Anyway, if the title didn't give it away yet, then let me cut to the chase. The reason I wasn't blogging much since August is eczema. Steroid-induced eczema to be exact.
So, what is eczema exactly?
According to MedicalNewsToday, eczema is "a general term for any superficial inflammation involving the epidermis, marked early by redness, itching, minute papules and vesicles, weeping, oozing and crusting, and later by scaling, lichenification and often pigmentation. It's also used to refer to the condition atopic dermatitis."
BACKGROUND: MY ECZEMA HISTORY
Okay, so I'll have to be honest. I've always had skin asthma as far as I can remember. They're tiny bumps on my skin (primarily the limbs) that make me look like I always have goosebumps. And while they annoy me (I don't wear shorts, skirts and dresses because of them), they're pretty harmless. No itching, whatsoever. They're just there.
Come high school though, with all the stress I started to accumulate, and all the junk I've been eating, I finally had my first eczema flare. On my feet. And before I graduated from high school, I got them on my elbow crease too. BUT, all those years, I never once went to the doctor to have them treated. Although the flares were itchy and disgusting, they'd always heal and disappear on their own, provided that I didn't scratch them to death.
|I ALWAYS had to wear stockings or tights when I'd have to expose my legs. Even when wearing open-toed sandals with a dress, I still HAD to wear stockings.|
However, what made me run to the doctor's clinic was an allergic reaction when I had to solder metal wires for our robotics project. (Sosyal noh? May ganun?!) If the flare was on my body, I actually wouldn't react the way I did. But unluckily, it was on my face. It started on my chin, spread to my nasolabial area, down to my neck. And it was hella itchy! The itchiest I've felt back then. I just wanted to rip the affected skin off. I couldn't concentrate in class. I could feel whenever new bumps are starting to emerge. It was just terrible! But after a trip to the doctor, and a prescription for oral steroids later, the itchiness, the bumps, went away.
"Wow! I should've gone to the doctor earlier!"
And with a strong trust built, I found myself going to the doctor every time I get flares on my feet, on my elbow creases, and on my hands. Treatment was different depending on the severity. Sometimes, I was just given a magic cream to put on my flares. Other times, when I need faster relief and healing, I'm given injections plus cream. There were also rare occasions I was prescribed oral medicine. But my doctor never mentioned that any of those contained steroids. (She just told me she'll give me oral steroid that time when I flared up on my face back in high school.) For me, the following treatments were just safe medicines to curb my eczema. As my doctor always tells me, "There's really no cure for eczema. You'll just have to control the symptoms."
|Active Ingredient: Clobetasol Propionate|
Used in treatment of different forms of psoriasis, chronic eczema, lichen planus, discoid lupus erythematosus, skin diseases if other corticosteroids were not effective.
Throughout college, I've probably made over 20 trips to my doctor. Actually, even after graduating from university, I was still seeing my doctor. And when the doctor's out, the assistant lets me buy a jar or two of the cream. They saw me slather it on my skin. They witnessed how I'd clamor for more cream when I'm itching and cream-less. Little did I know that I've already become an addict.
|I only had stubborn eczema on my feet, and I was prescribed this?!|
TOPICAL STEROID ADDICTION
I actually just learned about this 2 months ago. But I'm thankful that I did! It was curious how 2013 and 2014 had given me random minor flares here and there. Yes, even on areas where I don't usually get eczema.
|Marvin J. Rapaport, M.D. on Red Skin Syndrome: Corticosteroid Addiction & Withdrawal|
Please watch this if you have eczema, or share with your family and friends who have eczema.
Just last August, my mom got hospitalized and I was given more responsibilities (work, house chores, budgeting, etc.) on top of the anxiety I had worrying about my mom. It was the latest my fingers flared up. However, I was out of cream that time, and I won't be able to get a jar sooner because I was so busy. Then, it happened. Apart from flares on my ring fingers, I got them near my thumb, between the ring finger and pinky, on both feet...
"What the heck?"
"Just no magic cream for a week and now my eczema's popping everywhere?!"
