So you've or your child/loved ones been diagnosed with eczema, now what? As a person whose suffered from severe chronic eczema her whole life, (since 3 years old), I've learned quite a bit about what to do, what not to do, and how to manage my eczema before it manages me. Some days, I still struggle with painful debilitating inflammation and open cuts, but some days I know my tips and tricks learned on the way are helping me drastically decrease the frequency in which I have to deal with those painful days.
Educate Yourself About Eczema
Eczema affects 31.6 million people in the US alone. These people help contribute to an industry bringing in something along the lines of 314 million dollars. Studies, associations, organizations, you name it! There are support groups of every kind for people who suffer from eczema. Check out the facts, and learn about the symptoms, triggers, and the industry surrounding eczema. You can check some cool facts here: https://nationaleczema.org/research/eczema-facts/
Get the Full Picture
I can't stress this enough. If you're looking here for eczema help, you're probably in situation I am all too familiar with. Having eczema at a young age, I was prescribed steroid ointments and creams for a very long time. Triamcinolone sound familiar? About every household I go into practically has a tube of this somewhere for a rash they had at one point in time. Triamcinolone seems to be an industry and doctor favorite, but what are we missing?
Topical steroids have an array of side effects you can read on many websites, you can check some details out here:
From my personal experience as a once daily user of steroids let me share some of my experiences. My parents speaking very little English were a bit naive in thinking that Western medication can only be good, nothing bad. Because my flares were so intense and the suffering I had was too much to bear for them, I naturally was told to use more of the topical steroid the doctor prescribed.
Besides antihistamines, topical steroids and moisturizing creams were the solution doctors of many clinics prescribed for me for over 20 years for my eczema.
However, with prolong use and exposure to these steroids, this is what you're expecting:
- thinner skin meaning anything with a sharp edge could cut my skin. It also meant that inflammation was more common because my skin was more reactive to the allergens I physically came in contact with
- immune system deficiency. Only when I took biology at the uni did I start uncovering the realm of steroid usage. Your organs really have to work overtime to process the steroids. Consistent use means consistent overtime and reduced overall health. I was frequently more sick than my siblings with an array of other chronic issues.
- brutal withdrawal periods. I'm talking full blown outbreak flare ups when you're off the steroid because of the dependency
- tolerance build up. Your body will constantly need higher concentration as you prolong the usage to be effective. I've gone from .001 concentration to .1 through the span of 20 years.
Understand the Itch
The itchy and scratchy has a science deeper than the cartoon on the cartoon Simpsons! Why do we scratch? Yeah, as a person whose suffered from eczema for so long, I began searching for answers, and I became more of a philosopher trying to find the holistic approach. Why do we scratch?
Basically we scratch because our bodies sense some foreign substance or thing and wants to get rid of it. When people who are allergic to cats or dogs, their bodies produce histamine when their bodies detect the presence of cats and dogs. When you produce histamine on your skin, your body reacts by getting 'really' itchy, and you scratch!
Why does scratching feel good? Well our bodies are created to protect ourselves. When you scratch, you're actually hurting yourself in essence. Because you're hurting yourself, your body releases those feel good chemicals like dopamine in order to counteract and protect you from that hurt you caused yourself. This is a vicious cycle for those with eczema. And those who have eczema can fully understand. Like a drunk alcoholic whose remorseful the day after with their hangover, eczema suffers who end up submitting themselves in a full scratch fest the night before wake up with open oozing cuts that have left your body so inflamed you really don't even know what to do with yourself. Any contact, any touch, or even brushing of clothes can irritate your skin. Then your body switches between feeling itchy and pain throughout the course of the day. There's nothing worse than waking up after a night of scratching.
Breaking the habit of scratching is easier said than done. For people who don't have eczema, you can't begin to understand how good the sensation feels. But this pleasure is equal to the harm you're causing with your body. To put this idea of pain and pleasure with scratching in perspective, whenever my hands are very itchy, and I just want for it to stop, I put my hands under some hot water and wait for the water to get scalding hot. This is supposed to burn me and cause pain, but it's quickly displaced with this intense pleasure of itch relief. Pain such as hot water or scratching, is now associated to pleasure. We've got ourselves that vicious cycle we're talking about!
Look twice and three times at what you're being prescribed!
At the end of the day, our bodies are simply overreacting to our surroundings causing a very unpleasant physical reaction. There was a non-steroid ointment prescribed to me, and the name escapes me, but compared to the 10 dollars triamcinolone, this option cost me 300 dollars. But it was much more effective. This prescription drug in pill form was to help organ transplant patients not reject their organ. I had the ointment form. It was an immune system depressant preventing your body from overreacting. I was able to use 3 tubes of this before I decided it was just too expensive to keep using with my insurance.
Triamcinolone never cures you of your symptoms, but was cost effective and heavily prescribed regardless of its dangers. This alternative ointment presented much less side effects, but was magnitudes more expensive. It makes you think more holistically though because it makes sense in the realm of a free market. If 300 dollar tubes cured me of my ailments, I wouldn't have spent the thousands of dollars in the past 20+ years with the 10 dollar tubes of the steroids.
