Eczema: Don’t be Misinformed

Just reading the title will leave some people wondering what Eczema is. Others will have an understanding of the condition — and yet other people will grimace in disgust. Those people are the ones who do not bother to self-educate or get their facts right before judging people who suffer from this chronic skin disorder.

Eczema is a skin condition which can appear all over the body or in isolated patches around the elbows and behind the knees.  The skin is extremely dry, inflamed and itchy, sometimes causing the skin to crack and when it gets really bad, weeping sores, crusts and blisters can start to form.  It is a constant cycle of itching and scratching, and it’s extremely hard to break.  It affects people of all ages, there is no miracle cure and it is in no way contagious – contrary to what people may think.


Like my mother, I too was born with eczema.  As a baby, I was wrapped up in cotton sheets rather than dressed in clothes as the fabrics would stick to my skin.  I was smothered in moisturising creams and bandages.  I grew up but the routine was always the same – oily bath, applying creams and then bandages.

My mother was an army wife, and on one occasion she decided to take my sisters and me to the park. There were a few other wives and their children there too, but once they saw us approaching, they began to stare and whisper before quickly rushing out of the park.  That moment broke my mum’s heart. Eczema is not contagious;  you will not catch anything by breathing the same air or sharing the same space as someone who has the condition.

It is due to people with these perceptions that growing up was hell for me.  In school, nobody would partner me in PE for fear of ‘catching something’;  I wore tights under my skirt so that my class mates would not stare at the scabs on my legs (as a result, I would spend hours at home after school trying to peel the tights off) and swimming classes were just out of the question.  I was constantly called names such as ‘scabby’ and ‘raspberry legs’.  Every day was a repeat of the day before, name calling and bullying.

When I started a new high school (due to moving house) I hoped things would be easier, but unfortunately the stigma followed and I soon became the victim of a school-wide bullying campaign.  Eventually, my mother took me out of school and I was home-taught for the final eight weeks before I had to go back to school for end of year exam preparation.

Throughout childhood, I spent many weeks in hospital on numerous occasions getting treatment for my skin.  It was a relief to be surrounded by people who had the same condition as me, who would sympathise rather than judge and bully.

Eczema is inherited, and often accompanied by asthma and severe allergies.  My mother was born with it and still suffers with it 50 years later.  My older sisters were born with perfect skin and I thank my lucky stars that my own daughter, who is now six months old, was also born with normal skin.

I am 28 years old now and lucky enough to have grown out of my eczema – it was completely gone by the time I reached my 18th birthday.  Now I enjoy wearing shorts and singlets and letting the air hit my skin.

But thousands of others are not so fortunate and continue to suffer for many, many years throughout childhood and adulthood.

The next time summer comes around, spare a thought for all of those people who suffer from eczema (and also Psoriasis)  who choose not to strip down to their shorts and tee shirt or swimming togs for fear of  being taunted, bullied or stared at.  And for those who do dare to bare, it takes a lot of encouragement to do so.

For more about living with eczema, treatment and other information, visit the Eczema Association of Australasia (AU, NZ), the UK National Eczema Society or the National Eczema Association (US).

My name is Shelley and I am 28 years young.  I was born in England, raised in Scotland and now living in Auckland, New Zealand after emigrating here in 2005, with my mum and step dad. I had my first taste of travelling in 2001, when I was 18, and spent 3 months at a summer camp in the Unites States. I would recommend that to anyone!! My partner Bryce and I recently had a little girl, Mickie-James (MJ), who is now 5 months old. I am a very proud mummy, my daughter is my world and I treasure the time I spend with her, watching her grow and develop her own personality. I currently work in the healthcare sector and next year, I plan to start studying a National Diploma in Journalism. When I am not working, I enjoy going to the cinema, taking photographs, writing, spending time my MJ and relaxing with my family and friends.

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  1. I found this story to be very informing and also touching. It was lovely to read a story that came from someones personal experience and not someone in the medical profession, where its all facts and figures and the person is seen as an illness and not a person x

  2. I was a bully once, not any more though

  3. Jack, good for you!! bullying is a terrible thing, made so much worse when the bully doesnt understand the circumstances.

