If I can help just one person with eczema, then I would like to do just that.
You see, when mine first started, I had no idea what was happening. I was in my senior year of college, and working two part time jobs. I woke up one day with my eyes swollen shut and my face on fire. With no insurance, I went to the university’s clinic to see if they could help. They took me off my birth control bills, stating that sometimes girls were allergic to the blue dye. It didn’t work.
I would have to ice my face, just to take some of the sting out so that I could go to sleep. But the firey feeling would only wake me up 20-30 minutes later. This went on for almost a month. And every one of those mornings, I would get up with my eyes swollen shut and a firey face.
Then one day my dad called to say hi, and my response to his “how are you doing” was uncontrollable and incomprehensible blubbering through tears. He asked me what was going on and I told him. Then he told me he’d be right over. For all his faults, I really am grateful for his help that day. He took me to a dermatologist (a family friend with a practice in a very ritsy neighborhood where he usually did a lot of cosmetic procedures). The doctor took one look at me, threw out a couple of tsk-tsks, then gave me a cortisone shot. The pain stopped within a few minutes.
I kept going to this doctor, even though it cost me $100 a visit. He would always load me up with samples though. I remember having gone to him with my mom in the past. I think that’s why he loads me up with samples. He knew how broke my mom was so he felt bad.
But over the years, he never really helped me understand what was happening to my skin. As a matter of fact, he just told me to stay out of the sun and wear long sleeves. He also told me to eliminate anything smelly – detergents, perfumes and soaps – because they were irritating my skin. And I couldn’t even figure out what the hell it was that I had. It changed at every visit. One day it was photo-contact dermatitis. The next day it was atopic dermatitis. He never tested anything. I just came in and he’d give me a shot, throw a few tsk-tsks my way, fill my small hands up with little sample ointment bottles, then walk away while his staff charged the $100 on my card.
I lived by the beach at the time and thought, surely there must be something I could do instead of just hibernating all summer long. Something I could watch out for or a product to use or something I’m eating or drinking that made it worse? He never really listened when I asked these questions (which is SOOO typical of a Persian man!). So for years, I never hung out outside. I would make jokes about being a vampire to my friends and family. And everyone at work knew that outdoor events were a no-no. I bought a few breathable, long-sleeve patagonia shirts for when being outside in daylight was unavoidable. And I got rid of everything smelly. Still, while my face had been left alone, my limbs would be covered in a sheet of small itchy bumps. I would deal with the agonizing burning and itching for MONTHS at a time, trying to keep the cortisone shots to once (twice if it was an emergency) per year.
This was no life.
So earlier this year when I had an itchy spot in the crook of my right arm, I went to him. He said it was dermatitis. Only this time, it was localized to a small area, about the size of a quarter. It really looked more like ringworm to me, as it was circular and was raised around the edges. Everyone who saw it thought that’s what it was. And all the images and info I found on the web (which is ALWAYS right, right?) pointed to ringworm.
So I decided to spend another $100 and get a second opinion. I found a place much closer to my house this time, and I went in for my appointment. The doctor was very nice – a small Asian man, kind of youngish. He sat down and I briefly told him about this other doctor and how he doesn’t listen and only gives me cortisone shots and bla bla. And that I knew he knew what he was doing, but this most recent uprising was very different from the other manifestations of my condition, so I thought I’d get a second opinion.
He confirmed however, that it was in fact, dermatitis.
What’s more? He said it’s eczema. I guess I still can’t figure out which is which and what’s a subcategory of the other, but it doesn’t matter.
The doctor asked if I had seasonal allergies. Yes, I replied. Then he asked if anyone else in the family does as well. I replied that they did and that my sister has eczema as well! But her’s manifested itself in the peeling of skin on her hands and feet. She never itched, which is why I didn’t think to connect the two. He said that a lot of times, it is totally hereditary, so it makes sense that she has a form of it as well. It’s also typical of people with seasonal allergies, as it tends to me immune system related.
Then we started talking about treatments, and I gave him a few more details about the lack of options provided by my last doctor. He agreed and said he knew how painful and distressing it could be.
Really? I asked.
Yes, he replied. You know how I know? he asked.
I shook my head.
Because I have it, too! He said.
I think my face lit up. Finally! Someone who will listen and knows EXACTLY what I’m going through! I knew I liked this guy right from the start!
But the best piece of advise that he gave me was to stay moisturized and try not to shower every day if I could help it. He also suggested I moisturize within a few minutes of getting out of the shower. Then he gave me a prescription for an ointment that I could afford, and sent me on my way.
I’ve since found creams (more so than lotions) that work well on my skin. I still get the itchies. I don’t think they will ever really go away. But it’s been two years since I’ve needed a cortisone shot! I just put cream on everywhere, everyday. And if I have a particularly stubborn spot (these days it’s been my ring finger), then I use the ointment for a day or two until it goes away, and then keep moisturizing.
A little thing that I may have stumbled upon on my own however, is water! I am HORRIBLE at drinking water. Seriously horrendous! Like I will get in bed at night and realize I have not had ONE SIP. Not one! And no, I don’t drink sodas or juices. I just don’t drink anything at all!
So the last couple of days, my chest has been really itchy. I think it’s because I’ve been riding my bike a lot and because I tan so easily, I wear a tank-top to avoid the dreaded t-shirt tan. (Also, because I have been a vampire for so long, I wear a tank top, because NOW I CAN since I’m not so itchy!) I’ve been riding for a month or so now though, and typically, symptoms will show up in two days. And then I realized…I’ve hardly drunk any water the last couple of days! I’ve been on a mini-roll, since I bought a couple of water bottles that I’ve been toting around with me everywhere. But I haven’t really drunk water since maybe Friday, and now I can’t seem to shake the itches.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that the key to eczema (mine at least, I know there are million reasons and kinds out there) is to stay wet on the inside AND outside! 🙂
Like I said – if one person who has eczema reads this and it works, my job here is done!