If you find out that your medication is only helping you with your symptoms + its coupled with lots of severe side effects, consider an alternative approach. That's what I did. We'll talk about alternatives a little later.
Figure out things you can control
When I was in college, I had a new doctor. And usually what comes with the eczema label are allergies and asthma. These 3 seem to be the common trifecta for people suffering eczema. My hypothesis was I'm allergic to things so I react to these allergens by eczema outbreaks and then the compromised immune system you get asthma as kind of the icing on the cake.
Here are some things I learned about this trifecta:
- You'll get prescribed copious of medications. I'm talking inhalers you take once a day, inhaler for your asthma attacks, antihistamines for your allergies, moisturizers and creams for your eczema, and some over variation of daily meds to supplement and maintain
- antihistamines should be used with caution. There are studies pointing high usage with early alzheimers. But honestly, I feel like the the alzheimer's grogginess hits me when I wake up off these antihistamines. I feel super weak and miserable. Definitely cannot be good for your body. In addition to this, you're forcibly suppressing your body from reacting in its natural way. You often become delirious on these for a reason. Things are shutting down and off.
- Inhalers should be used with caution since most are also steroids. I had chronic bronchitis coupled with my asthma and would have a hard time talking at times especially when it was cold and my immune system was already taking a beating. I would also have a hard time laying down and sleeping being kept up with my constant coughing and gasping for air which lead to more coughing. So naturally, I turned to what the professionals told me and used my inhaler like none other. I was in my late teens and early college days at this point. I developed something people call, 'the shakes'. That's when if I put my hand out, you'd see it tremble and shake. Steroid usage of any type for a long period is never good, so I hope you never become dependent as I did. And if you do, be sure to be able to identify the side effects of long term usage to be able to determine when you need to take a break off them.
- Things work, then they don't, then maybe they work again. Nothing cures anything though...And sometimes you're left to deal with the side effects for the rest of your life all awhile spending copious amounts of money for quick fixes that don't fix.
- When you're old enough, they'll send you pamphlets about your health issue and constantly ask if your depressed. At first I thought it was funny, then after the third pamphlet came home, I started questioning my depression. All these ailments suck on their own, and I had all 3. It does affect your life in a lot of ways people take for granted. But since it's been a lifestyle difference of mine, I never thought about being depressed about it because I was always trying to figure my way around. Don't let yourself or your child feel helpless and defeated. There is hope. Even when doctors tell you that there isn't and you just have to live and deal with it. Because of these, they seem more than ready to also prescribe you anti-depressants...
You aren't helpless and completely reliant on your medical doctors. In fact, you know you best and you also know your symptoms best. Doctors of all types often try to categorize you to what they've learn or seen and prescribe as fittingly. They're doing what they're trained to, but you should also feel empowered to make change with your life as well. Here are some easy tips and trips:
Sleep scratching is probably one of the most eczema volatile times in my life. I've scratched skin off and cut into my already thin skin with my nails because of the insatiable itch. I've gotten so itchy, that I start to become sweaty and fully awaken myself in the middle of nights. I toss and turn and there were often times in my childhood where I felt so hopeless because of my skin I'd just cry in the middle of night desperate for any type of relief. Sleep is not only a time of potential harm havoc'ing scratch, it's also an opportunity to heal. When my symptoms are really rough, I intentionally knock myself out with some Nyquil or antihistamines in order to have productive healing sleep. I wouldn't recommend this, but I've definitely had to resort to this method in desperate times. Sleep is the time that's required to let your body heal. So naturally, sleep is fundamental to figure out.
- Wash your bedding and clothes frequently with non allergenic detergent.
- Unwind, anything stressful or causes too much thinking close to bedtime prevents a peaceful sleep. To help unwind I like to lay in bed and meditate or listen to white noise/rain. When I fail to do this, and my sleepless nights are plenty.. Winding down is very important for someone who has eczema.
- Take a cold shower. And if you can't do that, take a warm shower and finish cold. There are lots of harsh chemicals in our water. Make sure you have a filter that gets rid of some of the chlorine and fluoride. If you don't have one, it's even more important to take colder showers. The warmer your showers the more you open your pores and take in the water and whatever's in it. This can in return dry out your skin more and cause irritation. Also pay attention to the products you use. Sulfides, parabens, etc are found in most shampoos and conditioners. You want to get more natural -- less preservative/chemicals.
- Find a nice hypoallergenic lavender lotion. I use johnson johnsons baby lotion in the lavender scent. Lavender helps calm down your body and senses and rocks you to sleep. Use this immediately after showering. Immediately! If you have a good ointment or moisturizer you want to slather on your hands, do this now and put on your cotton gloves
- Consider getting an air filter for your room. There are so many allergens out there. For many, these are not noticeable, but for the hypersensitive eczema person, it can mean hell. Make sure you get some good air circulation and ventilation as well. I have the air filter and window cracked open because like guac at Chipotle, I am extra!
- Make sure the temperature of the room is set to be cooler than room temperature a bit. Overheating, sweating, and hot nights can trigger restless eczema scratching nights. Temperature plays a large role.
