Living with eczema
I see commercials on television with a snake and a model endorsing a product for those of us who have sensitive skin. I have thought for many years that this must be my last layer of skin. But like a snake I keep getting new layers with the old scratch marks somewhat visible.
Seven years ago while in the courthouse mediation room with my two children and their father the Mediator wanted to know what those marks were on my arms. I said I have eczema and left it at that. I could of said the stress brought on by this entire process of having to take a sick child to the courthouse, and another one out of school could of contributed to the restless sleep that resulted in my ripping apart my arm.
There are steps that I follow in trying to control my eczema. I keep my fingernails cut very short to make the scratching less harmful to myself. There are white cotton gloves that I wear when I sleep. These gloves are found in fine department stores in the amount of $10 - $15. I have tried beauty supply stores, and bought in bulk on ebay from various suppliers. One time I purchased a man’s glove that turned out to have more perfume lined inside than a woman’s magazine.
3M Nexcare™ is the brand of bandaids that I use for the cuts and sores on my fingers. I purchase a box just about every week. There are the comfort strips and active styles that come in one-inch strips. The cheapest price is found at Target. I need to have several fingers wrapped before I can attempt to wash the dishes, give my son a bath and take a shower. I wear a few under my workout gloves as well. They are flexible foam and ultra comfortable bandages. The brand has changed their packaging over the years. I can also wear the neon colored ones for kids – these are in yellow and pink and never coordinate with my clothes.
Another contributing factor to my sensitivity is being allergic to lanolin, known as animal fat. This is an ingredient found in most everything from soaps, shampoos, detergents, baby wipes, powders and cosmetics. You learn quickly to read labels on everything you come in contact with and use your feet to push open public restroom doors.
I do not use fabric softener, dryer sheets, bleach and do not hang clothing outside to dry. I hang most of our clothing on the shower curtain in the bathroom and various spots throughout the house. This also extends the life of our clothing so my youngest son can fit into his older brothers shirts and pants.
Taking an oatmeal bath regularly helps in relieving the irritations brought on by this skin ailment. Soaking in one for thirty minutes will soothe my skin. Making sure the water temperature is never too hot to dry out sensitive skin is another tip to be aware of. I learned by accident several years ago that epson salt in the bath soothes the skin. Since my children are both on the autism spectrum I would pour some epson salt into their bathes and then place my hand inside the tub to mix it around. The feeling once I dried my hand was quite remarkable so now I like to soak my hand in there for a minute.
One time I scratched my face when making meatloaf and I ended up at the emergency room due to the fat touching my face and I scratched it raw. Now I use a wooden spoon and just toss in the pan and do not touch anything. The same for chicken if I get any type of skin that would touch my lips they blow up and it itches like crazy and vaseline is the product to use when this happens.
While in my early twenties I worked as a waitress in a Hotel and various restaurant chains. I could not handle working the salad bar as my fingers were burning from the acid in the fruits. Eventually I would be waiting on tables with my fingers bandaged. The same reaction occurred while employed part time at a grocery store at the checkout line. Here I was able to don white cotton gloves to pick up the food items and type in the price of the item. My gloves were always dirty by the end of the shift. This was before they had scanners to slide the food, which I imagine would produce the same irritations. I have seen workers at stores wearing gloves or bandages on their fingers and asked if they had eczema. The answer is always yes and I can commiserate with them.
The effects of having eczema my entire life resulted in one time in high school coming home and asking my Mother what scabies was because someone asked me if I had it. I was sent to my room and thought I had done something wrong.
When I turned 21 I hopped on a Greyhound bus and headed for San Diego. I lasted six months before calling my family to send me a ticket back. The stress and weather was a bit much on my face and hands. I was banned to a room for my Aunt’s baby shower due to the embarrassment of my face to my mother and the food was brought to my room.
I have been treated like I had leprosy and people have thought I used needles on my arms as well. I have spent many years explaining this ailment to people who think nothing but saying rude and unkind things because someone has some cream on their face due to a rash.
