Did you know that October is Eczema Awareness Month? Eczema is something that I have lived with my entire life, and it’s a big part of my life. It’s part of the reason why I am so passionate about living all-natural. Since it’s almost the end of the October, I decided that before Eczema Awareness Month ends, I would tell you my story.
Before I start telling you my story, I want to explain to you what eczema is. There are many different types of eczema, and it is possible to have more than one type at a time. I myself currently experience bouts of Atopic Dermatitis (AD), Hand Eczema, Contact Dermatitis and Nummular Eczema. In the past I have also experienced Dyshidrotic Eczema. I think the National Eczema Association does a wonderful job explaining just what exactly eczema is.
“Atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema. People with AD have a “leaky” top layer of skin and an over-reactive immune system. The leaky skin allows irritants and allergens to pass through, triggering the immune system to produce inflammation. Inflammation causes the red, itchy and painful skin symptoms common to the condition. The immune system of a person with AD may also be triggered by normal bodily processes.
“Atopic dermatitis is a complex disease,” says Julie Block, president and CEO of National Eczema Association. “Research reveals this form of eczema goes well beyond what you see on the skin. Chronic inflammation, symptoms such as unbearable itch, being severely allergic to the world around you – these all profoundly affect the quality of life of people with AD.””
I was literally born with eczema. If you look at pictures of me as a newborn you can clearly see the red, patchy rashes that indicate eczema. So I truly have never known what life is like without it. My childhood was literally spent trying to find, not a cure, but a way to help me deal with my skin on an everyday basis. Living with eczema is not easy.
I’ve never known what it was like to have “normal” skin. I’ve always wondered what that must be like to have skin and a body that isn’t constantly attacking itself. When I was a child I had eczema on my arms, legs, feet, hands, scalp, and face. I was the child who was constantly covered in band-aids or wearing white cotton gloves so I couldn’t itch my skin and infect it more than it already was. I always had creams and lotions with me. Many different cortisone creams were tried over the years, and I remember how much they would burn my skin. Sometimes the pain itself could reduce me to tears. But the pain that was caused by the creams never compared to the internal pain I dealt with on a daily basis.
To live with eczema means to live with a constant itch. And it’s an itch you can’t scratch. Imagine that your hand feels itchy. So you scratch it. As you scratch it, it feels so good, but at the same time the itching starts intensifying, so you scratch harder. The harder you scratch the better it feels, but the itching never stops. And once you stop trying to itch the itch that you can’t scratch, you’ve already ripped open your hands in the process and now you are dealing with open wounds. The thing is, you don’t realize how much harm you are doing to your skin because it feels so good while you’re scratching it. They say eczema is the “itch that rashes” and it’s so true.
I was lucky. As a child I don’t remember anyone ever bullying me about my eczema, even though it was something you could plainly see. If someone pointed to my eczema and asked “What is that?” I would explain that it was a rash called eczema. Usually the follow-up question would be “Is it contagious?” and I would reply no. And that was usually all I ever got asked about it.
But, eczema did make life harder. In the summer, my eczema could get triggered by the heat. In the winter, by the cold. Pants could make my eczema worse. Certain fabrics could too. If I ate something that I shouldn’t have, my eczema could flare up very badly (eggs, oranges, citrus fruits). Even swimming was difficult sometimes! There was on year that I had such a bad allergic reaction to the chlorine in the pool at my camp that every time I would go in the water, I would end up with an intense burning sensation all over my skin, which eventually triggered a months long battle with Dyshidrotic Eczema (small, intensely itchy blisters which can appear on the edges of the fingers, toes, palms, and soles of the feet). That time I ended up with it on my feet, and that was the worst! It was hard to walk because my feet hurt so much, not to mention how itchy it was!
I was always told there was a chance that I would grow out of my eczema. Luckily, I have grown out of it for the most part. It’s no longer constantly on my arms, hands, feet, legs, or face all at the same time. But, that doesn’t mean I have completely outgrown it. I doubt I ever will. As I’ve gotten older my eczema seems to rotate around where it likes to appear on my body. Right now I have Nummular Eczema which has currently settled on my legs, and has made some appearances on my arms as well. Luckily, this type of eczema for me isn’t super itchy. It’s just annoying because it gives me these little, red, round coin-shaped spots that are super dry and scaly. I also currently have a bout of hand eczema that is slowly getting better, and thankfully the eczema on my eyelids which I was recently battling with for a few months seems to finally be under control.
The thing with eczema is, at least for me, it doesn’t go away. And when I have a flare-up it gets bad. There have been a few times where I have had to call out of work because I literally can’t use my hands and am in so much pain that I am in tears. So what causes flare-ups?
Honestly, it can be anything. I’ve found that stress plays a HUGE role in my eczema. If I am severely stressed out, you can bet that my eczema will flare very badly. Because my immune system is over-reactive, if I’m around regular household chemicals (Lysol, Bleach, etc…) you can bet that my body will start attacking itself and I will have an eczema flare. The worst is when I’m at work and they use harsh cleaning products. If I touch a surface that has just been recently cleaned, my hands will get super red, itchy and inflamed very fast. If the chemicals are in the air, forget it. Then it’s my whole body that can get itchy, as well as my eyelids. If I touch oranges, potatoes, tomatoes without wearing plastic gloves, my skin will get itchy. Soaps can bring about a flare as well. Even clothes and fabrics can. And water brings about the worst eczema flares for me. Taking a shower causes my whole body to flare and leaves me an itchy mess.
And this is all partially why my husband and I live an all-natural life. There’s many other factors as well, but it’s important to us that we create an atmosphere in our home where most of the time I’m ok, and won’t flare. We make our own soaps which nourish my skin and are made with gentle ingredients that moisturize. We make our own shampoos that are gentle on my scalp and my body. We make our own laundry detergent so I don’t have reactions to my own clothes. All of our cleaning products are 100% all-natural with no chemicals that way I’m not allergic to our house when we clean it. Since we found out I have a problem with gluten, and have eliminated that from my diet, my eczema has gotten a lot better. We drink raw milk which actually helps my skin. Everything we do is designed to help us live a happier, healthier life, but at the same time it helps my eczema too.
Eczema is not easy to live with, but honestly I don’t know life any other way. All I can do is know my triggers and manage my symptoms the best way I can. Maybe one day there will be cure. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
For More Information About Eczema & Eczema Awareness Month Check Out:
Did You Enter This Week’s Giveaway?