I thought I was just getting reactions from the new purple shampoo and dry shampoo I've been using. So I stopped using them, and finally got the magic cream. Slathered it on my ring fingers, area near the thumb, between the ring finger and pinky, and on both feet. Since the other flares seemed to be subsiding, I stopped using the cream except on the ring fingers which still looked awful.
|So sorry for doubting you my trusty hair blonding essentials!|
PS: Bought them from RainbowHeadPH; not sponsored in any way!
Then one night, out of boredom and curiosity, I searched the net for info about eczema. And I found ITSAN where I learned that there's such thing as topical steroid addiction.
And after searching "clonovate cream" and "dexamethasone" on Google... BOOM! All the while, I was slathering a potent steroid cream on my skin. I also can't believe that I was given a really strong oral steroid back in 2011 for just a flare on my feet.
According to ITSAN, "Topical Steroid Addiction, Steroid-Induced Eczema, Topical Steroid Withdrawal/Rebound, and Red Skin Syndrome are some of the names used to describe the side effects of topical steroid use. Unless topical steroids were used to treat other conditions, a person with Steroid-Induced Eczema likely started out with true eczema or some other kind of rash. Topical steroids suppress the symptoms of true eczema for a time. Regular use of topical steroids causes the body to develop a dependency on the topical steroids. Once this happens, the rashes that appear are actually Steroid-Induced Eczema and signify the beginning stage of Topical Steroid Withdrawal."
Everything just clicked. The random rashes I get since 2013 is not true eczema or even from food intolerances anymore. So that's why the flares come during the time I'm off the magic cream a.k.a. topical steroids. Those were withdrawal phases!
TOPICAL STEROID WITHDRAWAL
Warning: If you can't take gross skin photos, or have anything against skin diseases, please do NOT scroll down. You can close this tab peacefully.
After finding out what I was going through, I immediately and haphazardly decided to stop topical steroids cold turkey. (Later I found out that it's better to taper off. Toinks!)
And the new wave of flares started...
- Both ring fingers became red, raw, cracked and bled.
- Flare near the thumb got bigger.
- Grew a smaller yet itchier flare on the other hand near the thumb.
- Flare between the pinky and ring finger got bigger too.
- Flares on both feet became angrier.
- Grew more flares on the lower legs and thighs.
- Grew flares too on the elbows, elbow creases, arms and wrists.
- Grew flares on both middle fingers.
- Dyshidrotic eczema on both palms and all fingers.
- Perioral dermatitis on chin. And bonus, on both eyelids!
It's already been 59 days since I stopped topical steroids, and time is really the best medicine... Well, there's diet and natural remedies too, but I'll get back on that later.
Here are some progress photos. I didn't get to take shots when the flares were at their worst (late August to early September), so the "before" on these photos are somehow tamer versions already. Legs, wrists and eyelids not included though as I didn't get to properly document them through photos.
Apart from getting inflammations on the skin, I had other symptoms the first 2 months.
|TSW on ring fingers from mid-September to October.|
Back in August, they started out with a few small rash that became bigger. After using the cream, the whole thing just turned red, raw, onion skin-thin and oozy (sadly, no photo).
The cracky, flaky stage was already a big improvement!
|TSW on feet.|
These suckers were hard to deal with. They'd constantly itch,
and more so when I wear any footwear that touches them.
|TSW on right elbow. (Left elbow was basically the same.)|
Itchy as hell and would flake off when I'm on bed. Ants seem to love them too! Though I always keep my bedroom clean, ants always found a way to my elbows. To eat the ooze and dead skin. And to bite me.
|TSW on hands. Back in August, the "before" flares were redder and bigger.|
|Flares on feet used to be redder and more raised too.|
Ring fingers were "sausage red" and more useless back in August.
|TSW on elbows looks tamer on camera. They were raised, weeping and crusty in person.|
Super itchy too! And can you see my itchy, stinging-ly painful and cauliflower-like chin? That's perioral dermatitis for ya! I had some on my eyelids too, but I won't post a photo. Lol!
|Decided to wrap my elbows so I won't mindlessly scratch them when I sleep. If ever I get sleep, that is.|
|Elbow creases are tricky (and were redder and raised in person)!|
When bending them and the skin from the upper and lower arms touch,
they become super itchy!