  4. I am the proud mother of Shelley, I have watched my daughter grow from a quiet little girl with a skin condition to the confident young lady and mother that she is today. I hope this story touches the doorsteps of everyone out there who are suffering or who is caring for someone with a skin condition, who might just read this and know that they too may not suffer forever, hang in there, your child will surprise you too, like shelley does for me every day. I am so proud of you shelley xxxxxx

  5. I found this story very true of the ways of society today, in the past & future behind bullying that goes on every minute of the day…I suspect the author of this article was “lucky” in my view that she didnt turn to taking her own life, as some bully victims have done, in the past and will remain to do so in the future…Am not gonna kid myself by saying I never bulied anyone for having spots on their face or anything else that was “different”, because I would be lying. I do feel guilty for those years in my past but I try to be a better person every day to make up for it. I am just glad this girl got through what must of been a whole chapter of hell in her life, to now see her, as a strong individual with a child of her own, and obviously a talent for writing. I wish her all the best for the future x Gill x

  6. Thank you for such a heart warming article. My cousin has Eczema and when he was a child I remember watching him scratching constantly and crying with the frustration and pain when his skin began to bleed. I remember him coming home from school after being subjected to another day of being bullied and called names. I wished I could have protected him from other peoples ignorance but I couldn’t. Hopefully this article will educate others and protect other children. Thank you for your honesty, I am glad the bullies never stopped you from living a happy life and I am pleased to say that they have not stopped my cousin either! Would love to read similar articles that you have written.

  7. What a great perspective from someone in the know. I hope this gets out to the people who need it. Well done Shelley. What an amazing piece of writing. Keep it up. Is that you in the pic?

  8. It makes a change to read such a personal article…good for you Shelley. Im sure your story, written in such a touching way, will help others understand Eczema whether they suffer from it or not.

  9. what an inspirational story Shelley, thanks for sharing.

  10. This made me cry =(. My brother has severe Eczema and same with my sister. I don’t have it but both my kids have it. I sympathise with the cotton wraps and oily baths and the constant smell of pinetarsol and bleach. I remember when my son was younger and i was at church. A lady actually patted me on the shoulder during the service, looked in disgust and said in a rude tone “Whats wrong with him?”. I was so upset. I was beside myself when i found out about his severe allergies, then Eczema, then asthma, Glue ear, and finally clogged adanoids..aparently they all come as a lovely group of fuzzies…I was upset because i knew what my brother and sister went through..and STILL goes through to this day and it was so hard for them and took a toll on my mum. I wished he didnt have the same torment. I think for stories like this, Eczema is more well known now and people are aware of it.

    It is more common now and i find i don’t get the same stares as my brother once got. People ask in a concerned way now, other than in disgust. With alot of support from friends and family and alot of trial and error, things are now starting to seem clear. This is one thing you can try and relieve but you can’t change that it’s there. I love my son and its very upsetting when he is crying in pain, not wanting me to touch him. But i know that there are so many other people struggling out there with the exact same problems. which even though i don’t talk to them all or makes me feel not alone it it

    Thanks Shelley

  11. I have eczema too, but lucky for me, it’s generally mild and usually just affects my hands or random patches of skin on my torso and legs. I need a constant supply of hydrocortisone, and living in a dry climate (Utah) can be Hell, but others rarely even see my eczema. The worst I experienced growing up was the burning pain that resulted from putting even the gentlest lotions on my hands. Still, I’ve been surprised by the grimaces I sometimes get if I mention that I have eczema. I had no idea it was so much worse for those with visible patches of eczema.

    Why on Earth are people so horrified?

  12. I remember you having to oil and bandage Shelley and both of you crying whilst you did it, unfortunately she didn’t understanding that it was for her own good. I have two grandsons that have both suffered with Eczema, one was connected to Lactose Intolerance and the other to Infantile Eczema, luckily they have both out grown this but it brought back many memories of Shelley as a little girl and you saying “don’t scratch hen”.

  13. I found with my son, people thought he had scabbies or some type of contagious disease when his eczema would weep or something. Maybe they think they will catch it or something which is odd

  14. Thanks everyone for the positive feedback. Eczema is a terrible condition to live with but it is manageable and treatable. Emily, i do not understand why eczema makes people so horrified but i guess that is no surprise when you think of the society we are living in. I am glad my article has got us all talking and it seems that most people who responded either have eczema themselves or know of someone who has it – it is far more common than we realise xx

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