Share Your Story

Share your story and gain a support network.

Real life stories are an invaluable way of showing the impact of skin conditions which exist but are not known of and will help us make a difference to thousands of sufferers every year.

Hearing about the experiences of others can motivate, educate and inspire people. It can also build compassion and understanding – as well as giving hope and support to people who may be going through a difficult time. Your story might inspire someone else to join in with our support and fundraising activities.

Your stories help us to connect with the public and communicate the progress we’re making in our attempt to raise awareness.

When we share our stories, we learn that we are not alone in the fight. When we share our stories, our experiences take on a deeper meaning; we channel energy, knowledge, inspiration and strength to the millions of people living with skin conditions.

We are keen to hear from anyone who would like to share their experiences, help us support each other, and exchange tips on what has worked for you.

You may:

  • be living with a skin condition; Alopecia, Contact Dermatitis, Melanoma, Vitiligo (this list is non-exhaustive)
  • be the friends or families of sufferers
  • have lost a close relative.

If you would like to share your story or get involved, please fill in the private form below. Skin Deep respect your privacy, and will not publish your story including personal details, unless approved in writing to do so.

We hope to hear from you soon! In the meantime please browse through the stories below.

Real Life Stories

Please be advised explicit images may be included.

Chronic Atopic Eczema

I’m guessing if you asked most people to describe eczema they would say “dry skin”. From my experience of suffering from the problem I would describe my skin as “sand paper” that’s so rough you would think it could even out walls.

I have required extreme treatment over a number of years in order to manage my skin condition. I get unbearable itching in my body, which causes a lot of pain when the condition is at its most active. It started with small red patches in parts of my body, which then spread to the rest of my body. My skin is so inflamed it feels like it is burning, at the same time I get sharp pains, which increases the discomfort.

When I got admitted to hospital I was unable to move my body normally due to the extent of the skin splitting in my body due to the swelling. My joints were stiff and with every movement my skin would split. Yet in this condition my pain and concerns were initially dismissed by the doctor (not dermatologist) at A&E with a prescription. It was not until my frantic complaining did I get transferred to an emergency dermatologist unit.

To treat the problem emollients and topical (and oral) steroids are applied all over my body for a number of hours, as well as being wrapped up in bandages from neck to toe. This tiresome method restricts my movement physically, but even without this treatment regime the effects of living with this condition alone makes one want to avoid associating with people.

Notwithstanding the physical challenges, the mental effects of looking different create a paranoia and challenge in itself. Even if one could overcome one, the other can always come to hit me at any time. So even if I could interact socially the physical implications of the time spent “socialising” has a time bomb effect on the condition of my skin.

The longer I live with the problem the more the pain and struggle becomes the norm. As the years go by I feel as though I am a pet project by dermatologists who don’t have any solution to my problem. I feel as though I have a bucket with a huge hole through the middle that it is continually being patched up but every time water seeps through.

I feel alone in this battle, it’s as though out of sight is out of mind and I end up pushing others away until they don’t come. That’s the reality of what my condition does to me.

Eczema & Candida

I have been suffering with mild eczema since my late teens and I am now 33! When the sun shines the world comes out to play, but for more than a decade now the sun has become my enemy. To be honest any temperature above 20 degrees is far too hot for me!

 

