Dr Linda Papadopoulos is helping to highlight the psychological impact of hand eczema following new research into the condition, which may affect up to 6 million people in the UK.
The renowned psychologist collaborated with www.myhandeczema.co.uk to undertake an in-depth study of a thousand people with hand eczema and the affect it has on everything from intimacy, to their work and social lives.
A specialist in the field of psychodermatology (the interaction between the skin and the mind), she is also fronting an awareness programme including two videos that give advice on how sufferers can get help and take control of the condition.
Dr Linda explains: “Skin conditions like hand eczema can cause stress which can impact on the progression of the condition itself, which in turn can lead to more stress. This becomes a vicious cycle and avoidance of social situations - which is often the solution many try - becomes part of the problem. People who deal with their condition by avoidance end up putting their lives 'on-hold' – they’ll avoid shaking a person’s hand, they’ll avoid asking the girl out, they’ll avoid wearing jewellery or certain clothes - because they tell themselves that the only way to be safe is to limit their life and their behaviour.”
The research showed that 82 per cent of respondents say they are embarrassed or ashamed of their condition and more than three quarters admit that it has a negative effect on their mood.
Eight out of 10 people are less likely to want to touch someone because of their hand eczema, with over a quarter admitting it affects intimacy with loved ones.
Participants in the study said meeting strangers and socialising are everyday situations that hand eczema interferes with most, with almost a third saying they dealt with their embarrassment by hiding their hands in their pockets. Of those questioned, 74 per cent said their work or study is affected by hand eczema.
The research, which included two types of sufferers – those with hand eczema and those with eczema on both their hands and other parts of their body, showed that the psychological impact of the condition was similar in both groups.
Almost half of those questioned feel no-one understands what it is like living with hand eczema, and 27 per cent admit tension with partners and families because their hand eczema had made them unable to work or help around the home.
The study revealed that women are more self conscious than men about the condition, which also causes greatest embarrassment for young people under the age of 25.
Hand eczema also affects the choices people make in daily life – from the clothes they decide to wear; through to the holidays they go on and even the partner they settle for.
The research involved people from all ages and included people who had suffered from hand eczema for varying lengths of time – from less than a year to more than 10 years. Half of those involved had had the condition for over 10 years.