- Felt tired and sleepy all the time when I was using anti-histamines.
- Iterax always left me with strong palpitations.
- Got chills for the first 2 weeks.
- Chills were gone, but I easily get really cold.
- Had a hard time regulating body temperature. I don't even sweat!
- After a month, it was the opposite. I was always hot and sweating.
- I'd still sweat even with the A/C on.
- After a week, body temperature is more or less normal.
- Temperature issues gone. Replaced with palpitations.
- My heartbeat has been faster and louder even until now.
- Skin always flaking off the first month.
- Ants always find a way to eat my flaking skin (esp. on elbows) and bite me.
- Was always prone to mosquitoes, flies and insects. Although there are other people in the room too, the insects would still choose me.
TSW AND DIET
Though my whole body was thankfully not covered with steroid-induced eczema, those that were inflamed were hella itchy. So with feeling unattractive and constant itching, I searched the internet for ways to help ease my journey through topical steroid withdrawal. I also got to talk to a friend who's also going through a different-yet-similar journey. And we both agree that diet plays a BIG role to tame the scratchy monster!
Let me get this out first though. When you're going through topical steroid withdrawal, even without eating foods that you're allergic or intolerant to, you'd still get the itchies. Period. However, eating more inflammatory foods, will surely make you itchier -- flare up even more, grow even more inflammations, make you even more uncomfortable.
|And even without thorough research, experience told me that my biggest triggers are these four.|
Dairy, sugars, crustacean seafood, and nightshade plants.
Since my diet consisted heavily of dairy, sugars (including fruits) and nightshades (mostly potatoes, peppers and tomatoes), it was quite hard to completely cut them out in an instant. I was also really scared of eating, since there might be a chance I'm eating something that will make me itchier than I already was.
Through the power of Google, I learned about the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet, as well as the Autoimmune Protocol of Paleo. These 2 are quite similar in some ways, and different in more. But both are definitely helpful in restoring the balance of the gut flora (lack of good bacterias and presence of more bad bacterias in the intestines) which is linked to a lot of autoimmune diseases (which include eczema).
So for about 2 months, I lived on beef and lamb bone broth...
Oh, and cetirizine and iterax for the first month of my TSW!
|My alarming weight loss|
And TADAAA!!! From 123 lbs. back in February and a stable 114 lbs. since June, I'm now down to a staggering 103 to 104 lbs. It's a great feat for weight loss, alright! But, I've been quite concerned with my nourishment, so now, I've been trying to eat more nutrient-dense food, and eat more frequently like it's a past time.
If you're curious, I'm currently eating the following:
- Grass-fed meat (beef, goat, lamb) and bone broth as my staple
- Steamed, boiled or pan-fried fatty fish (including head)
- Sweet potatoes and sweet potato noodles as my main carb
- Vegetables especially lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, onions
- Lots of lemon, lemongrass, camomile, peppermint, white, turmeric and herbal teas
- Fruits (limited to 2 pieces a day, except for lemon)
- Natto, kimchi and other probiotic-rich food (excluding dairy-based)
- Olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, virgin cocout oil, balsamic vinegar
- Ashitaba and probiotic quattro for supplements (I'll add omega-3 asap!)
Anyhow, if you don't follow me on Instagram yet (and you should), here are some of the dishes I ate the past week (seasoned only with sea salt and black pepper)...
|Beef bone broth with sweet potato noodles, carrots and cauliflower|
|Lemon-basil-rosemary cream dory fillet|
|Lamb patties, carrots, onions, lettuce and sweet potato fries|
With this diet, mainly autoimmune paleo, I found that my inflammations dried out faster. It helped lessen the itchiness significantly too. And until my skin isn't as clear and vulnerable (to itching and resurrecting flares), I'm planning to still follow this skin-healing diet. Though I'd still eat out occasionally and in moderation. :)
TSW AND NATURAL REMEDIES
Back when my inflammations were at their worst, I still wanted to put something on them too soothe the itch even temporarily. Or just to psychologically make me feel like the itching is subsiding. But since my magic cream, the topical steroid, was out of the question, I resorted to using natural remedies after doing some research.
