I am writing this post not only because I now can type with both my hands, but also to provide empathy and hope from my experience to those who are suffering with hand eczema (Dyshidrotic Eczema or Pompholyx).
Jack Johnson’s song “With My Own Two Hands” brings tears to my eyes as I reflect upon my journey with eczema over the past year and a half. This beautifully written piece uses the simple phrase of “I can…with my own two hands,” to illustrate the positive impact one can make upon the world and an individual.
My right hand has been through a traumatic journey over the past 18 months. This past June, however, was the worst it has ever been, not only keeping me home during some of the most beautiful summer days and off the computer (which explains why I haven’t posted these past few months) but also holding me back from taking care of my family in the best ways I knew how. Here is how my journey began…
Only months after baby K was born did I experience one of the worst cases of eczema in my life (I’ve dealt with this horrible skin problem since I was little – dry or red itchy spots of skin that turn into swollen unbearably itchy red bumps when scratched which turn into open wounds when scratched A LOT, taking months to heal before the cycle begins again). In late January of 2013 during a very stressful time in life, I noticed a few teeny tiny bumps appear on the left side of my right index finger. I figured they would just go away but little did I know that these tapioca-like blisters would spread, eventually erupt and leave my entire finger dry and blistered over the course of a few weeks. Watching my finger day to day and carefully observing to discover why this was all happening, I quickly learned that anytime my finger was exposed to water, the bumps would spread. I also noticed that keeping it covered in a thick layer lotion was the only way to keep it from getting dry and cracked.
So what did that mean for me? Complete torture! Having a very active 5 month old who constantly needed diaper changes and required to be swaddled tightly and rocked to sleep every few hours, it was definitely not easy to care for baby K. Thankfully my husband graciously took on the role of giving K a bath in the evenings and helped me a ton with making sure all the pieces for my breast pump (yes, there are at least a dozen) and bottles were practically sterilized when he washed them throughout the day (pumping mamas, you know what I mean!).
After a few months of getting used to living without using my index finger, things only became more difficult when the bumps began spreading around my entire finger. Great, right?! It was red, raw, bumpy and cracked all over…and I could not expose it to water which was especially hard when I primarily did the cooking and the dishes. So on went the disposable plastic gloves every time I needed to use my right hand. It was at that point I started doing a lot of research…A LOT of it! I felt like I was glued to the internet as I read through hundreds of blogs, forums and medical articles where tons of eczema sufferers shared similar stories. It really was the strangest thing finding out that there were other moms who developed this type of eczema (which I found is called Dyshidrotic Eczema or Pompholyx). Not only did I find comfort in knowing that I wasn’t the only one in the world facing this daily battle, barely making it as a mom, wanting to so badly take care of her baby, but it brought me hope after hearing that some of the moms were on the road to recovery.
Wanting to go the natural route, I tried a lot of the home remedies recommended by other Pompholx sufferers. This included warm salt water soaks, apple cider vinegar soaks, covering my finger with coconut oil and applying zinc based baby rash ointment. While the bumps/rash didn’t seem to spread, it didn’t seem to get any better. It was, however, taking over my life! Before I could go anywhere, I would spend up to an hour taking care of my finger and then covering it with the right bandages.
In the midst of my attempt to heal naturally, I was peer pressured into going to the doctor. I’ve never had a positive experience with doctors in my adulthood when it came to looking for a cure, but at this point, I just didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. And if there were a doctor out there to help shed some light on what I was supposed to do, I was hoping I’d find the right one. Recommended to visit this doctor in my neighborhood, I went in and he took a glance at my finger. He told me it was just plain old eczema and prescribed me a mild steroid cream and an ointment (Bactroban/mupirocin) to apply for the next week. I mentioned my concerns about Polypholx and shared my thought on “natural remedies” and he quickly dismissed that route, assuring me this was what would allow my hand to heal. So, over the next week, I diligently did as I was told and and towards the end of the 7 days, I noticed a complete difference. My skin started to clear up and new skin was beginning to form ~ a MIRACLE and HEALING!!! (or I thought).
