ARNOLD, Md. — For nearly all of his life, Isaiah Dixon has suffered from the most common type of eczema — atopic dermatitis — which has required his hospitalization several times to treat infections that arise from uncontrollably scratching the itchy rashes that come with the skin condition.
Now the 17-year-old resident of Springdale, Maryland, is featured in a national video series in which he shares his experience with the irritating skin condition, as part of a campaign to educate the public and offer support to the millions of other sufferers of atopic dermatitis, or AD. The video series is called “Understand AD Squad.”
“I feel like not enough people know what AD is. So when they see it, they have mixed feelings or they don’t know how to react,” Mr. Dixon said. “But if they knew what it is, I feel like there would be less bad reactions to kids or people with AD.”
“My hope out of this is to raise a broader range of awareness and allow people to be educated on what it’s like and how it affects people’s daily lives,” he said. “It’s not just a rash on one spot on your arm or your leg. It’s severe.”
More than 18 million Americans live with atopic dermatitis, which causes a rash that usually develops on the cheeks, arms and legs, according to the National Eczema Association. The association and additional “Understand AD Squad” program creators released the five-part video series Wednesday on UnderstandAD.com and the NEA’s website and social media channels.
Julie Block, the association’s president and CEO, said the videos articulate the unique challenges teenagers living with atopic dermatitis can face such as peer interactions, school performance, inability to participate in certain activities and issues with self-esteem.
Christine Triano, a licensed clinical social worker based in Pasadena, California, described atopic dermatitis as a chronic condition that can cause anxiety, depression, poor sleep and mental health issues. She said students with AD might skip school and avoid social outings and other activities because of flare-ups.
Isaiah’s parents, Lori and Reggie Dixon, said their son is unable to participate in sports such as swimming and many indoor and outdoor activities because of the risk of flare-ups, which they stressed are not contagious. Isaiah was diagnosed with AD when he was 2 years old.
“It excludes you from a lot of activities,” Mrs. Dixon said.
The constant scratching that the skin condition invites also makes it difficult for Isaiah to sleep.
The cause of atopic dermatitis is unknown, but there is a genetic disposition, said Dr. Mercedes Gonzalez, who works at Pediatric Dermatology in Miami.
She said AD occurs when the skin cells swell and water leaves them. That can lead to itching and uncontrollable scratching, which creates a risk of infection due to skin breakage.
While eczema is associated with food allergies, it is not caused by them, Dr. Gonzalez said, noting a common misconception that people can outgrow the condition.
Tyler Berryman, 25, of San Jose, California, also is featured in “Understand AD Squad.” He said the series’ talking points include the transition from being a teen with eczema to being a young adult and the social interactions those with atopic dermatitis might encounter.
“For me, I think some of the problems sometimes when we have atopic dermatitis, especially as a teen and young adult, is that it can feel very lonely,” Mr. Berryman said. “People don’t talk about stuff like this a lot. It’s very personal.”
He stressed that eczema does not define a person, commenting on how he wants the public to understand that people living with AD have to build their lives around the skin condition.
For those living with eczema, Mr. Berryman said it’s important to establish a skin care routine and to have an outlet, whether that’s playing the drums or reading.
“It’s certainly not easy to do all the living stuff, especially when you’re in the middle of flare-ups and you’ve still got to put on clothes and be uncomfortable and be self-conscious or whatever and still go do things,” he said. “It’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. And that doesn’t mean that person isn’t worth it either.”
Ms. Block said she hopes the video series elicits compassion from the public while inspiring those with eczema to seek support and persist to create a customized treatment plan that works for them.
For Isaiah Dixon, part of his approach for handling his atopic dermatitis is simply self-acceptance.
“The way I want to deal with it is just to love who I am,” he said, sitting next to his mother. “From both loving who I am and being OK with my condition, I have this drive to be better and to be better physically.”
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