Itching leads to inspiration

Angel is a teen who's lived with atopic dermatitis for most of her life

By Angel Nugroho

Published On: Mar 19, 2018

Last Updated On: Jul 15, 2021

I’ve had eczema for as long as I can remember. It’s always been fairly mild, and in some cases, my skin nearly cleared up. But inevitably a humid day or unpredictable sweating would set it off again.

My eczema felt like a never-ending cycle; just thinking about not scratching made me itch more. As I grow older and approach high school graduation, it often seems like a problem I’ll never be rid of.

Throughout elementary school, fellow students, and sometimes even teachers, would stare at the cuts and bruises on my arms. I remember kids always coming up, pointing right at my reddish, scabbed-over skin, and exclaiming “What’s that! That’s so gross.”

As a 5-year-old who couldn’t even pronounce “eczema” properly let alone explain it to others, I was usually at a loss for words. I mostly mumbled, “I’ve always had it.”

One time on a hike during summer camp, one counselor grabbed my arm and screamed that I had gotten into the poison ivy. I quickly explained to her that it was just a condition I already had. I even had to repeat that it wasn’t contagious until she calmed down.

I constantly felt alienated from my peers, unable to enjoy hot recess hours or pool swims without surely scratching away at my skin later.

My parents figured I would eventually “grow out of it.” As an elementary schooler, I had eczema, was underweight, asthmatic and allergic to peanuts and shellfish. As a high schooler, I continue to have eczema and am still allergic to peanuts and shellfish.

It seems there are only so many problems time chooses to solve. And when I began playing on the women’s golf team, the long hours in the sun made my eczema flare up constantly. Practicing in the summer for the fall season was unbearable, while many lotions and steroid creams only made me itch more. Fighting my eczema continues to be a struggle for me and my family.

Despite eczema being a burden for myself and others like me, it became my motivation for writing my graduation research paper. At my school, every student during their junior and senior years of high school has to write a thesis paper, do a service connected to their topic and present their research to a board of teachers.

Because I would be researching this subject for months, I wanted to choose a topic that I really cared about. For most of my life, I never knew what exactly caused eczema or why I have it. There was so much about my own health that I never understood but now had the perfect opportunity to educate myself.

I learned that eczema is often connected to other inflammatory conditions like asthma and allergies. I also realized the suffering that children with eczema must go through. This inspired me to write about the possible causes of eczema prevalence in children.

Just as I began looking into the world of eczema, I discovered the burgeoning study of the human-bacteria relationship and its impact on eczema. One’s microbiome could be as essential as one’s DNA, affecting processes like eczema prevention.

Researching eczema also brought me to the National Eczema Association, where I was able to volunteer at their Leaders in Eczema One-Day Forum. I watched eczema patients, doctors and researchers all come together to support eczema exploration.

My eczema experience has been tumultuous, like many others. And though I still fight back against my eczema symptoms every day, living with this disease has been something that has also brought me forward.


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