A young woman from Cleckheaton has opened up about her “constant battle” with severe eczema – which has not only cost her a job but also made social interactions like seeing friends or dating nearly impossible for months on end.

Courtney Celine Bray, 26, has endured the debilitating skin condition since she was a child, leading to “intense” flaking that requires constant cleaning, as well as bright red and raised rashes, open wounds, sores, and severe itching that often results in bleeding.

Courtney told PA Real Life that her struggle with eczema has been a lifelong ordeal, affecting her entire body and severely impacting her mental health. At just 23 years old, she lost her job as a dental receptionist due to the worsening condition and its effects on her sleep, causing her to be frequently late.

Currently, she’s on sick leave from her call centre job as her skin is “the worst it’s ever been”, raising concerns about how she’ll manage her mortgage payments if she can’t return to work.

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The intensity of her eczema has driven Courtney to seek therapy for depression and left her feeling quite isolated, as it hampers her ability to engage in normal social activities. She suspects that she may be experiencing topical steroid withdrawal and is exploring various treatments.

Meanwhile, she’s taken to social media to document her journey, finding that sharing images of her inflamed skin has surprisingly helped boost her self-confidence.

“When I was having a down day, I’d gone searching for (eczema content) and I’d found these people on Instagram and I just thought, ‘you know what, why not share my own story with it and connect with these people? ‘,” she said.

“One, it could make me feel better because I’d have this support system and two, it could make someone else feel better to see skin like mine.”

“Since I started doing that and started thinking more about it and learning more about it, I’ve gotten more confident with it, so I’m more willing to talk about it and more willing to be seen outside when I’m having a bad flare.”

Courtney Celine Bray who suffers from extreme eczema
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Courtney, who also has coeliac disease and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, has tried numerous steroid creams and even underwent ultraviolet light therapy several years ago which did improve her skin condition “slightly” but the eczema has worsened since then.

Talking about one of her worst episodes with eczema, Courtney said: “One morning I woke up a couple months ago and basically my whole face had just totally swelled up, the corners of my eyes were very dry so they had sort of sealed shut.”

She had to vacuum up flakes of skin “at least five, six times a day” because every time she moved “there were flakes falling everywhere”.

“It’s just been a constant battle,” she said. Losing her job as a dental receptionist three years ago marked a low point for Courtney and caused her to undergo therapy for depression.

“My skin started flaring, it was weeping and oozing a lot, I was getting really itchy rashes and a lot of open sores and wounds and it was becoming a lot more widespread, so I was getting it a lot more on my arms and neck,” she explained.

“Because it was getting on top of me, I was getting very down and I was having a lot of issues with my mental health and I was being late to the job a lot.”

“When you have severe eczema, sleeping is just a nightmare, but then I wouldn’t know how to explain it to my bosses so I would just say I’m really sorry I’m late, and I did end up losing the job.”

She has been off work for about a month from her role at a call centre due to the severity of her eczema.

“I have a mortgage and everything and my first thought was, what am I going to do, because if this is going to go on long term, then how am I going to pay my bills? ” she questioned.

Courtney mentioned that her eczema can be “quite isolating” as there are times when she feels too self-conscious and depressed to leave her house.

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“I don’t want people to see it and be like, ‘oh my God what’s that?'” she said. If I did have to go out, I’d be very anxious about it because I know people can see my skin and obviously in my mind, I think everyone’s going to look at me.” She hasn’t socialised with friends “for months” and admits that the eczema has put her off dating.

“I do see some family, but it’s rare that I’ll go to them, they generally come and see me because just leaving the house is such a chore at the moment,” she shared.

“My dating life is currently non-existent to be honest. I’ve just stopped any kind of dating or seeing anybody because you don’t want to meet someone new and be like, oh, sorry about my face.”

“It can make you very depressed, especially when I’m stuck at home because I’m just sat thinking about, is it ever going to get better?”

Courtney is unable to use makeup as a way of covering up her eczema due to the severe irritation it causes her skin. “A few years ago, if I was going out or something, I’d risk putting some mascara or eyeliner on and within hours, I’d have to take it off again because it made my eyes red and inflamed so it just became not worth it,” she revealed.

Having had eczema since she was about six months old, Courtney’s skin condition “took a nosedive” at age 16, fuelled by the stress of studying for her GCSEs and becoming “more obvious” to others. “It got quite sensitive, so wearing clothes was an issue so I would show up to school wearing baggy leggings and a hoodie just because it was the only thing that felt comfortable,” she confessed.

“Obviously, it’s a bit odd when you walk around wearing full length t-shirts and stuff so people would ask about it.”

As she progressed to A-levels, her interest in school waned and she began missing classes as the skin condition took a toll on her mental health. “It messed up my whole life to be honest because it was causing so many issues,” she admitted.

Courtney suspects that she might be experiencing topical steroid withdrawal, a condition that can manifest after long-term use of steroids, with symptoms such as skin redness, a burning sensation, and weeping sores.

She recounted an incident where a dermatologist dismissed her concerns, laughing and claiming there was “no such thing” before offering more steroid cream, which she refused. “It made me feel a bit like she wasn’t really listening,” Courtney expressed.

Currently, Courtney is trialling a “no moisture treatment”, reducing her water intake and avoiding creams to allow her skin to begin “naturally repairing”.

Earlier this year, Courtney launched an Instagram account, @theitchycoeliac, and a website, driven by the lack of personal stories about her conditions online. “I noticed when I was doing research into coeliac disease and my eczema, there is a lot of sites that give you the facts and the medical advice, but there wasn’t so much about the personal experience with it,” she said.

The online eczema community has played a crucial role in building her confidence and acceptance of her condition. “It could make someone else feel better to see skin like mine,” she added. For more insights into Courtney’s journey, visit theitchycoeliac.com.

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(Image: No credit)

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