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Eczema and Relaxation Study

We are investigating how relaxation may reduce the severity of eczema,
and we need your help.

Australia has one of the highest prevalence’s of atopic eczema in the world, at approximately 20-25% for children and 10% for adults aged 20-50 years. Additionally, there is a worldwide trend to increasing prevalence of the disease. Whist it is seldom life threatening, atopic eczema takes a toll on quality of life similar to that of cystic fibrosis or asthma. Intense itch is torturous to many sufferers, and through the aggressive itch-scratch cycle, leads to increasing severity of the skin lesions and increasing itch. And whilst treatments can reduce the severity of flares, there is currently no cure for the condition, leaving patients to cope with chronically relapsing, itchy lesions.

The chronic nature of eczema, and characteristic itch, can lead to a lot of stress for sufferers. For example, the intense itch associated with eczema leads to sleep loss in 80% of sufferers, with an average of 2hrs lost per night. Also, the visible nature of the disease can lead to social stigma and declines in self-esteem. On top of this, stress itself worsens the condition. Hence, there is a vicious cycle whereby eczema increases stress, which further worsens the eczema.

Consequently, stress-management is an essential part of treatment of the condition. Relaxation in particular has been found to reduce the severity of eczema; however, it is unclear how the positive effects occur. As such, we are investigating how relaxation influences various psychological and allergic processes that may be involved. In particular, we are investigating whether relaxation alters the function of the immune and stress systems in the body, and also the perception of physical stimuli. Gaining insight into these processes will improve treatment options for people suffering from eczema.

In order to do this, we need volunteers both with and without eczema.

What Does Your Participation Involve?
The study involves attending three sessions at Murdoch University – an introductory session (1hr), and a relaxation and a control session (3hrs each). In the first session, you will be screened for allergy and shown the relaxation procedure and physiological measures that will be used in subsequent sessions. Allergy screening involves skin prick testing, where a drop of diluted allergen is placed on the skin, and a small prick is made in the surface layer to allow the allergen to enter the skin. If you are allergic to a substance tested for, you will come up in a “wheal,” similar to a mosquito bite, only it does not itch for as long (see for a video). You must remain in the testing room for 20 mins following skin prick testing. In the next two sessions, you will be asked to engage in the relaxation task or sit quietly whilst various physiological and subjective measures are taken. These measures include: rating itch and pain sensations to harmless thermal and mechanical stimuli; forming small pockets of fluid in the upper layers of the skin using suction, and sampling this fluid as well as saliva; and introducing substances that have the effect of adrenaline and noradrenaline into a small patch of skin on your forearm with a very weak electric current. This procedure is used widely in laboratories around the world and is harmless.

Sessions will be run over the coming months. We are currently seeking adults both with and without eczema, who are not pregnant, and do not smoke or take prescribed medications for medical conditions other than for asthma, hay fever or eczema.

Contact Information
If you would like to register your interest, or have any questions about the study or your eligibility, please feel free to contact Katie, Amanda, and Li Ching at: or call 9439 2953

We are more than happy to answer your questions, and look forward to hearing from you.

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