The worse times for me are in the summer with the heat and the sweating makes me scratch my arms more. I have scabs on my legs from the early 80s that are hard to detect, but I know they are there. The act of shaving legs is also hard to do when you have rashes all over.
There are many things that cause an irritation to my skin due to being sensitive as well as outside factors that weigh in. The change in temperature plays a key role in eczema as well as stress factors with the best advice being to maintain good overall health and de-stress.
The tips I can pass on are to run your hands under cold water when they are itchy. This really works, as does placing your head under the sink or tub faucet with cool water to rinse your hair. I do this prior to driving out in the Southern California heat. It really cools off my face from having a wet head.
Do not use any detergent for your bedding and sheets. Just wash in hot or cold water, whichever is necessary and you prefer. I do the same thing at times with my whites since I wash my cotton gloves often. If you have a child with eczema try washing their items separately and do not use any detergents, softeners, bleach or dryer sheets. Also refrain from placing these outdoors to dry naturally.
Get in the habit of reading labels for everything you put inside and on your body and/or come in contact with. Use sunscreen liberally, wear sunglasses and make sure they are secure on the face and do not cause sweating around the nose. I stopped wearing wire frames as I found these to be the worse culprit. Invest in some fans for your home and consider an overhead one for your bedroom and also a small air conditioner as well. Mine runs constantly and I keep the bedroom door closed in the summer months. Even when we are out of the house all day this unit is on at a higher number so it is comfortable in the home. Even electrical companies suggest leaving it running instead of turning it off when out and then waiting a long time and using more energy to get the house cooled off.
Try to stay away from pull-tab items at the store if your fingers are prone to eczema. Opening soup cans, canned food items and pet food cans are a chore for those of us with eczema on the hands. Nail polish remover will burn my fingers; even those that do not have open cuts. I prefer to keep putting on polish instead of taking off and applying another layer.
In the winter months wear sunglasses as well as sunscreen and use gloves for driving and working outdoors. I prefer the creams to the ointments, although most Dermatologists tout the ointments and encourage usage of Crisco oil. I imagine they have never suffered from a flare-up. During spring and summer months I store my creams inside the refrigerator for a chilling effect on my skin upon arrival from outdoors and prior to heading outside and in the car.
There are prescription drugs to take like Atarax and Benadryl for helping you sleep and not scratch. You do need to devote at least seven hours for these and should take one hour or longer before bedtime. Even the nighttime tylenol product will work when you have nothing else in your cabinet.
Moisturize your skin continually and utilize hand lotion liberally. There is a big difference between the brands of products on the market. Gold Bond has a new hand cream that works great. Jergens Ultra healing is another good one. Shea butter works well after a shower. Dermae.net has a wonderful gel and a cream that I utilize often. It is best to buy the name brand cortisone creams instead of the store brands, the consistency is much different among these offerings.
I take Oil of Evening Primrose and Vitamin E supplements. One time I tried a gluten free diet for almost two months, but there was no difference in my condition, only the added expensive of purchasing special food items. I avoid fragrant items and use the natural air freshener found at Whole Foods market. Soft towels and washcloths work best for me. I have never used a toner or facemask on my skin. I find my face getting irritated if a Dental Hygienist uses latex gloves.
There is a prescription product for your scalp that works well in stopping the itch and pulling out your hair. In the eighth grade I had my hair parted on the side to hide a bald spot from pulling out my hair. Prednisone is a strong medication that needs to be taken in a tapered off system, but does pose some serious side effects for the personality and unwanted weight gain.
Eczema is not a fun condition to have and something those of us with it must deal with on a daily basis. I find it to be quite frustrating and embarrassing most of the time. There are support groups online to join that will enable you to share your treatment remedies and not feel so isolated.
*Portions of this article were previously published on epinions.com - October 12, 2000, under the heading of living with sensitive skin and entitled – "try typing with cotton gloves".