Unpacking how eczema impacts long-term mental health, even when skin is calm.
Published On: Aug 1, 2022
Last Updated On: Aug 10, 2022
The clock is ticking down to those final minutes before recess, or maybe you just sat down for a really hard spelling test and . . . your skin is begging to be scratched. Fear not, itchy friends: we’re here to help. Our junior eczema ecz-perts have shared a few tips on keeping your hands busy in class, instead of scratching.
The majority of our eczema ecz-perts said they liked to draw, doodle or scribble in the margins of their notebooks whenever they felt the urge to scratch. Be sure to get permission first, so your teachers know this actually helps you pay attention.
Bryson Doyle lives with severe eczema and will be entering his junior year of high school this fall. “When I feel itchy in school, I will usually start drawing, writing and tapping my pencil,” he said. “Anything to take my mind off the itch.”
Distraction is key. The urge to itch originates in your brain, so let your mind relax. “With multiple teachers and classrooms,” Bryson explained. “I had to learn when and where my skin would start flaring so that I knew what to bring with me. It’s also so important to communicate with your teacher about what you need.”
Eczema affects everyone differently. But if cooling your hands down (instead of scratching) sounds like it might help, it’s worth giving it a shot. Kiley Anderson is an 8 year-old with eczema who usually keeps a pencil and eraser in her hands to avoid scratching. But when that doesn’t work, Kiley’s dad, Jaylin, said that if “Kiley’s super itchy, her teacher will allow her to go to the office and put an ice pack on her hands.” Kiley said that taking a short break in the nurse’s office, where her school keeps an ice pack, helps her avoid “feeling uncomfortable around her peers.” Since stress can increase the likelihood of a flare, comfort is key to minimizing itch.
Chelsea Maclane’s daughter, Naomi, lives with eczema and will be a fourth grader this fall. Naomi tends to scratch her fingers under the table and her teachers don’t always notice, Chelsea said. “We have used ice packs for Naomi with some success,” she said. “She has one in her lunch box she can pull out if she needs to.”
Most schools will have a disposable ice compress in their first-aid kit. And, like Naomi, there are plenty of reusable options that kids can retrieve from their own lunch boxes or backpacks if their teachers allow them in class.
Massaging your own hands will decrease stress, calm your mind and help control your urge to scratch. And this tip isn’t just for older kids. Ella Chrnelich is entering the second grade and has lived with severe eczema all her life.
“I used to massage Ella’s palms when she was little,” said Amy Chrnelich, NEA Board Member, about her daughter Ella. “Rubbing Ella’s hands with lotion would sooth and distract her from itching. Now, Ella will massage her own palms to help distract her if she’s feeling itchy.” When Ella started kindergarten, Amy was worried about how Ella’s itching would distract her in class. But two years later, Ella has become an expert at massaging her own hands instead of scratching.
“I wish everyone knew that kids with eczema are ALWAYS listening and learning,” Ella said. “Because kids want to do the things that make us better all on our own.”
Applying pressure, instead of scratching, isn’t just for elementary aged kids, either. NEA Ambassador Jeremy Paredes is an incoming sophomore at Georgia Tech University knows how to keep his hands busy, too.
“With school comes stress and the unknown,” Jeremy said. “With severe eczema, we tend to overthink how our skin looks to other people all the time. When in reality, the majority of our battle is an internal struggle. For me, squeezing a stress ball helps me limit my eczema flare ups and helps me destress.”
We’ll admit: this tip isn’t for everyone. But if you need the extra motivation to keep your hands from scratching, it might help to put yourself in a place where your teacher can see you and help you stay focused. Chelsea mentioned that sitting in the front of the class helps her daughter Naomi focus during longer lectures or whenever her mind wanders.
In college, too, Jeremy takes advantage of how often the first row stays empty in many of his lecture classes. When you know the teacher can see you, you know they can see you scratching, and sometimes that’s enough motivation to stop.
Every teacher will likely have their own rules about what kids can keep on their desk and within reach during class. This is where the younger kids need your help the most, and this is especially helpful for students who’d rather avoid any extra attention in class. By involving the school’s administration early on, you stand a better chance of getting your teacher aligned with your child’s individual needs. There might be some situations where you’re asking the teacher to bend the rules a bit, and this is where having the adminstration involved can help.
“We communicate openly about Ella’s needs with our teachers and school administration,” said Amy, about her daughter. “Ella prefers to keep a low profile with her eczema. If her teachers notice that she’s itching, they let her take a walk to the bathroom or to the school nurse. Sometimes just stepping out of the classroom helps her stop the itch cycle.”
Any other good tips to avoid itching in class? Let us know and we’ll share with our community! Just email Editor@NationalEczema.org.