Almost all chronic eczema sufferers, parents and caregivers understand that control over the symptoms is the number one priority. If a cure or magic fix can't be found, then controlling the frustrating and debilitating symptoms is a must.
This has been the pursuit of CuddlyClaws founder Michael Smith and the CuddlyClaws team for many years. Michael's journey is described below.
Since birth, I have struggled to control my own eczema. I had it from the soles of my feet to my scalp. When I was born the attending doctor told my parents I had been over cooked. I came out cracked and sore. From then on it was a battle for my parents to manage my eczema and asthma. Hospital visits, hospital stays, specialists, diets, supplements, special this and special that. Saw anybody and everybody that ended with a “..titian” or “…path” but no real joy at treating the root cause or gaining effective control over the symptoms. I went through periods of my skin being under control to suffering short and prolonged flare ups.
I always needed a solid 12 hours sleep. If I had a broken sleep (which was frequently), my mum would call the school and say “he will not be in until 10 because he was up all night scratching”. It was very common to wake with new blood on the sheets. There were days I could not sit down in school because I could not bend my knees. Several times per year I would have two week spells off school in hospital working to gain back control of my eczema. I became very self-conscious but I also became very disciplined in my skin care and moisturizing regimes.
In early 2000 I had had a guts full of a particularly persistent flare up. I was working so hard during the day to not scratch or rub while religiously applying moisturiser and a variety of other lotions and potions. I decided to try to prevent or reduce this night time scratching.
It was Uni holidays and I worked on various different ways to try to stop myself from scratching in my sleep. This included tying myself to the bed, which is fine until you get to your second hand. I handcuffed myself to a custom made belt. I tried wrist straps and padlocks. During these 3 months of trial and error, I moved to Wellington to study Graphic Design. Although these methods were reasonably effective they were incredibly restrictive and uncomfortable.
A great friend of mine, Helen (who lived in the Wellington) and I decided we should try mitts after she laughed at the lack of practicality with the other options. My sewing skills went as far as Intermediate Home Economics so Helen was a great help. Together we scoured material shops, ski stores and hardware shops. We needed to work out a fastening system that could close around the wrist to stop the mitts either falling off or being pulled off during the night as the subconscious took over and wanted to scratch. The fastening system could also not use anything that could be used to scratch with, or that would defeat the purpose. No zips, buckles, domes, clasps or anything that could be sharp or rough. We finally resolved it and a very rudimentary version of CuddlyClaws was born.
We jokingly named the mitts CuddlyClaws as a play on what was causing the damage and how we were transforming them. Effectively, taming our wild fingernails during sleep. The name stuck and I became confident I would wake with my skin in a better shape than I would go to sleep for the first time. Even if I would go to sleep tired and scratchy, I would wake with a solid nights healing.
Over the years I had to moisturise daily but found sustained periods of stable skin and a reduced dependence on stronger medication. Eventually, only having to bring the mitts out occasionally. In April of 2015 and back in Christchurch, my wife, Millie, and I moved into a friends recently purchased, old weatherboard bungalow. It was hard to tell what triggers might have been present before the EQC post-earthquake repairs, (mould, 17 cats, dust, etc.) but this set off a significant flare up. This flare up reminded me how much of an impact a major flare up had on me physically, psychologically and emotionally. I felt so tired, powerless and despondent. I began desperately searching for a cause to take back control. Diet, laundry powder, medication and extreme cleaning were all targeted. I ended up seeing the GP several times, went to after hours and even a dermatologist. I was at my wit’s end and so we dug out the mitts. They did not stop the flare up but stopped me from tearing myself apart during it.
This reflection period reminded me of how much my skin dominated my thinking during a flare up and just how helpless it made me feel. It also showed how much of a lifesaver the mitts were for me and that I wanted to help others suffering in a similar situation. Within my soul I felt the calling, that what started as helping myself needed to be bigger. I want to reach and help more people with the best proactive scratch prevention solution. I want to give control back and see others push on to be the very best version of themselves they can. I know there is no magic cure for the root cause, or at least we have not found it yet. I strongly believe the body is the best tool to heal and recover. We just need to give the body a chance.
Since the original version, the mitts have received several major overhauls. A team of professional have taken them to the next level by refining the mitt designs and materials. Together, we have measured over 1000 children’s hands and wrists, to gain accurate sizing. We eventually refined the sizes down to nine. I always trial everything but we have also had adult scratchers and mini scratchers from 9 months to 13 years old trial the mitts.
CuddlyClaws have had tremendous success in improving scratchers skin. The mitts played a vital role in helping break the itch-scratch cycle. Preventing sleep time scratching and re-aggravating damaged and delicate skin is vital in healing. The National Sleep Foundation states that “Sleep is especially important for children as it directly impacts mental and physical development.” CuddlyClaws transform sleep back into the regenerative time the body requires. Once healed the skin is more resilient to day time scratching, environmental triggers and infections.
Millie, who has been a major support to me, says I still go for it occasionally and shake the bed while attempting a scratching session, but it is a lot less when I am wearing the mitts. It is as though the body realizes that because I am wearing the mitts it is not worth trying. Not always, but less. I also find I generally have a more settled sleep when wearing the mitts.
Everybody’s skin is different. Everybody’s scratching condition and triggers are different. The one thing we have in common is the desire to stop scratching and have settled skin. Again, there is no magic bullet but CuddlyClaws have provided me and other scratchers control over their night time scratching. Even though my skin still flares up every now and then, and I know my skin would be so much worse if I did not have the mitts at night time. The main thing I get is peace of mind and some control.
I sympathise with all the scratchers out there. I wish you all the very best for settled skin. Until we hopefully have a cure, please keep supporting each other and sharing what works. Every body deserves a scratch free sleep.