Anyone with serious eczema will tell you that it changes their life. But my experience led to a career change. Here’s what happened.
Most of my younger life, I suffered from eczema, allergies and asthma. I spent most warm seasons battling unrelenting itch and I remember spending countless moments gasping for air when late summer allergies were in full bloom. My doctors kept me armed with a combination of antihistamines, bronchodilators, steroids, ointments and lotions. I was told, there was no cure and I would just have to manage it.
The Worse Point
When I started adulting, things got worse. Juggling a very demanding, fast-paced career that required travel, late nights, and weekends with the equally demanding needs of running a home and raising children was just plain more than my body and skin could handle. Looking back, it was obvious that my skin was trying to tell me to stop and slow down, but I wouldn’t listen. So, instead it screamed louder by deteriorating externally and then, affecting many systems, internally. My arms, neck and leg skin often looked like battery acid had been poured over them; my digestive system began to revolt against gluten, sugar and dairy; my immune system started producing full-body hives whenever my body’s temperature rose. In time, the hives found their way to my throat and I started having anaphylactic episodes. Even though I carried an epi pen, I never knew when the next event would happen, and I landed in the hospital many times. My allergist, pulmonologist, GP and dermatologist put me on 7 different drugs at the same time to manage all my symptoms. But the issues continued.
Beside always fearing the next skin flare up or anaphylactic episode, I became very self-conscious about how I looked. When people saw my uncovered arms, they would wince. Even people I knew well would often refuse to shake my hand or hug me for fear of “contracting” my skin disease. It became very clear that looks mattered and because of the way I looked, my feelings were often overlooked.
Opening to an Alternative
One day, when I went into anaphylaxis, I had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. As I was being carried out on the gurney, I remember seeing my very young daughter look back at me. The look on her face said everything, she was certain she’d never see me again.
I resolved that there had to be a better way to live. So, I opened myself to trying a Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist. He took one look at my skin and told me he could take care of it. I was bewildered because everyone up until that point had told me that I could only manage it. But he looked at me again and said, “I’m pretty sure we can make this go away.”
Sure enough, after 4-6 months of herbal medicine treatments, my skin cleared up and the hives stopped appearing. Shortly afterward, I stopped having any breathing problems. And much longer after that, my gut repaired itself and I was able to eat most things again. All my environmental and food allergies disappeared except for a peanut allergy. But in contrast to all my previous ailments, avoiding peanuts seemed like a minor inconvenience. I stopped taking all pharmaceuticals and topicals and have not needed anything to maintain my skin or lungs ever since.
When you live thru such extremes, it’s difficult not to be entirely changed from the experience. I thought to myself, if someone could do this for me, wouldn’t it be great to spend the rest of my life doing this for others? So, I’m not kidding when I say eczema changed my life. I quit working in the corporate world and went back to school to become a Traditional Chinese Medicine dermatology herbalist. Now I own a practice and do my best to help whoever I can.
October is eczema awareness month. Right now, 31 million people have some form of eczema and 2/3’s say it affects their ability to perform their job and household chores. 20% of children with eczema get bullied because of the way they look, and many people lose 5 or more days of sleep because of the incessant itch of their eczema.
If you know someone with eczema, please lead them to the National Eczema Association (NEA). Not only does their website provide useful information and support, they also sponsor an annual expo where patients of all ages can meet each other, share their experiences, provide community and learn about the latest greatest ways to treat eczema. Additionally, the NEA sponsors local support groups including the Chicago Eczema Support Center where I am the Traditional Chinese Medicine faculty member. Lastly, if someone you love has not been responding to conventional medicines, herbal medicine could be an option that changes their life as it did for me. Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions offers complimentary consultations for people who are interested in learning more.
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About the Author
Dr. Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, DACM, Cert. TCM Dermatology is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats eczema patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, is the Chair of the American Society of Acupuncturists Board of Directors, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Support Group sponsored by The National Eczema Association.