an illness that affects the skin. It causes intense and severe itchiness. We usually call the marks that it produces on the skin “eczema.” They are like flaky skin rashes that are extremely itchy. They can appear all over the body and also on the face.

It is important to mention that atopic dermatitis does not have a cure. People who suffer from it can use specific treatments to prevent or alleviate the symptoms. However, there is always a risk that the symptoms will return. In fact, the weather can affect atopic dermatitis. Fall and winter tend to aggravate the flare-ups.  Proper hydration and treatment can keep the condition at bay.

“In Spain, up to 15% of the population suffers from severe atopic dermatitis.”

-Javier Ortiz de Frutos (dermatologist) and Ainara Rodriguez (allergist)-

Atopic dermatitis and its effect on children

Atopic dermatitis can affect children at a very young age. It can make them irritable and fidgety and make it difficult for them to sleep at night. Affected babies can cry a lot without an apparent cause. All of these problems can lead to difficulty concentrating due to a lack of sleep.

We also have to consider the emotional consequences of atopic dermatitis in young children. The itchiness and unbearable discomfort can cause irritability and anger. That can lead to a lot of tension. The reason for all of this is the stress that this skin problem causes.

baby with atopic dermatitis

But it doesn’t end there. Dermatitis can also cause insecurity and dependence. To better illustrate this point, we have part of an account from Delphine, the mother of a child with atopic dermatitis. Her son, Hugo, started experiencing symptoms of atopic dermatitis at the age of four months:

“When he was little, it didn’t both him. When he grew up, however, he developed a terrible complex  about his scaly skin. His friends at school made fun of him and he couldn’t sleep at night because he was so itchy. Sometimes he scratched his skin until it bled.”

As you can see, this skin problem can cause insecurity that makes it difficult to relate to other children. Adults have to help the child overcome these problems from the start. They must give them the tools to maintain a healthy self-esteem. Otherwise, the consequences might become chronic when they reach adulthood.

Adults with dermatitis

Adults with atopic dermatitis suffer in a different way. In adults, the condition compromises their emotional management and puts it to the test. People suffering from atopic dermatitis can be irritable and short-tempered. At the same time, they might have problems with anxiety or even depression. Let’s take a look at some real-life examples.

For an adult with atopic dermatitis, public speaking can be truly terrifying. Nervousness can cause an unexpected flare-up at the worst possible moment. The shame that this causes can increase anxiety, which aggravates dermatitis even more. The individual ends up in this vicious cycle and it is difficult to find a way out.

Stressed man

There are other situations that are difficult for an adult with atopic dermatitis. Going to the beach, for example, or even having intimate relations with another person. The main problem are the marks that dermatitis flare-ups sometimes leave behind. If a dermatitis patient scratches, the problem gets worse and the marks can take a long time to go away.

The unpredictability of dermatitis also causes anxiety. The patient doesn’t know when it will show up, what it will look like if it will affect the face… All of those worries trigger stress, which doesn’t help. Dermatitis can cause stress, but stress also aggravates dermatitis. This situation can provoke low self-esteem in dermatitis sufferers due to insecurity, fear, and shame. In some cases, it leads to depression.

“Atopic Dermatitis is a bad companion. It shows up without notice. It hurts you for no reason, and it knows what you want to do and when so it can ruin it for you. You don’t know what it will be like when you wake up in the morning. It’s hard to know if you will be able to sleep tonight. Maybe you’ll lie down and all of the sudden your face will start burning and your skin will crack, leaving it raw and irritated.”

-Jesus Maria Torres Garcia (dermatitis sufferer since the age of 4)-

woman with picture of dermatitis

As you can see from this article and especially the personal accounts from individuals with this condition, dermatitis and stress are related and form a vicious cycle that causes a lot of suffering. Patients don’t know when to expect dermatitis. They can never be sure in what unfortunate situation their dermatitis will flare-up, nor when it will decide to leave.

For many patients, finding the proper treatment is another frustration to add to the list. That’s because every person’s skin is different and reacts differently to treatments. And, even if you have everything at hand to prevent or control a dermatitis flare-up, the question is always at the back of your mind – when will it happen next?