Camp hopes to scratch out stigma from eczema

Camp hopes to scratch out stigma from eczema
Children with severe eczema learning to make ice cream at a camp organised by KK Women's and Children's Hospital. Highlights also included sports day and visits to the Night Safari and the Esplanade.

SINGAPORE - The high number of eczema cases among children has prompted KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) to run its first day-long camp for sufferers.

Last Friday's camp touched not only on treatment but also on helping children work through emotional and psychological issues brought about by the condition.

KKH's dermatology service sees about five to eight new cases each day.

Eczema affects 20 per cent of children in Singapore, although most recover by the time they reach primary school.

But in the most severe cases, the condition can be lifelong. It is this group that KKH wants to engage through its camp.

"A lot of times in school, they are the only ones who have (severe eczema)," said Dr Mark Koh, head and consultant of KKH's dermatology service.

"Some have a lot of psychosocial issues, or problems mixing with friends."

KKH hopes that this camp, which involved about 60 severe eczema patients and their family members, will show these children that they are not alone.

Highlights included an ice cream-making session, sports day and a visit to the Night Safari. They also visited KKH and the Esplanade.

"We wanted more time for our patients and their parents to interact," said Dr Koh. "It's also a good time for us to interact with our patients to build rapport."

Many children with severe eczema are driven to scratch almost constantly, resulting in flaky, crusty skin all over.

Heat and sweat aggravate the condition, making physical education lessons in school something to dread.

Social isolation could also worsen a child's eczema, as the condition flares up when a sufferer is under stress.

One parent who hopes the camp will help her child come out of his shell is Ms Christine Chua, 40.

Her son, nine-year-old Keane Foo, has severe eczema that causes him to scratch himself until he bleeds. This makes some parents and their children keep a distance.

Ms Chua recalled an incident where another parent pulled his child away from Keane.

"My son was already feeling terrible as it was," Ms Chua said. "And they pulled their child away like my son was contagious."

The dedicated mother quit her job as a business management officer two years ago to take care of Keane. She has an older son who does not suffer from eczema.

During the day, Keane has to undergo a tedious moisturising regime to stop his skin from flaking. At night, his mother has to stay half-awake to stop him from scratching.

"It really took quite a toll on me," she recalled.

Ms Chua hoped the camp has helped her son see that he is not alone in struggling with the condition.

"Sometimes he asks me: 'Why was I born like this? Why am I so unlucky?'" she said.

"After the camp, he will hopefully feel better."

This article was first published on June 30, 2014.
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