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.

But Then It Spread
Everywhere, all over my body. I had it on my inner elbows, a usual spot for me, the backs of my knees, and on my arms, legs and hands too. The rashes on my face were definitely the worst though; I looked like I had a swollen face. I was constantly tired, no matter how much I slept. I was in a constant state of stupor, as if I was asleep even though I was actually awake. It was difficult for me to concentrate on things, like school and class – a sign that my immune system was incredibly weak.

It Was the Worst Eczema I Had Ever, Ever Had, and It Was All Over My Face
Until Flare Up 2008, I was lucky that I had never had eczema on my face before. When it’s on your body, it’s easy to cover it up with long sleeves. You might be itching so bad, your skin might feel like it’s burning, you might be dying to give it one good long scratch, and you might be feeling absolutely miserable because of the poor condition your skin is in, but when you’re covered it all up under a long-sleeve top and pants you can still pretend it’s okay. When it’s on your face, there is absolutely no hiding it. It’s almost worse than having really bad acne (which I’m currently dealing with, but more on that later), because at least acne is explainable; people know what it is. Eczema on your face looks like a bunch of hives, swollen parts that no one understands. During Flare Up 2008, I just wanted to put a bag over my face. I didn’t want to go out and I didn’t want people to look at me. I would ask my mom every time we went out, “How bad is it today? Can I go outside do you think?” One of my best girlfriends, E, came to visit me from Toronto and I remember dreading showing her around the city, because it meant I had to go outside. It wasn’t that I minded that she saw me – E is a PhD in Biochemistry and her sister has eczema too – I just didn’t want to go outside and have people look at me. E was very sweet though, she kept saying “you can barely see it, don’t worry.” (Her visit was when this flare up was coming to and end though).

A Visit to Dr Great Derm
I tried going to see a Chinese herbalist before giving in and seeing a dermatologist but I had already reached the late stages of the flare up, and the Chinese medicine was acting too slowly (if it was working at all). My dermatologist, Dr Great Derm, was extremely expensive, and I also wanted to try every alternative method out there before I put myself on antihistamines and steroid creams again. In the end I went back and he prescribed an OTC antihistamine (Aerius), a steroid cream (Advantan + Foban), a steroid drug (Zitadan) for emergencies, only to be taken if I was itching like I was dying. A round of antibiotics with pepcidine would help prevent infections. Within a week I was much better and after two, I was gratefully eczema free. I gave him a Thank You card during my last check up, something uncommon on this side of the world: “Thank you so much for helping me during this time. My face looked so scary, even to me!”

“Silly girl,” he said, “It’s not terrible at all!”

A lesson learnt: moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!
1. Remember to moisturise. Everyone who has eczema knows to moisturise; it’s the golden rule for ezcema sufferers because it’s the most important step in preventing a flare up. Dry skin means your body’s barrier is weak and less effective in blocking allergens that you may come into contact with. The key is to remember to moisturise. When your skin is completely healthy and eczema-free, or even when it’s on the mend, it’s so easy to let your moisturising routine slide. Let’s face it, having to take the extra time to slather your whole body with creams and lotions is not a fun, happy or quick task. How many times have you been so tired, you just went straight to bed without moisturising? Happens to me all the time, and that’s bad!
2. Control it before it gets worse. An eczema flare up is kind of like a bush fire. An allergen may trigger a small patch, but as soon as the itchy patch is there, your body’s defense mechanism is done and there’s an extremely high chance that it will spread – i.e. more eczema patches will show up until your whole body is raging a war with eczema. Exactly like a bush fire. You have to kill that first small fire, that first small patch, whether that means getting rid of the allergen (removing dust, cutting out caffeine, alcohol, nightshades, sleeping earlier) or using antihistamines and steroid creams if the patch is too serious.

When was your worst eczema flare up and what caused it?

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