Atopic eczema is the most common skin condition that affects children. Atopic, which refers to condition that is caused by allergy sensitivity, triggers symptoms like blisters, redness, crusting, scaling and pigmentation change. It has become one of the most chronic health problems faced by many children.
In 2014, a mother in Busan strangled her child who was suffering from a terrible case of atopic eczema. Her daughter had been diagnosed with the skin condition when she was only 15 months old and the dedicated mother had been taking care of her daughter. She spent five years, seeking for medical help for her daughter. However, her daughter’s condition did not improve. It deteriorated and the itchiness and rashes spread all over her body and face. The mother felt even more pressured as she was convinced that she had applied too much steroidal cream on her daughter that caused Cushing’s syndrome, a rare metabolic disorder. Unable to cope with the sickness, the 33-year-old mother strangled the child to death before she hanged herself.
Eczema patients go through a cycle of pain. From constant itching and scratching to severe itchiness, which eventually leads to infection. The condition does not only affect the patients, but also those around them.
Kim, a young mother in her early 20s who has a 6-month-old baby, empathized with the Busan mother who killed her child.
“I totally understand her,” said Kim. “My baby rubs herself until her entire body is caked with blood every night. And then I find myself screaming and yelling at her. I feel guilty because I ate a lot of bread when I was pregnant.”
It is a common belief among Korean mothers that wheat causes new-borns to become affected with eczema. Besides that, mothers in Korea have taken measures to minimize chemical irritants that would trigger eczema. They replace all their plastic food containers with glass bottles, worried that plastics emit hormone disruptors. Some polish their own rice, using a small rice polisher at home. They are doing it not because they are fussy and neurotic but because of the nature of atopic eczema.
Till today, no one knows the cause of the irritation. Apart from some basic rules, such as moisturizing the skin frequently and avoiding harsh soaps, mothers have to observe their children closely and look for what triggers their children’s symptoms. Although many patients choose to apply lotion to ease the itchiness, choosing the right one could be daunting. Patients have been recommended to apply steroid cream as the most effective relieve for their pain. However, there are serious side effects such as cataracts, stomach ulcers and excessive hair growth on the body when used for a long period of time. Plus, the cream prescribed by the clinics is expensive.
This medical condition has not only raised medical conditions that need to be addressed, but also social responsibilities. Kim Hyang-su, a graduate student of women’s studies at Seoul National University, wrote his master’s thesis on mothers raising children with eczema. After conducting many in-depth interviews with mothers, Kim wrote that “the vague diagnosis of each child imposes more labor and responsibilities on mothers.”
These mothers are also judged constantly by their families and neighbours. “Mothers who use only steroids are thought to be harsh, but if mothers resort to oriental medicine or nonmedical treatments, they are considered ignorant,” Kim wrote. “If they care about every single thing in the environment for their kids, they are criticized for being picky, but if they don’t provide the proper environment, they are considered lazy.”
According to a study carried out in the UK, 72 per cent of the parents said their children with eczema have troubled sleep and 35 per cent said this affected their behaviour at school. 86 per cent admitted to feeling 'helpless and upset' when their child is suffering from an eczema flare up.
A lack of sleep and frustration impacts other parts of life, too. 67 per cent of parents have suffered disturbed sleep as a result of their children’s eczema and 32 per cent have had to take time off work to deal with the condition. Nearly half said the stress and trauma of eczema has caused friction and arguments with their partner.
Indeed, eczema is a medical condition that affects people physically and psychologically.
Leong Kim Weng is a writer who writes about parenthood's articles. He uses this platform to reach out to the young parents. Writing for www.parentsdojo.com has given him the opportunity to learn and share interesting perspectives with others.