Archive | July 2011

Food for thought.

I’m supposed to be cramming for an exam that’s tomorrow. I’m nowhere near ready but I can’t seem to concentrate and all I can think about is blogging (and also reading my favourite blogs over and over again).

I’ve been meaning to try oatmeal for a while now because it’s supposed to help bowel movement (clearing the body of toxins and therefore improving overall health, including skin health), so I’ve been begging my mother to save me a few bites the next time she has some at home. I forgot to take a picture of the porridge-like mixture this morning but I can tell you my first experience with oatmeal was not too pleasant. I immediately thought of “gruel” from Oliver Twist, even though my mom added honey. (Okay, so I’ve never had gruel before but I’m pretty sure it’s not listed under the word “delicious” in the dictionary. The oatmeal porridge does have potential though, because there are so many ways to cook it. If it had been yummier and savoury, I might describe it like congee, which I love). Oatmeal in baked goodies is fine though, but until we move into our new apartment, that’s not happening.

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Oatmeal baked goodies I can’t wait to try at the new apartment.
Banana nut muffins with oatmeal streusel (image from HERE). Oatmeal, chocolate chip and pecan cookies (image from HERE).

I skipped lunch and headed to 大家樂 (Cafe de Coral) for their afternoon tea. I absolutely love their breakfast and tea sets and they bring about a sense of nostalgia, reminding me of 茶餐廳 (Cha Chan Teng) food, even though they’re a fast food chain. My favourite is the macaroni and ham in soup, which I add to my order every time and can never seem to recreate perfectly at home. I almost always get the milk tea to go so that I can sip on it comfortably elsewhere. 奶茶s (lai cha= milk tea) aren’t something that I can indulge in though. In Chinese medicine, 奶茶s are considered very 濕熱 (wet and heated elements, more about these elements later), which exacerbate eczema.

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Afternoon tea at Cafe de Coral. Taken with my iPhone, whose camera is sometimes better than my Olympus, and edited with myFilmLite app.

Back to cramming.


Kim Kardashian and LeAnn Rimes Have Psoriasis?!

Earlier this week, Kim Kardashian revealed she has psoriasis! While I don’t wish the terrible disease on anyone, I really am glad that she’s bringing it on air with her. It helps raise awareness about this hard-to-deal with disease, and for some people, seeing beautiful women deal positively with this skin condition is a real encouragement!

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Kim Kardashian, image from: Gossip Fame

LeAnn Rimes, images from: Denimology and Twirlit

LeAnn Rimes has been battling psoriasis since she was a kid. Her skin is looking pretty good to me! Inspiring!

Going to the dermatologist for Flare Up 2011

I skipped work in the morning yesterday because I managed to get an appointment with a dermatologist. I had to forgo my usual Dr Great Derm because he was just getting too darn expensive – $710 for the consultation alone and another ~$200 or so for meds? Come on, my insurance only covers $360! Dr New Derm only charges ~$550 for consultation and ~$200 for meds, and I was billed just over $700 for this visit. He seemed awfully young though and most of his certifications are dated around 1990 onwards. I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit worried when I saw that. But he was very thorough and we spoke for 45 minutes (45 minutes!!) about my history and lifestyle. Apparently the rash on my shoulder is NOT PSORIASIS, oh my God! There’s no way to tell for sure since both rash types can look very similar, especially when the skin gets thick from scratching. Plus I had scratched off all the scales in an itchy-scratchy episode the night before. Apparently, having both eczema and psoriasis is particularly rare, and psoriasis has a stronger genetic link than eczema does; much stronger than mine.

I used the steroid cream twice after the doctor’s visit, and started the 10-day course of antihistamines. I’m happy to report that Day 1 (today) saw a lot less itching and a lot less dry skin.

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Not sure the spot on my palm is any better but it definitely feels better. It’s less itchy and the deeper cracks have healed slightly because it’s much less painful today.