So… my first experience with eczema started when I was 19. I got a very painful rash on my chest. I was blissfully ignorant of what the actual problem was and I thought a cream would just make it all go away, and it did – but for about a week. I was prescribed so many potions and lotions but nothing worked. When I eventually saw a dermatologist, bless her even she was taken aback and had to go and get the senior dermatologist to have a look. It was a male Dr and imagine my embarrassment when I had to be examined. Eventually I recovered, but it took many and a lot of heartache and emotional distress. It was when I developed eczema on my face that I became desperate. The right side of my face and ear exploded and it felt like an inferno. I was in my early 20s and I had started a new job but my skin felt like it had taken over my whole life. I hated the way I looked and I was in incredible amounts of pain. I couldn’t open my mouth to eat properly as it would crack and weep. I was told it was a fungal infection related to an overgrowth of yeast in my gut. It meant nothing to me, all I wanted to do was get better. I was on the waiting list to see a dermatologist, but it was a 6 month wait. I became desperate and sought alternative treatment with a herbalist. He said I had something called Candida which is basically a yeast infection in the gut which has caused my skin to react. I was told to cut out all food that contained yeast, sugar and dairy from my diet and was prescribed a herbal tincture mix. I was advised however, that initially my skin would get worse before it got better but I should not be alarmed as this is normal because I am detoxing. At this point I did not care and took his advice. Sadly, my skin got so bad that I broke out in a severe rash that was lumpy and looked like blisters on my neck, chest and arms where I previously was blemish free. I was already quite slim but I lost an additional 2 stones in weight and it was from this point where my war began with the sun. The herbal medication triggered something in my body that has made me extremely sensitive to the sun where I break out in a rash all over in hot weather. For years I have battled with my emotions and self-esteem, but also how it has affected my life. I can’t enjoy going for a walk or even sitting in the garden, things I took for granted before I had eczema. I feel like that my life is on hold every time I have a flare up and I feel depressed because I can’t seem to enjoy even the smallest of things. I want to go into a retreat and actually can’t wait for winter to arrive! It’s silly how I feel envious of people who can walk out in the sun without suffering a reaction. What most people don’t realise is that it is incredibly painful when you have eczema so it’s not like you can forget it’s there and get on with it as the pain will constantly remind you that you’re not well. I currently have athletes foot, something I have never suffered with until last weekend. I have developed the same behaviour as before where I profusely research everything I can and want to try all the remedies out there. I also scare myself with the worst case scenarios and become my own Doctor! Over the years I have learned to deal with it, but every time I get a breakout I go back into the same viscous cycle of self pity. I got married last year in the summer and I was constantly glued to the BBC weather. Every time the weather would get warm I would avoid going out just in case I would get eczema. I have a great support network who now understands how my life has been affected but it has taken a long time. I have a wonderful husband who is incredibly patient and incredibly supportive which has made a huge difference in my state of mind and well being! Some useful suggestions:

  • Try to be cautious of herbal therapies. I agree that herbal remedies can be effective, but the herbs can be extremely powerful and cause adverse reactions. It is also expensive too as these treatments are not funded by the NHS or private medical cover.
  • It’s incredibly tempting to research everything about your condition for remedies, treatments, and cures but it also has a negative effect on your state of mind as you then start to believe that you have everything under the sun and start self diagnosing! I admit I am guilty of this myself!!
  • It has taken me many years to accept that there is no cure or a quick fix solution to managing eczema. The best way I have found, of dealing with it is to stick with one course of treatment at a time and see if it works before moving on to the next.
  • Lather yourself in sunscreen. I have found that this allows me to be out in the sun and enjoy it! I have been to Jamaica, Mexico and Egypt and I have had a blast! Boots Soltan range I find is the best, however it can stain your clothes if you don’t rub it in properly.
  • I moisturise with double base, I have been using it for years. I find it is really easy to use as I don’t have to rub it in like I do with emollients.

Case Study: Harlequin Ichthyosis

 

Azaan, 6 years old lives in Oldham with his parents and two brothers. At birth, Azaan’s whole body was covered in thick white, hard skin, pulling so tightly across his body with bright red fissures, his eyelids were flipped inside out and his nose and ears were almost completely covered by skin. This was a massive shock for both, his parents and also the doctors and nurses at the hospital. Everybody was panicking and Azaan’s parents knew something was majorly wrong. Azaan was quickly taken into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and stayed in hospital for a month. He was diagnosed with Harlequin Ichthyosis by a Dermatologist which is a serious, rare and severe type of genetic skin diseases. The skin forms large, diamond shaped plates that are separated by deep cracks (fissures) which then dries and sheds. The skin grows 14 times faster than a normal person. These skin abnormalities affect the shape of the eyelids, nose, mouth, ears, feet and in most cases fingers too. The parents were told that Azaan’s condition required an intensive non-stop management regime for him to survive and for the rest of his life as there was no cure for this horrible skin diseases. This consisted of applying very greasy ointments to the whole body and then wrapping it with bandage type garments.

