A Department of Health funded study into the effect of hard and soft water on the skin condition eczema is being carried out at the University of Portsmouth.
The university is looking for children with moderate to severe eczema aged between six months and 16 years to take part in a clinical trial to find out if installing a water softener at home improves their condition.
Eczema has been reported to be more common in hard water areas such as Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, but no-one really knows why. The study will investigate if eczema in children can be improved by fitting a device to soften all the water in the home apart from a single tap in the kitchen for drinking.
The condition affects up to 20% of school children in the UK. The most common symptoms include dry, reddened skin that itches or burns which can lead to oozing lesions but most treatments only suppress the condition and can have unwanted side effects.
The devices will be fitted free of charge for the duration of the study and families who take part in the trial can buy them at a reduced cost.
Anne-Marie Crawford-Flanagan from Gosport has finished the trial with her 15 month old son Dylan who suffered from severe eczema, she commented: “The eczema meant Dylan had bleeding sores and wouldn’t sleep for more than an hour without waking up to scratch. We had about a dozen different creams on prescription and I was at my wit’s end. Less than two weeks after the softener was installed there was a dramatic improvement. Now there’s barely a mark on him. He’s a completely different baby.”
If the trial is successful, it could mean an improvement to the lives of millions of sufferers.
“Eczema is reported to be less common in areas of soft water and there is anecdotal evidence which suggests that sufferers who already have a water softener installed see a reduction in their symptoms. Carrying out a proper clinical trial will help prove if this is the case,” said Professor Tara Dean, director of research at the School of Health Sciences and Social Work who is leading the study.
“If water softeners are found to improve the symptoms of eczema it will be a breakthrough for both patients and doctors”
For some it may be as simple as reducing their dependency on pharmacological treatments such as steroids and creams.
Softening the water also reduces the amount of detergent needed for washing clothes which can be a major irritant for eczema sufferers.”
“Yes. The costs are surely going to equal out or be less than current treatment regimes and frequent hospitalisation required. The relief for sufferers would be beyond measure.” – Elizabeth Porter, Northern Ireland