I am a 68-year-old male who has been living with eczema for 20 years. My mother had eczema, but nothing like what I experience.
My skin hell began when I moved to Montana, where the noxious, invasive weed known as knapweed had proliferated long ago. I spent a week setting a fence around our lot where knapweed was in bloom. It being summertime, I was in shorts.
I gazed out at the two to three-foot tall plants displaying lovely pink flowers. What could go wrong with pretty pink blossoms? Well, two weeks later, I found out.
My thighs and lower legs were covered with lesions, itchy and oozing. Mere skin contact with knapweed was all it took to put me through skin hell.
A local dermatologist diagnosed my condition as atopic dermatitis. He explained to me that there’s no cure for it. So, he recommended an ointment: betamethasone dipropionate. “Apply it twice daily and see me in two weeks,” my doctor instructed.
Taking his advice, I applied it to my legs. It burned like crazy. And my fingertips became paper thin. A pharmacist told me that this ointment is the atom bomb of all topical steroids. It causes side effects, namely skin thinning.
The pharmacist recommended I use triamcinolone ointment instead. I use it to this day. I apply it with a butter knife instead of my fingertips.
But, wait, it gets worse!
I gradually became more and more reactive to touching any green plants. Within months, eczema lesions covered 90 percent of my body. I looked like a burn victim and felt like one too. Oral antihistamines did nothing to reduce the itching. I clawed at my skin, drawing blood every day. Nothing was helping me.
Then my naturopathic physician suggested hydrocortisone tablets. That drug has been a life saver for me. It’s not prednisone, which has side effects. Well, hydrocortisone has them too, but to a much lesser degree. I keep my dosages to a minimum. Oral hydrocortisone reduces my symptoms of eczema, plus it’s cheap and still available by prescription.
I self-administer the drug, taking as little as possible and have done so for 17 years now. My doctors recognize that I take self-responsibility when it comes to managing the drug. I think they know as well as I do that I have no other recourse. In fact, sometimes I think I would have died of stress if not for hydrocortisone.
After two years of lesions covering my entire body, my eczema got much worse with episodes of neuropathic itching. This is an itch from hell that travels all throughout the nervous system. You can’t dig or scratch deeply enough to find relief. Episodes can be high drama, leaving me exhausted, bleeding and brain-dead for the day.
How do I medicate for this?
Here’s what seems to work for me.
- Cannabis helps a lot, especially cannabidiol (CBD) taken either orally or topically. I’ve found that pot calms my nerves more than flower essences or homeopathy.
- Hydrocortisone 20 mg tablets. Sometimes, especially during winter, I may take as little as 5 mg per day. But if the lesions return, I may take up to 60 mg in a day.
- Vistaril. This is a strong antihistamine I take for some relief from itching at night.
- Triamcinolone dipropionate ointment.
- Valerian root in capsules, which are calming for the nervous system.
And to reduce self-injury from finger nails I use hair brushes that have rounded bristle tips.
Aron Fox is a hearing aid dispenser in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. To this day, he forbids knapweed plants from multiplying in his yard. He uproots them with a spade and gloves.
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