 

The first month was critical for Azaan as many children with harlequin ichthyosis do not survive. Azaan’s parents were shown and trained how to care for Azaan which involved applying ointment to Azaan’s body every 3-4 hours followed by bandage garment wrapping and also applying regular eye drops (3-4 times per day) to keep his eyes moist. He was bathed daily (sometimes twice) in special oils which exfoliated the dry skin. This skin management has been the same ever since. It requires many hours of work and commitment by his parents and various other people including medical and school staff. Azaan’s body temperature also must be regulated whereby he gets extremely itchy and sore if he gets too warm or gets ill with a cold/flu quickly as his immune system is very weak. He is also of high risk of infection to his skin, ears and eyes which are regular. Azaan is unable to walk for long distances as his feet get extremely painful with deep cracks to his feet soles. He wears special shoes made by the Orthopedics team at Royal Oldham Hospital.Life has been extremely busy for Azaan’s parents since his birth as his skin management and care is so intensive and time consuming. Azaan’s bandage garments, clothing, bedding and towels are changed every day to reduce the risk of infection. The carpet in the house has be vacuumed 2 or 3 days per day! Other errands include getting his bedding and clothing washed every week, collecting special medicine (retinoid) from the hospital on a weekly basis. He has several hospitals appointments per year to see the Dermatologist, Community Paediatrician, Ophthalmologist, Orthopedics and Otolaryngologist (ENT).Despite the significant medical problems and complications, Azaan is a remarkable brave and happy boy who loves to enjoy life as best he can. He attends a local school and has a small group of friends in class. He is keen to mix in with the kids and try his upmost best at activities such as reading, writing, drawing, painting, football, cricket, and playing on the iPad. Some kids have said horrible things to him in the past and some are reluctant to play with him or sit near him. The school are doing an excellent job with his care and apply all the necessary ointments and eye drops during school time. His parents are grateful the school is able to provide all his medical needs. Out of school, the parents are asked by many people what is the matter with Azaan and people often assume he has been burnt as his skin looks sore and reddish colour most of the time. Azaan has also asked a few times why he is different to anyone else and the only answer his parents have is that he is poorly which he has accepted. Thankfully, he has not been admitted to hospital after he was 1 month old and the doctors have put this down to the good work his parents have been doing and are continuing to do. Azaan will have many challenges in life with his health and also socially and his family and friends will always be there to look after him. Harlequin Ichthyosis

 

 

Miliaria

Miliaria more commonly known as ‘heat rash’ sounds like an unassuming condition that might appear in the heat and cause some irritation that is easily treated with an ointment of some kind. Well that was my thinking until one summer 5 years ago a rash developed on the back of my hands and on my chest. Thinking I needed a topical treatment I visited the pharmacy where I was told to take anti-histamines to manage the condition.

 

 

Having suffered from acute hay fever all of my life I knew that anti-histamines did not agree with me but nevertheless thought I would try a different brand because the rash was spreading. As expected I started suffering adverse side effects that were far outweighing the irritation of the rash and preventing me from my studies. I visited my doctor who again repeated the pharmacy’s advice; I knew then that I would have to find an alternative method of managing this condition. Having researched I found out that if I applied sun block frequently throughout the day the rash did not appear as long as I limited my exposure to the sun by only going out if necessary. Thinking I had a handle on the condition a decided that I would risk going on holiday to Spain and simply not sun bathe and follow my sun block routine out there. Oh how wrong I was! Within the first day every part of my body that was in the sun including my face and scalp was covered in a rash. Wearing clothing was unbearable. My skin started cracking and opening up and I couldn’t look at it because I found it too upsetting. I visited a pharmacy and was prescribed a lotion to apply to my skin but it didn’t seem to be making any difference. Despite staying indoors the heat was exasperating things to the extent that my skin felt like it was burning. I eventually got back to the UK and cooler temperatures and the burning sensation disappeared almost immediately. Nevertheless found that I was developing a sore throat and fever so I visited my doctor who explained that I was my body’s way of reacting to the skin irritation and prescribed me antibiotics. Concerned about what was happening to me I went on-line to find out and my research showed that every pore on my skin had blocked up making it impossible for my skin to breathe resulting in the terrible effect on my skin. Having taken a week to get back to ‘normal’ I vowed to never go to a hot climate again. Saying that my family are not originally from the UK so the thought of not being able to visit them abroad when I want is an upsetting prospect but until I can find a cure I don’t know if I can brave a visit abroad.

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a condition in which areas of skin lose their normal pigment and become white. It is common and affects about 1%-2% of the world’s population. Vitiligo is associated with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and is easily seen with people with dark skin.

That is what my dad suffers from. My mum, sisters and I started noticing it on his face, hands, arms and legs about 5 years ago. It seems like his vitiligo really took place about 10 years ago, but spread over the years making it more prominent.

At first my dad started trying Ayurvedic herbal medicine of which was a topical treatment applied by rubbing the herbal solution onto his white non pigmented areas. This seemed to not make any dramatic improvements to the pigmentation coming back, but he kept it up daily, in the hope that at the very least it would prevent the vitiligo from spreading and getting any worse.

