Last month I was in London speaking at an educational meeting for GPs on skin disease.
There were many experts sharing their knowledge with an audience of mainly GPs. The day was designed to update on common skin conditions, as well as potentially life threatening conditions like melanoma skin cancer.
A study by the British Skin Foundation has shown 60 per cent of British people currently suffer, or have suffered with, a skin disease at some point in their lifetime. For those people, looking forward to exposing some skin to the fresh air as the weather improves is not such a joy.
Part of my working week involves holding a weekly Community Dermatology Clinic. Treating someone’s skin condition is very rewarding for me as can make such a difference to a person’s quality of life.
The damage skin disease can cause goes further than their skin. Because skin is immediately visible it can impact on someone’s self esteem and relationships. I
Imagine if your life was ruled by your skin. The clothes you wear, your job or needing an extra half hour in the morning to apply treatments.
I can even think of a few patients who have what most people consider significant illness to deal with, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or serious heart conditions as well as a skin condition.
They have told me that they find the skin disease more of a burden than the other diseases they have.
A shocking 47 per cent per cent of people with a skin disease in the UK have been victims of verbal abuse one or more times from another member of the public, due to their skin condition, as was highlighted by a study in 2012 conducted by the charity, The British Skin Foundation
The findings of these studies do not surprise me. I have had many patients tell me similar stories and I see what a profound effect skin disease has on them.
Psoriasis is a condition which causes a scaly and flaky rash. Therefore, flakes of skin can shed after sitting in a chair which is embarrassing for them.
I have come across adults who have told me they have been called names because of this at work.
Salespeople or anyone in a role dealing with people can find their jobs difficult. My patients tell me they are often asked if they are contagious or excluded from activities due to fear from others.
Rosacea is a common condition which affects the face and it can become permanently red. At its worst the nose can become thickened, red and bulbous (rhinophyma).
People who suffer with rosacea can wrongly be ascribed as heavy drinkers.
Sexual relationships are affected when the disease affects the genital areas. Hidradentitis Suppuritiva is a chronic distressing condition which causes boil like lumps leaking pus and scarring in the armpits and groins. These patients often tell me that their sex lives and confidence are adversely affected.
Even touching can become awkward. For example, hyperhidrosis is a condition where excess sweating occurs, often affecting the palms. This can make everyday activities which we all do without even thinking about it, like shaking hands, holding hands or writing, embarrassing if your skin is slippery due to excess sweat.
Itchy skin conditions like eczema and urticaria can cause a lot distress.
Itching in the daytime is embarrassing and itching at night affects sleep. Patients describe to me how the itching “drives them mad”. Children with eczema can end up missing school days or fall asleep in class when sleep has been disturbed the night before.
Recent research from Sheffield demonstes the link between depression and eczema and how improvement in eczema with treatment can drastically change the wellbeing of a child.
Hair problems, alopecia- hair loss or hirsutism – excess facial hair, can be extremely embarrassing and people can spend thousands of pounds on treatments that don’t even work.
The impact of skin disease is much greater than is generally appreciated. If you are upset or embarrassed about a skin condition, please remember that you are not alone.
There are eight million people in the UK living with a skin disease. Do seek help from your GP as treatments are available and many conditions can be controlled or treated. You can also be referred to a specialist if needed.
The British Skin Foundation are doing a marvellous job in raising awareness and also offer support directly to patients through their website. www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk
Dr Angela Goyal is a GP in Leeds with 20 years NHS experience.
She also holds specialist NHS dermatology clinics. As well as her clinical work, she gives teaching seminars in dermatology.
She is passionate about using nutrition and lifestyle interventions for preventing and managing illness and most of the time does follow her own advice!
She enjoys spending time with family, running and tennis. She is presenter of The Health Show on The Lowdown, Made in Leeds.