Contrary to popular belief, eczema isn’t only an aesthetic condition. Those who suffer with it experience constant itching, pain, and disrupted sleep, and are at higher risk for psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.

Mediaplanet spoke with Dr. Perla Lansang, a dermatologist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Tanya Mohan who has suffered from eczema for over 30 years, for more insight into the condition and its changing treatment landscape.

MP: Who is at risk of developing eczema?

PL: It can happen to anyone and it’s very common. It usually starts in childhood, but about 10 percent of patients develop the condition in adulthood.

MP: How does it affect daily life?

PL: This condition can have a major effect on quality of life. When patients are in a flare up it affects everything they do. There are also plenty of studies showing that anxiety and depression are more common in patients with atopic dermatitis.

TM: It’s a chronic condition, so it’s a constant struggle. It really disrupts your day-to-day life. You can’t sleep at night. You don’t want to go out and be social. Sometimes you can’t go to work. As a young woman with eczema I found it very hard to want to face the day, particularly in this time of social media. I used to obsess over my scars and flaky skin. Just imagine having chicken pox 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That’s pretty much what it feels like.

MP: How is the treatment landscape changing?

PL: Only recently have we seen the introduction of a new biologic, the first real targeted therapy specifically designed for atopic dermatitis. Because it targets the specific pathways of the disease, we can eliminate a lot of the side effects of the non-targeted therapies. There are other targeted therapies with great efficacy that are currently in development.

TM: This new biologic medication that Dr. Lansang mentions has been a lifesaver for me. I don’t feel itchy at all anymore. I have to use a lot less skin cream and my skin feels rejuvenated. I literally have my life back.

MP: Are there barriers preventing people from accessing the newest therapies?

PL: There are definitely challenges with access. There is an unfair distinction between patients with private coverage and those without.

TM: I’m one of the lucky ones with private insurance and can afford to pay a certain amount out of pocket. It’s really unfair how much relief I’ve gotten from this medication and the fact that not everyone has access to it.

For everyone suffering from eczema, the development of innovative new therapies should be a major cause for hope. But as Canadians, it’s our duty to ensure that this ray of hope shines on all who need it. If you or someone you love is currently affected by atopic dermatitis, speak to your dermatologist about new available therapies that could be right for you.