Q&A: Seattle Top Doctor Heather Brandling-Bennett Wants to Dispel Myths on Skin Disease

One of Seattle's top doctors shares insight on the far-reaching impact of pediatric skin conditions
CLEARING THINGS UP: Skin conditions can affect a child’s mental health as well as their physical health, says Dr. Heather A. Brandling-Bennett

This article appears in print in the April 2019 issue, as part of the Top Doctors cover story. Click here to subscribe.

What are the most common skin conditions that affect children?
They include eczema, psoriasis, acne, hives, and viral, fungal or bacterial infections. At Seattle Children’s Hospital, we care for patients with a wide range of skin conditions, from common to exceedingly rare.

What impact can a serious skin condition have on a child that goes beyond their physical health?
They can have a tremendous impact on a child’s quality of life. Rashes can be itchy or painful, and may affect a child’s sleep, schoolwork and other activities. Visible skin conditions can be socially stigmatizing, leading to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. I have patients who do not want to leave their house because of their skin disease.

What can parents do to help keep their children’s skin healthy?
Sun protection, including sunscreen, hats and sun-protective clothing, is one of the best things a parent can do for their child’s skin. We can do so much damage to our skin as children, and often do not suffer the consequences, such as skin cancer, until we are adults. For many skin conditions, the key to keeping the child’s skin as healthy as possible is to establish and follow a consistent skin care routine.

Why did you choose this specialty?
When I started medical school, I thought I wanted to become a pediatrician or a pediatric specialist as I had always loved being around children. I chose to do a pediatric dermatology rotation because so many pediatric visits involve a skin concern. I loved the visual nature of the specialty, the wide variety of skin diseases and the ability to form meaningful, long-term relationships with my patients.

Do you have special areas of interest within dermatology?
I enjoy caring for patients with complex or severe pediatric skin disease. I work with our rheumatology team in a monthly joint clinic where we treat patients with rare autoimmune connective skin diseases affecting the skin, like morphea and lupus. I care for many of our oncology patients with skin conditions that are often complications of cancer therapy. I also have patients with other rare congenital skin diseases, like giant congenital nevi and epidermolysis bullosa, who I am fortunate to follow closely over many years.

What’s the biggest misconception that patients—or the public—have about what you do?
A lot of people think dermatologists just treat common or simple skin conditions, or mainly do cosmetics. Yes, I treat acne and eczema—and I also inject Botox, not for cosmetic reasons, but for hyperhidrosis [excessive sweating]. But I also treat patients with rare and complex skin conditions that most people have never heard of. Sadly, some of my patients are much sicker than most people realize.

What’s the most fun—outside of medicine—that you’ve recently had?
I have two incredible daughters, a wonderful husband and a very supportive extended family in the area who help me stay balanced and fill my life outside of medicine with joy. We just came back from our first family trip to Disneyland! And yes, we applied our sunscreen regularly! 

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