A day at school for 14-year-old Malena has different challenges than those faced by her peers.
Malena, who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has severe atopic dermatitis (AD), a chronic type 2 inflammatory skin disease. People living with moderate-to-severe AD have an overactive immune system, which results in signs and symptoms that may include intense, persistent itch, dryness, cracking, redness or darkening of the skin, crusting and oozing.
Inadequately controlled atopic dermatitis can have a physical, emotional and psychosocial impact, and has been associated with sleep disturbance due to itch, anxiety and depression, and feelings of isolation. For adolescents, the physical and emotional effects of moderate-to-severe AD can be particularly disruptive during their critical years of development, preventing them from participating in school, sports and social activities.
“My school life is a bit complicated; having atopic dermatitis means that my skin itches and I can only focus on the itch,” Malena said. “I have to study, but I can’t, because I can’t stop scratching.”
Malena has also faced social challenges because of her severe AD, such as bullying and isolation. In elementary school, her classmates thought her AD was contagious and they wouldn’t let her play with them. Now in high school, Malena’s severe atopic dermatitis prevents her from participating in typical school activities, like gym class.
“I can’t go to gym class, because when I sweat my skin starts getting irritated and then I feel sore all over,” she said.
The full impact of moderate-to-severe AD is felt by the whole family, in particular parents or caregivers.
“The reality is that I’m worried about everything. I’m worried when I see her hurt and hear her scratching herself at night and she doesn’t sleep,” said Gaby, Malena’s mother. “I’m worried because we’re still searching for something to improve her quality of life.”
For Malena, the hardest part is the reaction of others. “The people who don’t know what I have get scared and want to be far from me,” said Malena. Despite her severe AD, however, Malena remains determined to live her life her way. “I don’t put off anything due to my atopic dermatitis because it’s part of me. My advice to someone with atopic dermatitis: what matters is what you think of yourself and what you want to be.”