After stopping the use of the ointment and steroid cream, my finger seemed to be great! Why didn’t I go the doctor’s sooner? I wouldn’t have had to suffer so terribly over the last few months! A week later, the bumps started to return. And they began to spread…rapidly. Within a few days, my fingers looked almost as they did before using the medications so I immediately called the doctor. When describing what was going on, he assured me that I hadn’t used the ointment and cream for the entire period of time it needed. He highly recommended I start over and continue using them for two weeks to make sure everything was completely cleared up. Satisfied with his recommendation, I started the routine again, this time with high hopes because I was able to see the difference it made the last time. After about five days, my finger looked great but I continued to diligently apply the medications. At the two week point, I was so happy to stop using the creams (especially because I learned that one of the side effects of the steroid was skin-thinning and I did NOT want my fingers to have any sort of problem again). I was thrilled, relieved and couldn’t believe my finger was better!!! Even though I still kept my finger out of the water, I was able to hold baby K with my two hands again, enjoy swaddling her before nap time and shake people’s hands when I greeted them.
I wish I could say that the story ended here and life was all good since then, but it was only the beginning…
A week later, the bumps came back and this time new bumps started to appear on my ring finger of that same hand. And it was only in time that they spread and looked worse than before. Now my entire right hand was basically out of commission and I was extremely upset, especially with the doctor. I didn’t even want to pick up the phone and ask him about it again because all I knew he would do was recommend a longer use or a stronger steroid. So, I went back to the drawing board and researched and researched and researched on the internet. After HOURS and HOURS of research, I began to find patterns and similarities with those who have seen healing in their hands (those which were a lot worse off than mine to start with). What I noticed was that true healing started from the inside out. There was no cream, medication or even natural remedy that one could apply to their skin to fully heal their eczema. They could all help, but it was all in addition to what was going on inside the body and the healing that took place there.
You are what you eat. I’ve heard it a ton of times, but this was the first time I actually really thought about the phrase and took a deeper look at it. I’ve always tried to eat healthy and stay fit by exercising and staying active on a daily basis. But I never thought about how that could affect one’s skin. I learned about inflammation and how sugars have that affect on the body/skin and how there are certain foods like tumeric that can help with that. I learned about the positive affects of collagen-rich bone stock and the importance of eating healthy saturated fats like grass-fed butter, virgin coconut oil and pasture-raised meat fats. I feasted my eyes on great knowledge about how our body’s cells could be restored through eating raw dairy and foods prepared in traditional ways and the impact fermented foods and probiotics have on one’s digestive system. And the main thing I learned is that if you make a change in your diet, it will take a LOT longer to notice a change in your body but it will be one that leads to true healing.
So where was I supposed to start? It was around this time the Paleo diet was claiming its name and after reading on it, it was probably one of the most easy-to-follow diets out there. I understood the diet as simply no grains, no starches, no beans, no sugars, no alcohol and no dairy. I decided to go for the challenge and with the exception of raw dairy (I became a fan of Weston A. Price during my early breastfeeding weeks) and I couldn’t believe how great my body was feeling. I not only lost a few pounds (weighing less than pre-pregnancy) but never found myself craving sweets (hard to believe since I have such a sweet tooth!). I kept this up for several months and felt on top of the world! Well, except for my fingers. They were just the same. But this time, I had hope. There was something inside of me telling me to believe that if I stuck this out, I would start to heal.
Over the next few months, I added Bragg’s Raw Organic Apple Cider Vinegar into my diet (a few teaspoons taken with a cup of water), fresh ginger added into my morning green smoothies, raw crushed garlic (left out for 15 minutes before adding it to my veggies or bone stock) and a few tablespoons of coconut oil added to my salads and soups. Come November 2013, I began to realize a huge change in my fingers. New skin was regenerating, my skin was hydrated and they weren’t red and raw any more! I couldn’t believe it ~ there was no turning back!
