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Describing Your Eczema Symptoms To Your Doctor

Medically reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Max Mugambi
Posted on March 18, 2021

Open, honest communication with your dermatologist can help ensure you get the best care for your eczema (also called atopic dermatitis). If talking with your doctor feels daunting, you’re not alone. People with all types of health conditions sometimes struggle to connect with their doctors.

For some people with eczema, symptoms like itchy, inflamed, and dry skin can cause anxiety and stress, making it difficult to share their experiences with others — even their dermatologists. As one MyEczemaTeam member wrote, “I am so embarrassed. When seeing a doctor, I just feel like crawling under the table.”

The first step to being comfortable sharing your symptoms with your doctor is to come prepared. Understanding how to effectively describe your symptoms — as well as how they make you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally — will set you up for success at your next appointment.

What To Expect at Your First Dermatologist Appointment for Eczema

Going to your first appointment with a dermatologist is one of the first steps toward managing eczema symptoms. Knowing what to expect may put you at ease and help you feel prepared to share the information your doctor needs about your skin condition.

In your first visit, you’ll establish a relationship with your doctor and provide them with a basis for shaping your skin care plan. Be prepared to answer questions about your medical history. This information gives the doctor some insight into your eczema.

You should also keep the following in mind during your first visit to the dermatologist:

  • They will check your skin for other conditions besides eczema.
  • You should be treated with respect. If you’re not comfortable, find a new doctor.
  • Your doctor will likely recommend treatments or prescribe medications for your eczema.
  • You will most likely come back for a subsequent visit to see how well your symptoms are being managed with your new treatment.

When To See the Doctor

Not sure whether you need to make an appointment? You may need to go to the doctor if:

  • Your skin shows signs of infection (red or purplish, painful skin is a giveaway).
  • Your symptoms are affecting your sleep or other daily activities.
  • Over-the-counter remedies are not helping.
  • The treatments recommended or prescribed by your doctor are not working or have had unexpected or severe side effects.

You may also visit the doctor if you experience flare-ups — times when your eczema symptoms worsen.

How Should You Describe Your Eczema Symptoms To Your Doctor?

Knowing how to navigate your next appointment with a doctor or dermatology specialist may help put you at ease, especially if you don’t have much experience discussing your health.

Your doctor will likely start your appointment by asking you why you’re there, unless it’s a routine visit or follow-up. Either way, you’ll want to dive right in and describe the symptoms you’ve been experiencing in as much detail as you can.

Here are some tips that may help you provide a detailed description of your eczema symptoms.

Use Your Own Words

Don’t worry about using medical terms in order to be understood. Rather, describe what you feel and see. For instance, you can start with, “I’ve been having a lot of itching and redness on my elbows lately.”

Try to be specific when describing the sensations you feel. Some people with eczema describe feeling as though their skin is twitching or throbbing from an itch. You might tell your doctor that it feels like “ants are crawling on my skin” or that you want to “squeeze or dig out the itch.” One member of MyEczemaTeam even said their itchy skin is so severe that they “just want to dig to the bone.”

Describe the Location of Your Symptoms

It’s helpful to be clear about where on the body you experience symptoms. Telling your doctor about the location of your symptoms can help provide insight into what is causing them.

Your eczema may be located on a specific part of your body, in different areas, or all over your body. Let your doctor know exactly where your eczema appears and where you feel symptoms. Taking pictures to show your doctor is helpful, as your skin may not be flaring on the day of your appointment. A picture or list of the creams and medications you have already tried is also helpful.

Use a Scale To Describe Your Discomfort

It can be helpful to use a scale of one to 10 to describe the intensity of your discomfort. This scale could be used to describe pain, itchiness, how eczema affects your daily activity, or any other type of symptom.

Your eczema symptoms may also vary at different times of the day, month, or year. Placing your symptoms on a scale can help your doctor understand how they fluctuate in intensity over time and help identify your triggers.

Keep a Symptoms Journal and Track Your Triggers

Some people keep a journal of their eczema symptoms. This can be very helpful during an appointment, as you can share with your doctor what particular symptoms you experience and when you have them. Because eczema can be triggered by external forces such as creams or temperature changes, keeping track of your triggers is very important.

As one MyEczemaTeam member shared, journaling can help provide some clarity on your eczema and even relieve stress: “I try to journal as much as possible, especially when I’m having a bad time. It seems to relieve some frustration and can also act as a reference point with similar situations later on.”

Keeping a symptoms journal can also help you keep track of potential eczema triggers. You can note anything that aggravates your symptoms, including possible irritants like harsh soaps or cleansers, lotions and moisturizers, foods, and environmental factors like allergens or changes in weather. Tracking your symptoms and possible triggers may help your doctor develop a treatment plan.

Share How Your Symptoms Affect You

Sharing the emotional, mental, and physical impacts of your symptoms is crucial to helping your doctor understand the overall impact of your eczema on your life. These issues may be anything from fatigue to being self-conscious in public. Eczema has been shown to affect personal relationships as well as performance at work and in school.

A MyEczemaTeam member shared the physical and emotional toll of eczema: “Anxiety and stress aggravate itchiness and eczema. My eczema sometimes wakes me up at night with my hands all torn up from scratching. Now, I have osteoarthritis in my right hand, too. It makes me want to hide my hands.”

Even if you feel embarrassed or that something isn’t “important enough” to share with your doctor, it’s a good idea to bring it up. Sometimes, things happening in your life can cause or worsen certain symptoms.

Of course, you don’t have to go into detail about something if you aren’t comfortable doing so. Chances are, mentioning concerns to your doctor will allow them to recommend medication or refer you to a specialist that can help. As one MyEczemaTeam member wrote, sharing the impacts of their symptoms on their sleep schedule led their doctor to prescribe a medication that ended up being very effective: “I was having a really bad week and went to the doctor to get some relief, and I mentioned that I hadn’t been sleeping. He prescribed [a sleep medication]. I slept like a baby and didn’t scratch.”

Tell Your Doctor About All Your Medications

Sometimes medications can interact with each other, causing unpleasant or even dangerous side effects. Let your doctor know about all the medications you’re taking, whether eczema-related or otherwise. This also includes over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, and supplements. Prepare a list before your appointment to ensure you don’t forget anything.

In addition to talking about current medications, you should also mention any allergic reactions you’ve had to medications in the past.

How To Describe Your Child’s Eczema Symptoms

Describing your child’s eczema symptoms to a dermatologist or pediatrician is not very different from describing your own. With young children, you still need to use your own words to talk about what you’ve observed in the child. Children who are old enough should have the chance to describe what they are feeling in their own words, as well. Itching, scratching, and how sleep is affected helps give the dermatologist an idea of how severe the disease is.

You should also let the doctor know as much about your child’s medical history as possible. Your child may also have a history of other disorders, such as hay fever (seasonal allergies) or asthma, that may help establish a diagnosis of eczema. Both hay fever and asthma are closely associated with atopic dermatitis — the three conditions are referred to as the atopic triad. Letting your child’s doctor know of any other health conditions they have may help provide further basis for a diagnosis of eczema and treatment.

It Takes a Community

MyEczemaTeam is a community of 34,000 members who understand what it’s like to live with eczema. Members support each other as they seek the treatments they need to feel their best.

Do you have any tips for better communication with your doctor about eczema? Comment below, or visit MyEczemaTeam today to let others know about your experiences.

Posted on March 18, 2021
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Max Mugambi is a copywriter at MyHealthTeam with more than five years of experience writing about a diverse range of subjects. Learn more about him here.

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