- Wear loose cotton clothing. You want to make sure your skin has ample room to breathe and that nothing agitates it when you're sleeping.
- Make a pro-active decision that you're going to resist scratching tonight and that tonight is dedicated to healing. Meditate on this while you're sleeping. Nights when I'm like @#!@$@%@ IM SO FRIGKIN ITCHY! well, when I wake up in the middle of the night, the next thing I end up doing is scratching. So decide that you won't scratch and hurt yourself, and let your body heal.
- CUT YOUR NAILS. Yeah, discipline right there because who doesn't love SCRATCHING with some long nails? Cut your nails. Do yourself a favor and cut them before they get long.
- Consider a humidifier or diffuser if your room is dry. It can help you sleep 🙂
This is what I struggle with the most...
- When you have a bad night or bad day with your eczema, try and think back to what you ate differently. People say keep a record of everything, but I'm just so lazy...
- nightshade vegetables! Look this up. These are known to be triggers as well.
- Balance, this is an Asian thing but I believe it to be true and useful for all Non Asian folks too. Figure out balance with food. There are foods that are considered hot and cold. For instance, watermelon is considered a hot food and I heard its because it requires your body to work harder at processing therefore, hot? Zen Asians eat a balanced of these two and seasonally adjust to accommodate their bodies. They're super in tuned. Maybe we should be too! Another area to educate yourself on.
- Dairy, nuts, protein, vegetables, fruits, seafood, carbs...Everybody reacts differently to everything. Figure out what your body likes or doesn't like and think of your body as a health bank. You eat good and deposit money and once you start building up that bank account, you can make withdrawals here and there with things you're limiting yourself with.
- water, drink lots and lots of water. Your body needs this to heal and you need the moisture and detoxing support of water. Skin is the largest organ, when we cant detox things using our organs and internals, we detox out of our skin causing more perverse reactions and a higher chance of the itchiness.
- Chinese medicine man! Taste like bitter shiznats but it is a holistic approach using herbs instead of steroids. Hard cup to swallow, but you don't gotta fret about getting the shakes on this! There is also a 'soaking' option. Cook the herbs in a pot and when it's at a temperature you can tolerate, soak your infected areas. When I had a kazillion little micro cuts all over my hands, I would do this and all the cuts would heal by the next day. My hands would have dark discoloration from the liquid and would taste bitter, but small price to pay for relief.
- Amazon sells this yellow chinese tube of eczema relief that may help you. It's like 5 bucks and was amazing the first few times I used it. YIGANERJING is what it's called.
- Go to a natural pharmacy and get some of the steroid alternatives there. The same thing applies here though, you really need to cycle between all of them to make sure you body doesn't get used to anything and develop a tolerance.
- Take supplements to help improve other parts of your health. You improve overall health and your skin's condition will more than likely follow suit. My hands are best when I am my best health wise.
- Decrease stress. Stress triggers are very bad for the hypersensitive. Figure out a way to release stress and tension in your life. Meditation, yoga, weight lifting..you need something to help with the stress before the stress deals you out some more of that eczema flare up you love so much.
- Paraffin wax can help provide some relief in a non hazardous way. Sometimes, our skin doesn't get the chance to really heal due to various of reasons. Paraffin wax allows your skin to sit in warmth and natural moisture to soak up whatever lotion you put on.
- hand warmers. There's electric ones you can buy on amazon where you slip your hands in. I put on a nice thick moisturizer and stick them into gloves before putting them into the warmers. The heat opens up my pores and promotes blood cell movement which can help speed up the healing process.
- lifestyle changes. Western medicine often focuses on treating symptoms but never really on the underlying cause. Sure we can get rid of your eczema flare with this magical cream once or twice, but what are you doing to ensure your body doesn't have to undergo the same symptoms again? It's simple to think in terms of allergies. If every time you eat oysters you throw up and can't breathe all at once, you would avoid ever eating oysters again. Skin disease is different because in ways, its still tolerable. You can live with the symptoms. Because of this, a lot of people fail to discover for themselves the underlying mental or physical reasons on why their body is hyper-responding. We can all make lifestyle changes to improve our lives. Those with eczema are given an extra incentive. Remember, it's all about perspective and then lots of discipline.
Regardless of where you are in your journey of eczema, just remember there is always hope and it will get better. I've had so many flares that I've already learned that when my hands are at their worse, they're also about to heal and turn things around for themselves.
As a girl who used to bandage every single finger up before music class when we had to play on the recorder, I know the embarrassment that comes with the staring and insensitive questions all too well. But my hands are a part of me and they also do so much for me as well. Learning to love my hands and appreciate them regardless of whatever state they're in is also something I have to learn and continue to develop. If I'm constantly upset and angry at the state of my hands, I'm also constantly upset an angry at a part of myself which really makes it hard for me to heal in a holistic way.
Changing your dialogue and your feelings about something that has become your handicap is something I still struggle to do. But I know that it's necessary for myself to heal. So make sure you not only take my tips into consideration, but you become aware of the dialogue you have with your body. You only get one of them so you really gotta learn how to not only work with it, but support it through not only your actions but thoughts and words.
Let me know if you have any other tips and tricks in the comments below!