I asked him about a lot of things, including weather, allergies and sun therapy. He reminded me, just like Dr Great Derm has said every time I see him for a flare up, that there is no cure for eczema. But it IS treatable, if you monitor your diet and lifestyle. Dr New Derm actually outlined three goals, a) to get rid of this current flare up, b) to treat eczema such that each recurring flare up is less severe, and c) to ultimately pass eczema treatment back to me, the patient, because when it comes to treating eczema, ultimately only we know what works best!

How Serious is Psoriasis?

I couldn’t sleep last night, which is usual for me on Sundays as the weekend comes to an end, so I did a little more research on psoriasis for my bedtime reading. I stumbled on a few discontinued blogs by psoriasis sufferers and Howard Chang’s blog on EverydayHealth, where I read about severe sufferers admitted in a psoriasis treatment centre for a week or more because the psoriasis patches had literally covered more than 95% of their skin. Apparently psoriasis is also common in HIV carriers. I read a case where a psoriasis patient died; few details were exposed but the poster, his mother, said immune system was too weak.

So at 12:04am, I was freaking out. Even when my eczema was at it’s worst, I’ve never had it cover my entire body without even a bit of healthy skin somewhere. Was 95% coverage the severity of the disease? Was it death? This is my second year with psoriasis, a possible sign that my immune system is continuing to weaken. Could my immune system eventually kill me over the years?

Psoriasis on my right shoulder.

Currently, Flare Up 2011

I wish I had thought of this idea earlier, of documenting my life with eczema. I don’t remember what my skin looked like when I was kid or even a teenager, I just remember being so damn itchy all the time, and always trying to find clothes that would cover up my red or dry patches. I would have documented my lifestyle and diets too, which would probably help in figuring out what causes flare ups, overall. Now I kind of have to start from scratch, which is fine, because it feels like I’m taking a really big step towards getting better. The blog requires some discipline, which hopefully means I’m keeping up with trying to get better, and not falling back into my lazy old ways of simply being unhappy and relying on antihistamines and corticosteroids. The other incentive is that I finally have the excuse to play around with HTML and figuring out how regular blogging works with social media, which might be a bit useful in my job search.

I’m sitting in a park under the sun, trying out some at-home sun therapy (more about that later) as I write this, and it feels great to be wearing something sleeveless in the hot summer. I don’t know anyone who lives in my neighbourhood, so I don’t feel embarrassed about not being covered up.

These are the worst of the rashes. The one on the side of my palm is the most itchy and actually painful because the cracks are so deep.

The patch on my thigh is recent, and the eczema on the insides of my elbows look mostly dry, although it still itches like crazy at least once a day. Bright side: it’s not itching the whole day.

Flare Up 2011 started about two months ago, after a period of excellent skin health. I was doing dragonboat regularly, using every muscle in my body (exercise) under the scorching sun (sun therapy). And I had amazing results (which I only noticed after my eczema came back, darn it). My seven-month acne cleared right up, as well as the psoriasis on my arms. I was wearing strapless dresses, yay! There was zero sign of eczema. Then, I one day, I had a very small itchy part on the side of my palm. I applied an ointment prescribed by my dermatologist (bless the man, he’s saved me so many times) two years ago, but it refused to go away. Instead, it got increasingly worse. When the season was over, I was suddenly fatigued by my hectic lifestyle (which I had been dealing with just fine when I was dragonboating) and I had angry patches on my inner elbows and an insane psoriatic itch near my armpit. And bam, here I am, suffering again!

The Chinese medicine I’ve been taking over the past few weeks hasn’t been working fast enough so I’m hoping to get an appointment with dermatologist this week. A round of antihistamines isn’t the best solution, but I know by now, sometimes you just need to zap it before it spreads like wildfire to every part of your body (past experience last year when I tried to avoid the dermatologist and it was bad bad BAD). A lot of people don’t believe in Chinese / alternative medicine, homeopathy or even Western medicine (which simple suppresses the body’s production of histamines), but personally, I think you need a combination of everything.

Patient Chart today:
Two cups of brewed coffee
Cheung Fun and fried tofu for lunch (fried is bad I know, I know but I peeled the fried skin off after the first one).
Fried pork chop with steamed rice and broccoli (what I usually have every week, what can I say I’m boring with food)

7 hours at 3AM last night

1 hour under moderate sun (5pm).