The first I used on my skin was VCO. I slathered it all over my body using it as a healing oil for the flares, and just regular moisturizer for the unaffected parts. It made my skin really soft and supple, and my inflammations became less itchy. The downside? My skin felt too vulnerable since it was really soft. I had to wrap my fingers with cling wrap else they would bleed or worse, become infected, if I leave them out in the open.
|Virgin coconut oil as moisturizer|
My dad was the first to suggest that I don't put anything on my skin. Of course, I cringed at the thought of it since I initially believed that my skin wouldn't heal as fast if I just leave it alone. However, after reading tons of blogs about the "No Moisturizer" routine, I decided to give it a shot. And it's the best decision I've ever made on this journey!
|No moisturizer routine|
At first, I felt really uncomfortable. My skin, after washing with water and left to air-dry, was really tight. Skin started to dry out, cracked like a desert, and the inflammations became scaly. However, after weeks of doing the "No Moisturizer" routine, my skin didn't dry out like the first time. It still looks dry, but it definitely doesn't feel tight anymore. And the best part, the flares started to thin out and flake off. That's when I saw MAJOR improvements on my elbows and feet. My fingers on the other hand, wasn't as raw and as thin-skinned as it used to. After over a month of being useless red sausages, the skin on them became thicker and stronger. And I can finally bend them little by little.
I found a lot of TSW sufferers getting relief from epsom salt soaks and baths, so I finally tried it back in September. About 2 tbsp. of epsom salt in a basin with hot (but tolerable) water and 15 minutes of soaking my feet, hands, and elbows in it, left my skin itch-free! It also helped dry out my inflammations SIGNIFICANTLY! After a week of daily soaking, I found my eczema improving at an unbelievable rate that I decided to do the epsom salt soaks twice a day.
|Epsom salt for soaks and baths|
However, I've now stopped doing the epsom salt soaks UNLESS my skin feels very, very, VERY itchy. Though my eczema improved a great deal, I found that doing the soaks frequently gave me scary heart palpitations. Just a week ago, after doing my usual soak, my heart started beating really fast and loudly for about 3 hours. It was really scary, and I'm glad I didn't have to be brought to the hospital. So although I highly suggest epsom salt soaks and baths, PLEASE do it moderately.
There was a time I started adding half a tbsp. to a tbsp. of apple cider vinegar to my epsom salt soaks, and it made the improvements come faster than ever. Now that I don't regularly do epsom salt soaks anymore, I find myself putting a drop or 2 of apple cider vinegar to a cotton ball soaked in hot water, and patting it on my skin whenever I feel really itchy, but not itchy enough to force me to do an epsom salt soak.
|Apple cider vinegar added to soaks|
(Organic, unfiltered and with "the mother" ala Bragg's is the best.)
THINGS I LEARNED FROM GOING THROUGH TSW
I always get something out of every situation I'm in, and this is no different. Actually, going through topical steroid withdrawal is one of the experiences in my life that taught me many, many things. And these are just some of them...
Cutting off grains (I ate rice my whole life, FYI.), dairy (I miss my eggs!), sugar (Say hi to ice cream and cakes for me.), nightshades (I used to LOVE potatoes!), and crustacean seafood (Meh, prawns and crabs had always made me itchy.) is pretty hard. Seeing my family and friends eat the things that I can't is even harder. However, what really tested my discipline is this -- NOT SCRATCHING. Do you know how insanely difficult it is to fight off the urge to scratch? Although I scratched in my sleep (I wasn't conscious, okay?), I triumphed and only (consciously) scratched 2x over the past 3 months.
