The Itch Factor

Beneath the Surface

Last summer, Cindy Melvin's sons, Kendall, 12, and Coby, 4, didn't make it to the beach. They didn't play in their neighbors' yards, and they didn't get to go to camp with their friends. The boys have severe eczema that's aggravated by sweating and outdoor allergens like grass. "In September, we had a birthday party for Kendall outside," says Melvin, of Lakewood, California. "Halfway through, he started itching so badly that he had to go inside and watch the rest of his party from the kitchen window. He was devastated."

Stories like these make it clear that the impact of eczema is more than skin-deep. One study found that kids who'd had the condition for more than six months gave a lower rating to their quality of life than did kids with epilepsy or asthma. "Children with eczema usually have to learn to live with the discomfort of itching," says Sarah Chamlin, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. "Their parents try to stop them from scratching, and it may become a power struggle. And since kids also have trouble sleeping, they're often irritable and unable to concentrate in school." Unfortunately, anxiety can also make symptoms worse.

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