All of us could not help but be rather embarrassed or uneasy for my dad to go out in public and meet his friends and relatives with exposed un-pigmented areas of white skin, especially the affected areas on his face. He has Vitaligo affecting areas on the corner and under his eyes, around the nostrils, around the mouth on his neck.

This led us to research and enquire on the best waterproof and cover creams out there for vitiligo. I came across Veil Cover Cream which is designed to camouflage skin pigmentation problems and is also beneficial for covering other skin problems like acne, scars, varicose veins etc. I read the reviews on their website and looked at before and after pictures of skin sufferers who are using the creams and saw what a difference it made in improving the appearance of the worst skin conditions, making the skin appear flawless consequently uplifting their morale, confidence and self-esteem. I requested samples of the creams so we could match the right shade to my dad’s skin tone. We then found out we can order it under the NHS as he is over 60 years of age. So my dad got this under prescription at our local pharmacy and he now applies the Veil Cover Cream and sets his face with Dusk Finishing Powder before he goes out so his white patches are camouflaged with the rest of his skin tone. It is the best thing he can do to give him confidence and make him feel and look normal again.

Till this day, every time my dad goes out in the sun, we have to rub SPF 50 sun tan lotion on his head as he has Vitaligo on his bald scalp. He also applies it on areas on his body that would burn easily and would have to take special care of like his hands and arms.

We are glad to know he is not alone and not in any pain. We have seen many other people with vitiligo, some affected worse than others in terms of where the white patches are located and how large and noticeable they are on the face and body.

However my family and dad remain thankful that there are at least creams out there to help camouflage the skin pigmentation defects effectively, which provide overall even skin tone and flawless appearance. This in turn helps give those sufferers confidence and happiness to go out in public and still look good and feel normal.

Vitiligo and Me by Liz Mills, age 59

When I was a student and young teacher in the early 70s we had a series of very long, hot summers. How relevant that might be I don’t know, but as I had a lot of pollen allergies, apart from a few bonding and burning sessions, I tended to stay inside more than most of my friends. However, I do remember marvelling at a little map of Australia that I noticed on the back of my right hand.

