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Hazel

Age at interview: 21
Age at diagnosis: 3
Brief Outline: (Audio or text only clips) Hazel is 21 and has had eczema since she was 3 years old. Her skin scarred more easily and became very sensitive after she developed chickenpox at age 13. She has tried a number of prescribed and shop-bought products over the years of having eczema.
Background: Hazel is 21 years old and works as an administration assistant. She is single and lives in shared accommodation. Her ethnicity is White British.

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Hazel is 21 and has had eczema since she was 3 years old. Hazel and her parents had initially expected her to ‘grow out’ of eczema in her childhood. Her eczema became more severe after she caught chickenpox at age 13. Her skin has since been very sensitive and prone to scarring. This also emotionally affected Hazel a great deal.

Hazel’s eczema affects different parts of her body, including her neck, elbows, hands and knees. She has seen a number of GPs for her eczema. These appointments have been mostly helpful but she recently had an upsetting experience when a GP made a negative and uninvited comment about a patch on her face. She feels it is important for GPs to be careful when asking sensitive questions and to be aware of how they phrase comments to their patients. She was aware that it could be difficult to judge because people have different emotional triggers but that it could be helpful for doctors to reflect on “if someone said it to you, how would it make you feel?”

Hazel has tried different medications for her eczema, including bath oils, soap substitutes and steroid creams. Her most recent set of prescriptions were very expensive as they included a number of different products recommended by her GP. She described investing in these as “a really big chance to take” because treatments sometimes work for only a few weeks or months before she then has to try something else. She currently uses a number of natural ingredient products which are animal cruelty-free because she finds that these are good for her skin and less expensive now that she pays for prescriptions.

Hazel found it difficult to access the same GP when she moved away from home to go to university. Another aspect of university was the use of communal washing machines for her laundry as some detergents left in the machine could flare up her eczema. She found strategies to deal with this such as having a friend use the washing machine before her. She found that peers from extra-curricular clubs and groups were sometimes a source of “solidarity” if they too were affected by having sensitive skin. However, she found that meeting new people, especially children, can be quite hard if they stare or ask questions about her eczema and scars. Her current job includes working on projects about positive body image and self-esteem. This part of her work has helped build Hazel’s confidence and she feels this is important to address, particularly for young girls and women.
 

Developing chickenpox combined with Hazel’s eczema and left her with some scars.

Developing chickenpox combined with Hazel’s eczema and left her with some scars.

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Could you say a bit more about the chickenpox and sort of what that was like, sort of a bit more about it, if possible?

Yeah. So, I didn’t catch it when I was like a young child; I got it when I was 13 so, it totally knocked me out for about two weeks which was quite hard like being in school, having to have that time away. And then like the scarring was quite bad because my skin was already quite sensitive. So, it's something that I'm quite like… it's hard to kind of live with because, to me they're quite visible but to everybody else it might not necessarily be a thing. But it did take quite a long time after that to kind of adjust to living with more sensitive skin because it was such a, cos I was older, it took longer to recover. But thankfully I did recover, you know it is a really good thing but, yeah I think and that’s because it's permanent scarring, it's something that I now have to live with. But, yeah just take each day as it comes with that.
 

Hazel says there are some triggers which make her eczema worse but has never had an allergy test to find out more.

Hazel says there are some triggers which make her eczema worse but has never had an allergy test to find out more.

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Is there anything else to do with sort of shared accommodation whilst you’ve been at University and like, since you’ve graduated?

I lived in like a really mouldy room two years ago which wasn’t great, and I noticed that that did have quite a big impact on like how everything was with sort of particularly like my hands and my elbows, that was quite severe. But, it got better after I moved out which was good [laughs].

So, have you ever done any allergy tests at all?

No, I haven’t actually. I would be interested in doing that just to know if there's anything that… like I’ve never know if I'm allergic to pets, but I've never had a reaction around pets so I don’t know. Or, like I've never had hay fever or anything like that but I would be interested to know if it's something specific, like dust or mites or something like that, but yeah.
 

Most of Hazel’s experiences with GPs have been positive. However, one doctor made her feel self-conscious with a comment.

Most of Hazel’s experiences with GPs have been positive. However, one doctor made her feel self-conscious with a comment.

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They just tend to like have a look at what it looks like and, obviously if it's not that bad when I go but I know that it's been worse, it's quite hard to tell them that I've been in pain or it's been quite uncomfortable,  so that’s been quite hard. I think the last appointment that I had, I was quite disappointed because like the doctor kind of made a comment about something that I hadn’t gone in about and she was just like, "Oh like your top lip looks quite dry and maybe you should get something for that," and I was like, "Oh that’s not what I came in for but yeah OK." And I just sort of left and I was a bit upset by that because it's not really anyone's place to say that but, yeah, I think because I had gone in with like the intention of being prescribed a new sort of steroid creams, yeah that was a bit uncomfortable. But apart from that, everything else has actually been really good. They’ve sort of given me either the same thing or said, "Oh do you want to try something that’s similar or, you know, do you want to try something to wash with as well as to apply like daily." So, yeah, they’ve been really helpful apart from that one time.
 

Hazel started going to GP appointments for her eczema on her own when she was 16/17 years old.

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Hazel started going to GP appointments for her eczema on her own when she was 16/17 years old.

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I didn’t really know what to say at first. It is a bit of a weird thing not having someone who can just say, but then it makes a lot more sense because you're the person that needs the help so, you do know what to say, it's just thinking about it a bit more.  And then being able to respond to anything they ask you, and not just that turn and say, "What did I say?" It's like making your first phone call or like making your first appointment; you just have to get past it, but yeah it was fine.
 

Hazel prefers ‘natural’ bathing products and thinks they are better value than prescription equivalents.

Hazel prefers ‘natural’ bathing products and thinks they are better value than prescription equivalents.

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And then, about a year ago, sort of switched to using more like natural things to wash with rather than like the what are they called… like, yeah like steroid or prescription things to wash with. So yeah, that was a really good change to switch to like natural products rather than things with lots of sort of chemicals in.

That really helped yeah.

Did you sort of go through a decision making process about making that change?

Yeah. So, it was partially to do with money cos it was quite expensive to get the prescriptions once I wasn’t like of age to get that.  But also, just I just found that it was better for my skin and more of a… that it was more hydrated after using things like that.
 

Hazel stresses that doctors should be careful with their questions and comments about eczema.

Hazel stresses that doctors should be careful with their questions and comments about eczema.

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Judging like whether it's OK to ask like sensitive questions. Don’t make judgements about how you think someone might look because they might not have noticed it or they might not want to talk about that. And, yeah, judging whether it's appropriate to ask them how they feel as well, because if it's something that they definitely don’t ever want to talk about, don’t ask them that. But they’ll only tell you… it's a difficult one but, especially if it's something that you can definitely see, just being really careful about what you say and how you phrase it. Don’t ever sort of point it out as “You’ve got a huge patch of eczema on your face”. Sort of be like, "Is there anything else?" if they’ve come in talking about something else. So, if they’ve come, "Oh I've got eczema on my foot," and you say, "I can see it's all over your arm," that’s not great. But, yeah, just being I guess tactful and sensitive cos it is sensitive. 
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