Preventing Coronavirus Exposure When You Have Psoriasis and Eczema

Living with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, or eczema, means I’m always thinking twice about what might exacerbate these skin conditions. I need to especially consider what in my environment might trigger itchiness or rashes. Now, as we’re all faced with the novel coronavirus, I’m even more vigilant about how practices such as frequent hand-washing and disinfecting may affect my health.

Take, for example, a recent shopping trip to my local Costco. I grabbed a shopping cart before entering, much like any other time. On this visit, though, a bleach wipe container sat on a table inside the door. I dutifully took a wipe to disinfect the cart handle. Then I looked at my hands, wondering if I should wipe them too and thinking about how it might irritate my skin.

A Universal Need for Prevention and Protection

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website lists ways to protect yourself from exposure to the coronavirus. I’m already at a higher risk for serious illness because I have asthma. I’m also concerned that I might be at a higher risk because I take a biologic to treat psoriasis.

The National Psoriasis Foundation Medical Board’s recommendations for those with psoriatic disease state that “patients with severe disease, those on potentially immunosuppressive therapies and those presenting with comorbid conditions may be at a higher risk for infection.” They recommend patients contact their healthcare provider’s office with any concerns related to treatments such as biologics.

Even if you are not in a higher risk group for COVID-19, the public health message is for everyone to follow measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Moisturize After Cleaning Hands

A repeated message to stop the spread is to clean hands frequently, ideally with soap for at least 20 seconds. If soap is not available, then hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol serves as a replacement. Unfortunately, frequently cleaning my hands dries them out. Soaps and hand sanitizers can contain perfumes that my skin reacts to as well.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends that you leave some water on your hands when drying them and apply hand cream or ointment while they’re still damp. The AAD also points out that dermatologists recommend using a cream or ointment that contains mineral oil or petrolatum and says it’s “fragrance-free” and “dye-free.”

Distract From Touching Eyes, Nose, and Mouth

Another CDC guideline is to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, because they can serve as pathways for the virus to enter the lungs and throat. Germs can spread when you touch a contaminated surface, such as a doorknob or countertop, and then touch your face.

On their website, the National Eczema Association responded to questions related to the coronavirus, including how to avoid touching facial eczema. Their first recommendation is to practice distraction techniques such as “playing handheld video games, arts and crafts, or playing a musical instrument.”

They also recommend using “competing responses,” which replace one behavior with another. For example, every time I want to touch my face, I might snap my fingers or touch my leg instead. They conclude, “If you do need to deliberately touch your face, wash your hands first; avoid the nose, eyes and mouth; and perhaps use a clean cloth or Kleenex.”

Since psoriasis and eczema on my face is an ongoing issue, I follow my facial skin treatments carefully to reduce irritation and itchiness. Contact your healthcare provider or dermatologist if you need to address skin concerns on your face.

Connect Virtually While Keeping Social Distance

Keeping social distance to prevent the coronavirus is critical, but it can be very isolating — especially for people living with a chronic condition.

Fortunately, we live in an age where people connect through a variety of electronic means, such as video and text chat, virtual communities, or online games and activities. I felt uplifted and encouraged after recently joining a church group on a video chat. If you are sheltering at home, you may have more time to catch up with old friends and family.

Virtual connections can even help you communicate with your doctor. The NPF Medical Board, for example, recommends “telehealth appointments whenever possible for routine visits during the pandemic.” Both my daughters successfully used telehealth for their recent doctor appointments. I utilized messaging to discuss my psoriasis with my dermatologist.

Living with skin diseases might add some complication to following CDC guidelines, but they can be overcome. Let’s pledge to do so together to flatten the curve and save lives.

Here are some resources to help answer your questions about managing psoriasis and eczema these days:

National Eczema Association (NEA): Ask the Ecz-perts: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF): Coronavirus Concerns?

NPF Psound Bytes podcast: Ep. 64 "Coronavirus and Psoriatic Disease: Your Questions Answered"

You can read more about my experiences in my blog for ishonest and on my website.

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