Those years and the ones leading up to them were not happy ones; several stressful situations occurred, any one of which might have resulted in my body reacting in the way it did, but almost the same time that I first noticed the vitiligo I developed psoriasis, and suffered undiagnosed, quite severe asthma for about five years until I finally had treatment for that. Nobody else in my family had any of these problems at that time, but my mum had pernicious anaemia and hypothyroidism, an uncle had (type 1?) diabetes, my father subsequently developed asthma, and I discovered that an aunt had had really severe psoriasis when younger. As the years went on, “Australia” seemed to get bigger, and one or two more patches became apparent but for some reason I didn’t really think anything of it. I did think that there seemed to be a link with the psoriasis though; it seemed like they both went for the same sites (especially the back of the hands) and for a long time I went to bed in cotton gloves and bandages up past my elbows, and if there wasn’t a white patch there was a scaly one, or so it seemed. I tried various makeup and cover ups suggested by the hospital, but didn’t like using them and found them very messy, so soon discontinued their use. Then when I was 29 and pregnant someone commented on my “Pregnancy mask” which I’d never heard of, so I mentioned it to my GP. I had been a fairly frequent visitor to the doctors over the years, but nobody ever mentioned my patches, even when looking at the psoriasis. The GP got me an appointment with a dermatologist very quickly, and I finally learned the V word! I remember the way the words, “no cure” resounded round my head. Just a few weeks later, my gynaecologist commented on it – there was quite a lot “down there” he said. Nothing was done about it until the following year, as there were more pressing things to think about by then! The following year when I looked at my body chart, I could see how far it had progressed in the ten years or so since I first noticed it, and agreed to having a course of tablets. These were psoralens, and I had to take them shortly before my lunchbreak and sit outside in the sunlight. This was of course, one of the worst summers on record so there was no progress at all, other than my feeling quite ill. By this time my patches were spreading quite rapidly and I frequently overheard comments made about them, such as some of the children I taught muttering that I must have got sunburn and my skin was peeling away. More hurtful was an aunt who told me it looked as if I’d had an accident with a bottle of bleach. It was only the following year when I went back to hospital to see about having another go that pregnancy was mentioned – I hadn’t been told that it was vital for me neither to get pregnant during the course (fairly obvious) or for 6-12 months afterwards! I was horrified, as was my husband; we had one baby and hoped for another, so the treatment was instantly dismissed. The years went on, my marriage broke up (nothing to do with the vitiligo, but my psoriasis and constant scratching was evidently a factor!) and I met someone new. A “friend” commented that it was lucky we’d met in winter, so he didn’t see my patches! “He” was Mr Right, and we have been married now for 22 years. Soon after I was married, I was offered another round of light treatment and was told I was a perfect candidate. It was a little difficult to take time out from my teaching job to go for treatment, especially as it was long term and not a “Life threatening condition,” but my Head was very understanding. So were my children, when I appeared twice a week wearing what looked like Science Safety goggles to them, on top of my glasses. Few of them commented on the changing hues of my skin, although it must have looked awfully strange to a nine or ten year old. The treatment became more and more painful, and I began using stronger and stronger antihistamines (the pharmacist was concerned to hear I was still driving) and creams which would have cost a fortune for each tiny tube, if I had had to pay for them. I couldn’t stand having any clothing near my skin, so was reduced to wearing the softest, silkiest maternity dresses and spending most of my time at home soaking in cold baths with soothing oils. When we drove back from a theatre one night with all the car windows wide open and I had very few items of clothing left on, we decided enough was enough. Since then I just told myself, with assurances from my husband and son, that the vitiligo was just part of me and nothing to worry about. It didn’t happen overnight but I am now totally comfortable in my own skin. Children would make comments in school, so I was able to tell them about it – and it made a very interesting discussion point whenever racism was discussed. I’ve been able to help a few children who I’ve taught when they have been diagnosed; in fact I spoke to one parent who hadn’t taken much notice, and as she was about to go on holiday in Egypt, the poor little girl might have been badly burnt. She came back having met her aunt who also had vitiligo, and was quite fascinated about genetics afterwards. Once I met someone in Portugal when we had both caught the sun, and neither of us noticed that the other had vitiligo although our husbands did! I have been involved in the theatre since I was a little girl and am frequently acting on stage or occasionally film. In the early days of thick theatrical makeup nobody would ever have seen a white patch, but with modern lighting very little is needed so I have made no concessions to my vitiligo; after all it is perfectly “normal” so perhaps my character has it too? Sometimes I use spray tan, particularly on my face if I’m going to be a few feet from the audience as it can be distracting. I must stress that I would feel differently if I was not Caucasian, but for me it is no longer a problem. I just wish that I’d been encouraged to take this attitude when I was younger, and hope that I can help others to see that there are worse things in life. We are all special, aren’t we?

Christine, an Alopecia Areata Survivors Story

Hi, my name is Christine and I am an AA (Alopecia Areata) survivor.

This is my story….

As an adult whilst working in bar, I was knocked unconscious by a drunk, hitting my head on both sides as I fell between two tables. It being the Christmas and New Year period my local G.P was not open. With three young children (10, 6 and a six month old) and zero support network the prospect of celebrating New Year in casualty with them did not appeal. Heavy duty pain relief it was.

After around two weeks of intensely blinding headaches and nose bleeds involving quite alarmingly large blood clots I finally managed to get past the receptionist and receive a G.P appointment. As the injury had taken place a couple of weeks previously the Doctor was quick to reassure me I was unlikely to drop dead (due to possible brain injury) “as if it were serious I would surly know about by now…” Not very helpful and I was sent packing with a prescription for paracetamol (for my still consistent since the fall, headache). At no point during this initial consultation did the doctor make any attempt to move from the comfort of his chair to make any examination of any part of me whatsoever! Nor was he the slightest bit interested in viewing the collection of clots I’d kept for him! Eventually the head pain (it was NOT like any headache I have experienced) became more tolerable and I simply carried on as normal.

Around the middle of February I went to stay with friends one weekend who politely pointed out that I appeared to be shedding more hair than usual all over the place! I assumed it simply looked worse than it was, simply because I had such long waist length hair (my crowning glory!). Running my hand though my hair as I apologized I felt something strangely unfamiliar….A soft as a baby’s bare back-side of around the size of a tennis ball, an area of nothingness! On closer inspection I discovered it was a bald patch! Horrified an appointment was made, only this time I had something to show him! (I get the impression from doctors in general that if it can’t be seen it must be in your head, or in my case it really was on top of it!). He took a quick look and asked if I was pulling it out myself (Trichotillomania-TTM). Er nope, I knew that was not the case. He then informed me there was nothing that could be done about it and that at my age I should not be so concerned about my appearance (I was 36), and was sent on my way feeling like a bit of a fraud with the words “Think yourself lucky it’s not like your actually ill!” and that was that.