Flare Up 2008 – All Over My Face

I’ve had bad eczema and mild eczema, but I’ve never had it all over my face. Until 2008, that is, when I had the worst eczema flare up of my adulthood (let’s just call it Flare Up 2008). I was doing my Masters and teaching at part-time at a university at the time and it was a devastating period for me, physically and emotionally. I was so itchy and uncomfortable, and so incredibly sleepy, ALL the time. I could barely pay attention to what my students were saying; it felt like someone had pushed pause on my mind, while my skin continued in its constant swollen, itching and burning state.

How It Started
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact trigger once you have a flare up because when your skin is fine, you’re usually not paying attention to what you’re eating or how you’re taking care of (or not taking of) your skin. Looking back, it was a bad case of dry skin that led to Flare Up 2008. I just just returned from university in Toronto, where for four years, I had pretty good skin (except for one case of contact dermatitis) which probably explains why I wasn’t keeping up with a good skincare routine and I was less cautious about what products I was using. The winter of 2008 was an unusually cold and dry winter, and I savoured hot, hot showers, so hot that my frozen toes would tingle under the scalding water. Needless to say, this was not a good idea for someone with eczema. I guess after four years of healthy skin, I had forgotten about eczema triggers. With the increasingly cold weather and hot showers I was taking, my skin was drying out, feeling soft and powdery, probably the first thing I should have recognised as a potential eczema trigger. My skin started to feel uncomfortable, a little dry and itchy, but I let it slide. One day, there was a small itchy patch on the back of my knee but stupidly, I continued to ignore it.

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It’s Not The End Of The World, Even Though It Seems Like It

I’m a 25 year-old girl who has been battling eczema since I was three years old. I was itchy everywhere, and my skin was horrible to look at. I would cry everytime I came out of the shower because the water and soothing ointments would burn wherever there was an open wound, which was pretty much everywhere. I’ve been lucky to have had a few years of breaks, but it comes back every now and then to plague me.

Recently last year, I developed psoriasis, which after much research, I learnt is a chronic auto immune disorder. Which is the same as saying I’m stuck with an even worse skin condition, forever! It’s not a completely hopeless situation though; apparently if I learn to control it, I can avoid flare ups and the ugly scaly skin that comes with it.

Now that I’m older and sometimes it’s really bad, I wonder how other people deal with this disease. Surprisingly, I haven’t been able to find too many personal stories outside of forums. The statistics say that I’m definitely not alone and that lots of people have been battling eczema for 50 plus years – props to you! I often wonder if anyone has recovered miraculously with remission, without the use of drugs or crazy I’m-never-eating-[insert food type here]-again diets. I wonder if anyone has ever developed depression, or become a house-bound recluse because of the ugly patches on their skin. I wonder if anyone has ever committed suicide because they couldn’t deal with having this skin condition. I should insert a disclaimer now: I’m not depressed nor suicide, but I recognise that having eczema could probably do that to someone. It’s an awful condition, but I suppose it could be worse, like having chronic acne all over my face (which happened for about six months last year and oh my God, I really wanted to just die), or having terminal cancer, or even gout. It’s not fair to say that my disease is better than anyone elses, but in dire times, the thought is slightly comforting.

Having spent thousands of dollars and years of treatment, research and just plain old suffering, I want to get better. I want to be able to wear sleeveless and strapless tops in the summer, and I want to be able to go on dates with boys without having them stare at my arms in disgust (that hasn’t actually happened because I refuse to go out with my arms uncovered, but it could very well happen). I want to get my body into great, healthy shape so there’s a small chance I won’t pass this onto my kids (that’s a Chinese medicinal theory).

So in my 25th year, I want to try. Not just take medication and then go about hoping it doesn’t come back. I really want to work hard and try to get better, to get rid of this current flare up and try to control and prevent future flare ups. And I want this to be a success story. I haven’t found many personal stories that talk about dealing with an eczema-led life, and I hope to document mine, for a little while, to remind myself that even though I’m itchy with a few, occasional ugly patches, I can still lead a fantabulous life!