My Journey with Eczema Part I
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Even if you've never had eczema I'd highly suggest reading on! This post may offer some insight into your own health. Skin and gut issues have been an ongoing battle of mine for over a year and are one of the main reasons I began focusing more on health and wellness and thus, wanted to create this website. I know I can't be the only one dealing with this and want to let others know they're not alone.
When I was a child I had eczema on my upper inner thighs. I would constantly scratch it, which was embarrassing given the location, and had a cream that I applied regularly without question. I don't remember when it stopped, but eventually it did. Fast forward many years to February 2016, age 30, when I began developing itchy bumps on the knuckles of my hands. They would come and go and were never too bothersome. Eventually the bumps stayed and were getting itchier, bigger, redder, and sorer. I had several weeping patches on my hands and no idea what they were or how to get rid of them. So began my research.
I tend to not like doctors. I went to college for health sciences/radiology and worked in hospitals and urgent cares, so I'm very familiar with the healthcare system. And for the most part, I don't like it. I didn't want medication and was determined to fix myself as I often am. Since I didn't yet know what I was dealing with, my initial searches led me to do a parasite cleanse. I don't regret doing it, but it didn't get rid of the patches. I tried colloidal silver, lavender essential oil, coconut oil, etc. and nothing was helping. I tried countless anti-histamines at one point which didn't even phase the wounds or the itching. I tried a 5 day juice cleanse, got a colonic and did an infrared sauna sweat session, none of which worked and I'd later find out how some of these actually exacerbated the problem. I was becoming frustrated, draining my bank account, and getting nowhere.
I decided to go see a natural chiropractic doctor my coworker recommended who told me it was heavy metals and gave me some supplements to take. I have a mouth full of mercury fillings from my childhood so I trusted him. This seemed to work and the patches started to dry up and weren't weeping anymore. I was relieved! After a few weeks the patches on my hands came back and I also had some itchy bumps moving up my wrists. I was discouraged and at a loss. It became incredibly painful, I couldn't sleep, I was embarrassed to leave the house, I was constantly wrapping my hands in gauze, and I became so depressed, exhausted and desperate that I broke down and spent hours searching for the best Kasier doctor I could find.
The doctor I decided on confirmed it was eczema, just by looking at it, and offered me a steroid cream and pill. He never once touched me or asked any health history. He told me to use unscented soaps and don't take long, hot showers. That was about it. The lack of personalized care I've experienced over the years is what frustrates me with the system. Unfortunately I was exhausted, both physically and mentally, and was desperate to stop itching and be able to sleep again, so I took both medications, something I would normally never do. And it worked. The itching went away and it was starting to clear up. Again, I was relieved! But after a short time it came back with a vengeance, the spreading up my arms was worse, and I was back at square one.
At this point my boyfriend reached out to a friend who had dealt with something similar. She said to minimize allergens (this is when I realized my dust allergy was playing a minor role) and recommended seeing Dr. Choi, a Chinese Medicine doctor at TY Wellness. He had positive Yelp reviews, mainly from eczema sufferers which gave me hope, but I didn't go initially because it was a lot of money and I was already a few hundred dollars in the hole at this point. But in June 2016 it became so bad that I had to go; it was my last hope! My experience at TY Wellness was life changing and my only regret was not going sooner. It was worth every penny I spent and I spent A LOT of pennies there.
I'd had acupuncture done twice before, but I'd never been treated by a Chinese Medicine doctor so I was nervous and excited at the same time. Dr. Choi and his two assistant doctors sat me down and asked a ton of questions, something Kaiser never did. TY explained why using steroids for eczema is the worst thing you can do. Your body can become addicted to them which can cause steroid withdrawals that have similar symptoms to eczema, creating a vicious cycle. Dr. Choi examined my tongue, palpated a bunch of my organs and combined with the history I gave them, they decided what they needed to do to get to the root cause of my eczema.
Dr. Choi taught me that eczema has to be healed from within. I can put whatever I want on my skin, but unless we got down to the root cause, it would never truly be healed. The main thing he told me is that I have too much Yang, which is excessive internal heat. I had no idea what this meant, but later found out that everything you consume is either cooling or heating. However, that doesn't refer to the temperature of what you're consuming. For example, I ate a lot of turmeric, ginger, cilantro (remember that juice cleanse I mentioned earlier?) which are all high heat content. These were contributing to my eczema and I was none the wiser. Dr. Choi also told me that my digestion was weak and my liver wasn't optimal. During one of my visits he made the connection between my eczema and my abnormal menstrual cycle/spotting, which blew me away. I'd never guess there was any connection, but our entire body is connected so it makes sense. (I'll talk more about this in a cycle syncing post!) He performed acupuncture to help all of this, prescribed me Chinese herbs tailored to my needs, which I was to drink three times a day for 2 weeks, and put me on a very bland, cooling diet, as well as gave me some other instructions (see image below). The herbs I could tolerate, but I was a foodie with a passion for cooking, how long could I keep up with this restricted diet? Do you how hard it is to be vegan and not eat any wheat or nuts?!
During these 2 weeks, I continued getting acupuncture and closely followed all of their instructions (which wasn't always easy) and I began to slowly make progress. By the end of it, my skin was almost healed. The doctor recommended another round of herbs and a continuation of the diet so that I could fully heal. I was distraught by this news, but kept with it. After 4 weeks on the herbs and diet combined with acupuncture, I felt like a new person! My digestion was stronger, I wasn't bloating every day, and most importantly my skin looked great! I had one little spot of eczema left on my finger, but he said I didn't have to take any more herbs if I didn't want to, but that I should continue the cooling diet. I did the diet for a total of 7 weeks and then began slowly reintroducing foods again. I mean, I was about to go on vacation and everyone knows I travel for food.
On this vacation in September 2016, I may have went a bit harder than anticipated. I was consuming a lot of things I hadn't consumed for 7 weeks; mainly gluten, sugar and alcohol. I definitely felt my digestion beginning to suffer, but my skin was mostly ok. The eczema cycle would occasionally begin again, but each time it was less severe and would heal quickly. Over the next 6-8 weeks I tried to follow the cooling diet as best I could and managed to hang in there. However, I was about to begin a 6 month plant based cooking course that would have me experiment with all kinds of foods, even ones I should have been limiting. During this time I had a couple bumps come back on my hand, but they would continue to go away without too much intervention. Then, on November 4th, I received the news of my younger sister passing away which began a downward health spiral that would ultimately lead me to some major life changes.
Read the rest in part 2
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