Unhelpful advice and reassurance from friends and family ranged from things like filling in the patch with boot polish to just shave the lot off wear a headscarf and just tell people you’re having Chemo! (Anagen Effluvium-AE). Yes really! How insulting to those who actually have to go through that nightmare! To my brother-in-law who assured me he fully understood what I was going through, as he had become quite depressed due to no longer feeling attractive to the opposite sex when he lost his hair! It’s not quite the same thing (or is it?). However it was my younger brother who greeted me with the words “Ha, ha! Hello Baldie,” that started a chain reaction of long since repressed memories….

To cut a long story short his remark reminded me that I had indeed experienced a major hair loss at around 7 years of age, due to extreme physical, mental and emotional trauma. I recall the G.P’s conclusion at that time was Trichotillomania-TTM (self-hair pulling, which is probably similar to self-harming?), even though I knew that was not the case but was too afraid to speak out. A trip to a child psychologist who reassured my parents that I was unlikely to suffer long term as being so young I would simply block out or forget the experience…

Anyway, by Easter I had lost around 50% of my hair and become agoraphobic, my 10 year old was in effect my carer in so much as she would withdraw my money and do the food shopping. My ever deepening depression began to effect my six year who wanted to cut her hair off, to make me feel better…….. I knew this could not continue and fought hard to overcome my fear of the outside world,

(a most difficult and physically painful experience) making it to the doctor’s.

My doctor at the time was quite short tempered with me and again pointed out that this was not a life threatening condition and I should stop wasting his time with my insecurities and vanities. This time I was quick to point out that as I was becoming extremely suicidal it was indeed life threatening. I was able to move to a different practice where upon I received a referral to a dermatologist. What a joy he was, very much old school with a reassuring “bed side manner”. He had been involved with eczema research back in the day. Quite by chance they’d noticed those being treated with primrose oil were experiencing hair regrowth! Together we decided on corticosteroid injections directly into the scalp. This took many trips as there was such a large area to cover, not overly painful as he was very gentle. After around three months or so I started to see results!

My hair regrew and life returned to normal. As a lone parent things can get quite stressful and when I started to develop patches again I was once again referred to a dermatologist. Unfortunately the one I’d seen before had retired. This new one was no better than my original doctor and was quite dismissive. He refused my request for injections as he felt it would not help even though I pointed out that it had in the past, and that was that. I was determined not to let it affect me as much as it had before, (the hair loss was not quite so bad this time round) and was able to use scarfs and my remaining hair to hide behind.

It was around this time, Gail Porter experienced total hair loss (Alopecia Universalis-AU). As such a well-known celebrity, hiding under her bed covers would not really be an option. I admired the way in which she had little choice but to brazen out her condition in the full glare of the media. Taking a leaf out of her book has helped me come to terms with what is now for me, a normal and consistent cycle of hair loss and regrowth…

By learning to live with Alopecia I am neither a victim nor a sufferer.

I have learnt to hold my head high.

I am a Survivor.

I Survived Shingles

My evening began like any other ordinary evening: after not doing much in the afternoon, I had decided to take a shower. Since I have long hair that I normally tie back into a ponytail I go through my routine of brushing the wet hair so it is straight for the hair-dryer. This time, however, I noticed a strange sensation as I ran the soft bristles through. It felt like the same painful tingling if I’d inadvertently pulled out a healthy hair follicle and the resulting scalp had formed a small inflamed, red bump. Thinking nothing of it, I carried on my routine of grooming and went about my business. Things seemed fine the next few days, but with the tingling not subsiding. I still felt no urge to think anything was untoward, being well versed in biology I knew it would pass.

A few more days had passed and I began to notice something in addition to the now painful scalp: what was at first limited to just the top and forehead was slowly beginning to spread down towards my eyelid. My sister-in-law who was living with us at the time urged me to see the GP. Being stubborn as a donkey, I said I’d think about it. It wasn’t until the following morning when I looked at my wardrobe mirror that I noticed something very odd. I couldn’t open my right eye all the way. So that was why I was seeing things a little blurry and not because I was still half asleep!

