Atopic dermatitis (AD), also known as atopic eczema, is a chronic relapsing inflammatory skin condition. Incidence of AD has increased 2- to 3-fold in industrialised nations, impacting approximately 15 to 20 per cent of children and 1 to 3 per cent of adults worldwide. Arab Health Magazine spoke to Dr. Anwar Al Hammadi, who is a consultant dermatologist and Head of the Emirates Dermatology Society in the UAE, about the methods and challenges of treating AD, as well as its impact on the society.
What is Atopic Dermatitis and what causes it?
Atopic Dermatitis, which is the most common form of eczema, is a chronic inflammatory skin disease resulting in itchy, red, swollen and cracked skin. While the condition may occur at any age, the rashes tend to flare, go away and come back. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes AD, and it can look like several other skin conditions as eczema affects people differently – making diagnosis and treatment difficult.
How does Atopic Dermatitis affect people with the condition?
Having the condition or living with a loved one who suffers from it has the potential to affect many aspects of everyday life. Apart from physical discomfort from the intense itchiness, the disease can trigger emotional distress; for instance, showing up to work every day with big red scaly spots on your face is a challenge that people with severe AD face at some point in their lives.
Can you tell us about some of the methods and challenges to treating Atopic Dermatitis?
Current treatments include emollients, topical creams and steroids, though the latter is associated with unpleasant side effects. However, being an AD patient in the UAE means that you have access to the latest and most innovative medications and therapies in the world.
In terms of challenges, proper treatment and clinical care for AD tend to get complicated by social media and ‘diagnosis by Google’. Patients ask me all sorts of questions, especially through my Instagram and Snapchat accounts, about certain ointments and remedies that they’ve read about online. It would be ideal if they would consult with their doctor before trying any new products on their skin. Seeking treatment plans from good medical experts is crucial to help reduce the physical and emotional impact of AD on your quality of life.
Moreover, while our approach to individuals is important, I strongly believe that supporting people with AD requires moving beyond just prescribing treatment – we need adaptable solutions that span the whole community.
Can you elaborate on some of these solutions?
We need to target the complex network that encompasses individuals and their families, the social networks and relationships in their lives, the organisations and institutions that provide services and support to the patients and the communities in which they work and live.
The kind of health advice that people receive close to home, in their own environment, is among the most influential in determining their health behaviors. Therefore, families need to be well equipped with the knowledge of how to deal with the worst side effects of Atopic Dermatitis that their loved one may be encountering, such as anxiety and depression. There are a few coping strategies families can use to help their children manage the emotional challenges of eczema. Preventive counseling is also a good option for parents to consider. We often don’t think about counseling until there is a big problem, but often it’s more effective if it’s in the early stages of change.
What are some examples of successful community initiatives that can inspire the same for Atopic Dermatitis?
A great way to educate the community and get it to take action is through awareness campaigns. You’ve probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which has raised more than US$115 million for ALS charities since 2014. This is a very good example on how to make noise for a cause and how far the results can go.
Another way to target the community is through education. Explaining what AD is and isn’t is crucial to create a better understanding of it, which will ultimately lead to better disease management. AD is chronic, non-contagious and non-curable, and when the general public understands that, it will be better equipped to support family, colleagues and loved ones who are dealing with it. It may lead employers to become more flexible and peers to be less judgmental and more supportive.
AD is chronic, non-contagious and non-curable, and when the general public understands that, it will be better equipped to support.
Are there any current initiatives that address Atopic Dermatitis?
Yes. We have created a nationwide initiative called #LivingWithEczema, in collaboration with Sanofi, to highlight the struggles of patients with AD, and raise awareness of the fundamentals of the disease and on its treatments available in the country. We are a network of thought leaders whose mission is to own the conversation and drive more awareness of AD in the UAE in order to help them achieve the best of their health and wellbeing. We hope that through our community-based approach we are able to reach as many families as possible and bring as much comfort to patients as we can