Not sure if this is the right term, but I now learned to be more careful especially with my health. Before I put something in my mouth or on my skin, I check and research first if it's good for me. And although I still respect doctors, I have now stopped taking their word as fact, or as the definitive authority.
Back in the day, I was afraid of wearing skirts, shorts and dresses that would expose the skin asthma on my legs. They're actually not pretty obvious unless you really look at it. However, I was afraid of what other people would think about it. Fast forward to today, I couldn't care less if a stranger see my inflammations and scars. Ironically, this whole ordeal is what prompted me to start wearing skirts, shorts and dresses, since my legs become really itchy when wearing jeans, leggings, sweatpants, etc.
|1st week of October. The first time in years that I wore a dress without stocking or tights.|
(Odd... The lighting made my skin look more okay.)
4. Keeping Calm
People who have spoken to me in person already know that I'm quite a calm person. However, not eating what you want and fighting the urge to scratch, on top of daily responsibilities, can shake even the calmest person I know. And through TSW, I learned to meditate and de-stress on my own. I try my hardest not to let my temper get the best of me. I just had to. I find that when I'm stressed, my skin becomes itchy.
Waking up itchy is not a good feeling. So is trying to sleep when your chin, arms, elbows, legs and feet are too itchy to let you fall asleep. However, I've always been optimistic and this experience boosted my optimism even more. My mom would always look at me with worry and pity, wondering if the flares would actually heal. What if they just become worse and worse? But I knew the worst would pass. And just look where I am now. :)
Instead of loathing my doctor, I slightly feel thankful that she brought me here. If the flare back in August never happened or if I did have my magic cream when it happened, who knows for how long I'll be using steroid on my skin? And who knows how worse the rebound would be when I finally go through topical steroid withdrawal?
I'm also grateful that I'm going through TSW now, and not later. Doing it now just means I'll heal sooner. I also learned a lot of things that I didn't know before.
But my biggest gratitude goes to my dad, mom, boyfriend and even my little sister, who were very caring and supportive of me and of what I was going through. My friends were amazing too! When I started to eat out (with them) again, they'd always take my food restrictions into consideration. I never felt deprived nor judged. Thank you so much! ❤
7. I finally acquired a personality!
LOL. I don't know if it's just me coming out of my shell (or skin, in this case), but I somehow feel like my personality has become more colorful recently. I also enjoyed dressing up more, especially now that I can wear whatever I like, not minding what people will say or how they'll react. I guess when your face has a cauliflower-looking thing on it, and your arms and legs have dry, scaly patches, you just let your clothes, your smile, and more importantly, your personality, stand out and make you feel beautiful.
Wrapping it up...
If you've read all the way to this point, I'd like to thank you for sticking with me and my long blog post. If you have eczema, psoriasis or any skin condition, I hope my post has somehow been of help. Kahit konti lang..
If you think you have steroid-induced eczema, I urge you to please do more research and think of your next plan of action. Going through topical steroid withdrawal needs planning, especially if you've been using steroid creams for a very long time. I was lucky to only have spots on my body. Some people had really big patches, and there are even some whose whole body was flaring. Recovery time is different for every person too. Some can see improvements in months. Others will take years. You'll also need to talk to a doctor if you plan to taper down the use of steroids, as going cold turkey can be dangerous. And if you have other conditions that require the use of steroids (mostly oral), please do not let my post convince you to stop using your medication.
Anyway, I'd like to think that I'm now officially back to blogging. :) Though I was still posting backlogs. Haha! I still have some itchy patches on my middle fingers, wrists, arms, elbow creases, thighs, lower legs and feet at the moment. But they're already far from the "before" photos I shared. My chin had some scarring, but it has started fading already. And as for my ring fingers, I still wrap them in gauze as I wait for them to thicken (the use of steroid cream left them with really thin skin).
I know complete healing is well under way. :)
Whatever you're going through at the moment, remember to keep calm and have faith!
Posted in: atopic dermatitis, autoimmune protocol, eczema, health, lifestyle, paleo, personal, red skin syndrome, skin, topical steroid addiction, topical steroid withdrawal, weight loss