I came downstairs and my mother took one look at my face and practically forced me out the door to see the GP. I said I’d have to make an appointment first and wondered how long it would take for me to get seen. As luck would have it, a healthcare assistant would be able to see me. The local health centre had undergone some radical changes to its appointments system and required a small explanation of the ailment in question in order for the staff assess the gravity and urgency of the situation.

While I wasn’t seen by a doctor as such, the nurse was more than competent to make a diagnosis of shingles from what I had told her and what she could divine herself. But, to be certain she called upon two general practitioners to view my symptoms and both confirmed it was indeed shingles. They kept asking me if I was in any pain or discomfort as there is almost always some kind of burning sensation that accompanies such a condition. At first when I heard the name herpes being bandied about, I immediately thought they’re going to ask me awkward questions about my sex-life and what I’d say in return. I was assured that it wasn’t the common herpes virus that almost every one associates with STIs. . This was, I was told, herpes zoster. Ok, I thought, this would be treatable with a round of antibiotics that I could pick up from the local pharmacy immediately afterwards. How wrong I was. The healthcare assistant told me I would have to make a trip to the local hospital, along with some documents detailing what was wrong and possible treatment routes. This trip was chiefly because of any possible infection or damage to my eye. The hospital was not alien to me – I was born there and, in all likelihood, I would die there someday, but I digress. I was told not to drive there under any circumstance, because of my eye. Ever the independent, I shrugged off offers of a lift and accompaniment to take the bus there.

I remember where the eye clinic in Croydon University Hospital is situated very well, since I had taken my late father there many times. I presented the papers to the middle-aged receptionist who smiled sympathetically and after a few seconds of awkward silence I told her why I was here. I had thought she couldn’t make heads or tails of the papers, but she pointed me to the set of double doors and through to the right. As I sat down, I became aware of how many people were waiting in the eye clinic, which has its own name seemingly separate from the rest of the hospital (Moorfields Eye Centre). From experience I know that the waiting is the longest part, not because of the worry or apprehension, but actually, physically waiting.

So I was sat there in front of a young couple trying to look nonchalant as if whatever affliction I had wasn’t affecting in me in the slightest: that I almost had disdain for it and my being there. But as the minutes went by I noticed something strange was happening, something very gradual and subtle but it was happening nonetheless. My right eye was closing up. The inflammation had got to the point where it was forcing my eyelid downwards. I was fighting to keep it open. In my mind I was imagining I was some unfortunate victim of Rocky Balboa with a swollen and droopy right side. I decided I wasn’t going to fight the droopiness any longer and left my eyelid to sag. It almost closed. By now I could see people were looking at me and quietly wondering what in God’s name was happening to this young man. The couple in front of me, particularly looked uncomfortable. This was all probably in my mind, I thought.

At long last I heard my name called and made my way into a brightly lit room with the eye specialist. He asked me the same questions I had been asked before and told me it could be either a viral or bacterial infection, or one leading into the other. I was prescribed several antibiotics and antivirals both oral and topical treatments.

Being the type of person that believes in regimented and regulated behaviour I knew that taking these medicines at the pre-allocated times would greatly benefit and improve my condition. In fact I’d known relatives who were so blasé about their medications that I baulked at the idea. These medicines needed to be taken at something like four or five times in any 24-hour period, so I worked out what interval I’d needed to wake up and which one to ingest or apply. I fired up MS Excel® and made a rudimentary spreadsheet detailing times, quantity and of which. Printed it out and taped it to my wardrobe mirror, this was a course of medication I was determined to see to its completion and as exactly prescribed by the doctor.

The ingestible tablets are just like any other so there’s nothing more to see here. I remember, however, the topical application was a different kettle of fish altogether. It was given in a tiny tube with a nozzle on the end. I was told by the doctor exactly how to apply the contents of this tube. And it was this: I would pull down my lower eyelid and expose its innermost surface to air. Then I would squeeze out a thin medium-long strip of this anti-viral along the inside of my eyelid.

