Everything you (might) want to know about eczema
What’s eczema’s link to the Ancient Greeks, volcanoes and even spelling bees?
Round-up by Nicola Baird
The word eczema comes from Ancient Greek which rather graphically means to ‘boil over’ or ‘break out’. Those clever Greeks clearly knew about skin trouble; in fact, there are still active volcanoes in Greece on Santorini, Nisyros, Methana and Milos islands.
Wittily eczema has been dubbed “the itch that rashes”. As around 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in the UK have eczema, it shouldn’t be a problem caring for yourself or someone with it, especially as those red itchy dry skin patches and bumpy, oozie skin lesions (wounds) are non-contagious. But it is: eczema is not just uncomfortable it is also inclined to flare up as erratically as a volcano. And those volcanic eruptions will keep happening until you figure out your triggers - which might be a particular food, pet hair, dustmites, stress or just something that runs in the family.
If you’ve ever had eczema you’ll know how you can be suddenly surprised by the feeling that you have to scratch your hot, itchy skin NOW. Being told not to scratch doesn’t help most people with eczema. Unfortunately, scratching damages the skin and then infection can make the area even more sore and painful. Simple help to relieve that itchy eczema agony probably needs to be more than phenomenal self-discipline – remember you are fighting something named after a volcano. That said, keeping fingernails clean and short, and wearing cotton gloves, especially when you sleep, can definitely help.
And so you go on line to look for more solutions, or maybe to try and find some comfy clothing only to discover that eczema is one of those words that you really have to learn to spell. Phonetically egg-za-ma sounds a bit like a trendy bistro breakfast. In fact, organising the first three letters is almost impossible unless you were a challenger at your school’s spelling bee contest.
Hunting through Google misspellings there are plenty of variations, from ECs to EXs. The most searched for wrong spellings include:
If you’re having flashbacks to school spelling test humiliations, or are just really confused, the trick is to put those first three letters in the right order -E -C -Z. The rest of the word -E-M-A is then reasonably easy to sound out and thus spell correctly. Now just join the two chunks together to make ECZ-EMA, eczema.
Given these spelling difficulties it’s good that another medical term for eczema, atopic dermatitis, is a bit easier to tap into a search engine. Like eczema it’s an old word which was first used, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 1876. Derm means skin and itis means inflammation. Like eczema it’s a very graphic name.
In fact, Wikipedia reckons that for some English speakers, eczema and dermatitis mean the same thing. But they don’t so much in the UK which is why it’s the National Eczema Society and not a group named after dermatitis - that speaks up for this “very difficult and debilitating long-term health condition.”
Wherever you are on your eczema journey here’s wishing you very good luck finding something to soothe that pesky itch.
- Nicola Baird is the author of Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise your child (Vermilion, 2010)