“NEXT time you have an itch, try not to scratch. Leave it for as long as you possibly can and, when you finally give in, notice the feeling of sheer relief.

“Imagine a similar sensation, but this time it’s all over your body. You can’t pinpoint an area that doesn’t itch. But it’s far more intense now and feels like a million tiny creatures running around under the surface of your skin. Now try not to scratch.”

Suzanne Watson knows all too well how it feels to suffer from eczema. She had it from the age of 14, and still has flare-ups.

Now a trustee of the National Eczema Society, Suzanne is helping to host a dermatology Q&A session at an eczema information day this weekend. The highlight of National Eczema Week, it will be attended by healthcare professionals - Professor Andrew Wright, consultant dermatologist from Bradford Hospitals and Honorary Visiting Professor at Bradford University, Senior Children’s Dermatology Nurse Julie Carr and Nurse Consultant Dermatology and Clinical Lead Sandra Lawton - helping eczema patients take control of the debilitating skin condition through the latest treatments and stress management.

The event includes a high impact session with Clinical Psychologist from the University of Sheffield, Andrew Thompson.

"We’re offering a full day which will provide a solid tool kit for anyone experiencing eczema, personally or through a family member or friend,” said National Eczema Society Chief Executive Andrew Proctor. “A referral to a consultant dermatologist can mean joining a long waiting list so we're delighted to have such a wealth of expertise offering the very best in eczema management advice and information.”

Suzanne says sharing tips and experiences is essential in reducing the isolation often felt by those with eczema. "Taking action on eczema can be as simple as sharing your experiences, taking that step of making an appointment to see your GP or simply contacting the fantastic team at the National Eczema Society," she says. "Eczema should not define you - we want those living with it to leave feeling informed, empowered and inspired. That’s the very first step in taking action against this hugely underestimated, misunderstood condition.”

Eczema affects one in six adults and one in 10 children in the UK.

“Every day, like me, they experience the torment of being torn between scratching to get rid of the terrible itch and the resulting pain, inflammation and bleeding from your own nails,” says Suzanne, who has suffered from side effects of steroid creams prescribed in the past. “All chemical creams do is push the eczema back under the surface. They make it worse in the long run. Imagine having skin like an old woman by the time you’re 40; I’ve seen people whose skin has torn like paper after years of using steroid creams.”

In Suzanne’s case, severe flare-ups are caused by stress, contact with animals “or sometimes just for the sheer hell of it”.

“It starts in the common places - behind the knees, elbows, creases in the arms - then it spreads,” she says. “The times I’ve been told not to scratch - ‘Don’t do that, it looks terrible’, ‘Just leave it, sit on your hands’, Scratch around it, try to relax’.

“Relax? When your body feels like it’s on fire, when your skin is weeping? Extremes of temperature have made me shake and shiver because I’ve lost so much body heat through inflammation. Can you imagine relaxing?

“It’s as if my body is tormenting itself: ‘Go on, just one little scratch, it’ll feel much better’... But one little scratch usually turns into a frenzied clawing until I’m exhausted, sore and feel a failure for giving in.”

Suzanne says flare-ups can be frightening. “With my own bare hands, I have mutilated myself. Imagine the horror of scratching the back of your knees, feeling it wet beneath your fingers as you draw blood but you can’t stop, standing up to find you can’t straighten your legs because the skin will split, realising you can’t possibly look attractive to your partner.

“The relentless itching is sometimes worse at night; the weight of bedding can irritate skin. I’ve been plagued by nights of constant scratching. It takes its toll, leaving me tired and irritable. Some mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed because I was so sore and I knew moving would hurt.”

As the Managing Director of Ilkley-based Approach PR and Vice President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, and a mum-of-two, Suzanne, 47, has a busy life, and has to manage occasional flare-ups on her face, arms and hands, particularly if stressed. “I’m less conscious of it now, it’s part of who I am - the difference is I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed any more,” she says. “There are areas on my arms and legs which don’t tan because of scar tissue. The skin around my wrists and ankles is thin after years of steroid creams and the skin around my chest looks like cellophane when pressed.”

Suzanne says information events are more trustworthy than online advice. “For over 40 years the National Eczema Society has worked with the UK’s very best dermatologists to provide up-to-date information which can be a lifeline,” she says.

“I’d urge anyone living with eczema or supporting someone with it to come along and take advantage of seeing some of the country’s best eczema minds under one roof.”

* The National Eczema Society’s ‘Take Action on Eczema’ information event is on Saturday at St George’s Centre, Great George Street, Leeds, from 11.30am-4.30pm.

* Eczema is a personal condition and people respond differently to triggers and treatments. "Sometimes you need to try a few things before finding a self-management routine that works best for you," says Suzanne.

Here are the National Eczema Society’s top tips for taking control:

1. Keep your home cool to ease itching - around 18°C is ideal

2. Go fragrance-free. Anything with a strong scent, from soap to air freshener, may be irritating to the skin

3. Mind the gap! Leave at least 10 minutes - ideally longer - between applying an emollient and a topical steroid. This stops the steroid spreading to areas of skin unaffected by eczema or being diluted. It doesn’t matter which is applied first

4. Pinch itchy skin rather than scratching it, to avoid damaging the skin’s barrier

5. Use emollients at least twice a day to prevent dryness, and at other times whenever your skin feels dry and itchy

6. Go back to basics on skincare. Check with a healthcare professional for advice to make sure you’re applying creams properly and managing your eczema triggers as best you can

7. Don’t cut foods out of your diet without medical advice unless you or your child have been diagnosed with a food allergy. If you cut foods without support, you/they may miss out on important nutrients

8. Contact the National Eczema Society’s helpline on 0800 089 1122 (8am-8pm, Monday-to-Friday) or email questions to helpline@eczema.org