Under no circumstances would I touch the tip of the nozzle to my eyeball. I was told to blink rapidly a few times to cause a blurring sensation in my eye. This, according to the instructions and the doctor, was normal. It would pass soon enough. I, like many others, want instant results: I wanted one application and one set of swallowed tablets and be the end of it. I am that impatient. I am part of the generation that wants everything done immediately to get instant satisfaction. But my more mature, intellectual side told me to stay with it and you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Like all treatments for anything that involved self-medication, one will not see results until after a few days or a week and during that time I thought I’d at least Google® this herpes zoster and find out more about it. Herpes zoster (or just zoster) is an infection of a nerve area caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This virus is more commonly known as chickenpox. Many people have chickenpox as children, but while the body successfully fights off the symptoms, the virus remains, located mostly in the spinal cord. For as yet unknown reasons, this virus re-activates often decades later and along the nerves. While a person with shingles cannot infect another with shingles, the other party, can be infected with chickenpox if they haven’t already been exposed.

Needless to say after about a week, I was back to normal with only very slight scarring that has cleared up since.

My Experience of Treating Atopic Eczema with Saunas & Steam Rooms

As anyone who suffers eczema will know, there are just as many treatments out there as there arestars in the sky. I’ve tried many of them: changing my diet, exercising regularly, wearing clothes made from natural fibres and dousing myself in UV light from sunbeds. Sometimes I’d feel I was making progress, other time’s I’d find my eczema to be just as bad as usual. That was before I joined a gym with a sauna.

 

For as long as I can remember lathering my body in unguentum merck, taking milky balneum-filled baths and using clobetasone butyrate to treat bad outbreaks was normal practice. Up until I was 18 I still applied cream all over my body twice a day. What helped me put down the steroid creams and forget about them? Saunas. When using the steam room after a long (Ok, a short) workout I found my eczema much less inflamed than normal. After googling “steam room for eczema treatment” I saw that opinion is pretty divided; there were many who found that steam rooms, and especially saunas, irritated their eczema. At the same time, there were a lot people claiming steam rooms and saunas treated, or even cured, their condition. An hour-long sauna and steam room session became a regular part of my routine. I watched as my eczema magically disappeared over time. My use of Unguentum Merck went down to two times a week during the dead of winter – completely unheard of for me! And I began to see a potential endto my use of smelly moisturisers. That was three and a half years ago. I haven’t touched the cream for three years now and only occasionally use moisturiser. Using sauna’s and steam rooms has changed my life, and it has the potential to change yours as well! As I mentioned, this doesn’t work for everybody, it will soon become itchingly obvious if the routine doesn’t work for you. But if it does work your life will be turned around. Here are some tips:

  1. Bring Water: Stay hydrated. Bring a 2litre bottle with you and fill it up in the sauna area.
  2. Take cold showers regularly This cools down your skin temperature, whilst your core remains hot. It allows you to stay in for longer and sweat more!
  3. Let yourself drip dry: After your final shower go and lie down on what of the deck chairs that are normally provided and let yourself drip dry. It does wonders for your skin! This is also the best time to use moisturiser.
  4. Try and go to the steam room and sauna at least three times a week. Any less than that the treatment will not be effective.
  5. Find out what works for you! I’m hesitant to give more advice, because generally you will figure out a routine that works for you.For example, I use the sauna for about 50 minutes and only spend ten minutes in the steam room. Some people find that using only the steam room is better for them, and others don’t use it at all! Similarly you must find out which type of sauna or steam room works best – there are a few variants! I would recommend infra-red saunas and Steam baths enriched with salt steam, although these can be hard to find.

Figure out through trial and error what works best for you. Warning It is common for sauna users to add olbas oil to the radiator. I’ve found that when my eczema is dry the olbas oil burns and stings my skin, leaving me feeling worse than when I go in. If you find someone using olbas oil ask them to only add a small amount.

Rhiannon Rogers - My story

“When I was a toddler I suffered with eczema. My mum was convinced conventional medicine would not help me, instead wanting to use a more natural and holistic route. When she was younger she suffered with terrible skin conditions and was hospitalised due to the severity; the doctors prescribed steroids which she felt made her symptoms worse – prompting her to look for an alternative to conventional medicine. Years later when I was diagnosed with eczema, my mum encouraged me to try homeopathy and I also found that this worked for me.

I no longer have any traces of a skin condition and am eczema free; no one would ever know I used to unless I told them. Complementary and alternative medicine gets a lot of bad press and I can see why; it’s very difficult to get right. Homeopathy doesn’t just treat the problem, a good homeopath will look at the person as a whole and treat them that way. There are hundreds of remedies and choosing the right one is extremely complicated, the treatment process takes time as the body changes and often people are not patient enough.

In my experience I have found it is important to understand the treatment and trust the practitioner as you will need to build a relationship with them in order to solve the problem. I have used homeopathy for other problems too and have had great results.

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