Living with eczema is not easy, but it’s all I’ve ever known. I have had eczema since I was a newborn. My childhood was spent in dermatologists’ offices trying to figure out the best course of action to get my eczema under control.
While we would find the answers in the forms of creams and ointments, those answers only lasted so long as my body would become, in a sense, immune to them. And so it was always back to the drawing board, and it was always a guessing game.
But living with eczema is much more complicated than the guessing game of finding treatments that would work long-term or even short-term. The more complicated game is figuring out what types of eczema you are experiencing.
Yes, I said types. Eczema is an umbrella term for the rash itself. In actuality, there are many different types of eczema that one can experience, and you can experience these different types at more than one time. In fact, it’s very common to be dealing with two or more different types of eczema at one time. And that makes it even trickier. That’s where the true guessing game begins.
Atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis. These are all different forms of eczema with their own unique differences and unique ways of treating. I have experienced all these throughout my life, and usually they were co-occurring.
As a child, I had eczema everywhere: my hands, behind my knees, my arms, my face, my feet, my scalp. Here’s where it gets interesting. The eczema I experienced on my hands, knees, and arms (atopic dermatitis) was different than the co-occurring eczema I had appearing on my scalp (seborrheic dermatitis) and feet (dyshidrotic eczema). Each required its own unique way of treating and thus became a guessing game.
Struggling with multiple types of eczema
I remember as a child it took forever to figure out what would clear the dyshidrotic eczema on my feet. This bout of eczema was triggered by the pool chemicals at the camp I went to. I remember stepping into the pool for the first time that summer, the rest of my body felt fine. The water felt fine on my eczema.
But my feet! I remember I had this sudden shooting pain that would only be relieved when I got out of the pool. Within days, I had experienced my first bout of dyshidrotic eczema, and it was extremely hard to clear up.
I can’t tell you how many different creams and ointments were tried—none of which would clear it up. We tried natural remedies. We made sure I only wore 100 percent cotton socks. It took months, well into the school year, for this bout of eczema to finally clear up.
While this was going on, I still was experiencing my normal atopic dermatitis on my feet, legs, hands and face. This eczema had its own creams and ointments I had to use daily. My hands might have a different cream or ointment than my legs. It wasn’t unusual as a child to have three or more different types of creams and ointments that I needed to use on different parts of my body at the same time.
And I’ll tell you something: those treatments hurt. I remember how much it would burn when the cream or ointment touched my skin. I remember being reduced to tears almost nightly because of the pain. It hurt to rub the cream in; it hurt to put on the cream on. The treatment hurt just as much as the eczema itself. But I knew that without it my eczema would be out of control.
Seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp brought its own issues. I always had dandruff, and throughout my childhood my mother would rely on using T-Gel for my flares. But one time the seborrheic dermatitis was so severe that T-Gel did not cut it. So it was back to the dermatologist to figure out what would clear up this bout of eczema. Eventually, I was prescribed a shampoo that did the trick.
Having eczema is hard when you’re a child. It’s hard to understand why your skin can’t be like everyone else’s. It’s hard to go through the pain, and sometimes feel like a human guinea pig with the experimenting you have to do to figure out what works.
But looking back at these experiences as an adult, I think it made me stronger. Because no matter what I experienced with my eczema, I knew that eventually I would find the answer. And that’s the same outlook I take with me into my adult life. There’s always more than one answer for everything, even when it’s a guessing game.
Joan R. Wanamaker lives in scenic Hudson Valley, New York, with her husband, Justin, and two furry children, Roxie and Lani. She runs the blog MyMudLife.org and just released a book titled My M.U.D. Life: Making Mindful Unique Decisions Every Day, which is currently available on LuLu.com and will soon be available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.