University research helps children with eczema care for their skin

Health experts from Birmingham City University and the University of Nottingham have teamed up with an author, illustrator and an East Midlands orchestra to produce a new book, animated film and songs to help children with eczema cope with the condition. 

The Dragon in My Skin is a story aimed at children aged 5 to 7 with eczema. It forms part of the National Institute for Health Research funded Eczema Mindlines study, which Fiona Cowdell, Professor of Nursing and Health Research at Birmingham City University leads. Eczema Mindlines is committed to improving the treatment and management of the skin condition, which affects around 20% of children in the UK.

Through a programme of research and co-creation work with children living with eczema, healthcare professionals and other interested groups, Fiona developed five key messages about eczema treatment and self-care for children, which she was keen to share widely in an easy-to-understand, attractive and accessible format.

Writer Hazel Gould and illustrator Jay Nolan-Latchford – an old school friend of Fiona’s – adapted the key messages about eczema care into words and pictures, which evolved into The Dragon in My Skin story. The mythical creature at its centre acts as a metaphor for the condition with the moral of the tale being that rather than fighting the ‘dragon’ living within their skin and making it angry, children become its friend and so live a happier life.

Dr Stephanie Lax, a colleague of Fiona’s from the Centre of Evidence Based Dermatology at the University of Nottingham, suggested working with Derby based professional orchestra and education charity Sinfonia Viva to share these messages and helped develop the artistic outreach concept, incorporating feedback from the Centre’s Patient Panel.

As a result, children with eczema and their families joined a series of online workshops with writer Hazel Gould, songwriter Abimaro Gunnell and the Sinfonia Viva creative team to compose a series of songs based on their own experiences of the condition and the dragon story which they have recorded alongside professional players from the orchestra.

Professor Fiona Cowdell said:

Fiona, Stephanie and the team have also worked with Alison Pemberton Smith and colleagues from Birmingham City University’s School of Education and Social Work to develop an accompanying collection of curriculum linked resources and a workbook, all designed to reinforce the key messages about self-care to those who have eczema, and improve awareness of the condition among those who don’t. These will be free to access for Key Stage 1 teachers. A hard copy of The Dragon in My Skin book is also being sent to the 800 local primary schools that work in partnership with Birmingham City University.

Ten-year-old Arielle Carty from Birmingham, who has had eczema from an early age, was among the participants in the project.

Arielle’s mum Shauntelle explained:

Marianne Barraclough, Deputy Chief Executive at Sinfonia Viva, added:

Full information and KS1 resources can be found on The Dragon in My Skin web page. The animated film created by artists Darius Powell and Abbie Canning, and accompanying songs can be viewed on YouTube.