Until…Christmastime came along. With Christmas parties, special baked goods made just for our family and freshly baked gingerbread cookies calling my name, I let my diet slide a little bit here and there. And the first time I had a teeny tiny bit of sugar back in my diet, it led to immense cravings for sweets! And the availability of sweets (ones that were made with flours and gluten) were everywhere which made it extremely hard. On top of that, there were all the delicious homemade dishes that only come around once a year. December was definitely a setback for my hand and me. What was almost healed gradually began to transform into what it was only a month before.
With the new year ahead, I made a commitment to myself that I would get back on track with my diet and do whatever it took to help my hand heal. My fingers for the first time were swollen and cracked with tiny fluid-filled bumps all over. I could barely squeeze my hand into a fist so I resentfully resorted to applying a little bit of the steroid cream (just to get a head start on its healing). After applying it for a few days, the inflammation went away and I began to watch my skin heal. Remembering how it made it worse the last few times, I stopped applying the cream. Inevitably within a few days, my fingers got even worse. And with the cold, dry weather, the cracking just became worse. They were so bad that I had to apply Neosporin ointment every time skin broke so that it could heal before getting infected. So the next few months were a cycle for me: formation of bumps, bumps drying out, skin cracking, Neosporin, more bumps plus inflammation, steroid cream, healing for a few days, and then it would start all over again, getting worse every time.
Even with me getting back on track with my diet, my hand barely survived and seemed to get worse. I really didn’t understand! Changing my diet worked the last time and the only difference was that this time I applied the steroid cream. So, come May of this year, I began reading on the effects of steroid cream on ones body and how it could lead to horrible effects beyond the physical which includes steroid psychosis. It was at that point, I decided I would NEVER use the steroid cream again. Not only was it making my eczema worse, those mental effects really scared me.
From that day on, I did not resort to using the cream. When my fingers got at its worse (I learned that once you withdraw from the steroid treatment, your skin gets at its worse before the real healing can begin), I decided to let it ride out (which I never had before). I didn’t think my fingers could have been worse, but they were. They became unsightly, really. Especially when they became infected. They were so sore, raw, puffy, blistered, had an unsightly honey-like crust on them and I could barely move my fingers. I seriously did not know what to do besides not use the steroid cream. At this point, I just tried my best to keep them away from anything and everything and back on the internet for more research I went. For the first time, I discovered Manuka Honey and its benefits (Google it if you have the time!). I tried applying that for several weeks. After two weeks of sweet, sticky, gloppy fingers bandaged throughout the day, I learned that while it helped me regenerate new skin, it did not allow my skin to breathe which I found was needed for the eczema to heal. So, I was basically home all June, dealing with my hand. Not only did Baby K and I spend a lot of indoor time together while we made up games to play, she learned a LOT about honey, bandaids, gauze and paper tape.
Next up, I decided to give apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s brand) a shot, this time diluting it with some filtered water to make sure it had the positive anti-bacterial/fungal and moisturizing effects without burning my skin. With almost no hope that this would ever go away, with lots of time, patience, ACV and prayer, I noticed the bumps on my fingers began drying up and once the scabs/crusts came off naturally, new beautiful skin was restored under them. At the same time, I decided to do an elimination diet so that I could pinpoint if any of the causes of the breakouts had to do with the foods I were eating at the time. Doing this diet wasn’t too hard since I was already on the Paleo diet and home all the time. But I sure missed my tomatoes, dairy and citrus (they were in season). After a few weeks of cutting most everything out of my diet, I began to add in a new food every three days, watching for any effects it had on my body. Quickly, I learned that I was allergic to foods in the Nightshade family (eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers). A few weeks later I discovered my fingers broke out when I ate anything with citrus or gluten in it. I was so bummed but grateful to know that it was the foods that were causing the breakouts (in addition to touching water). Thankfully my body was fine with dairy and all the rest.
After a full month carefully observing how my skin responded to different foods, keeping a strict diet, applying ACV and praying for complete healing, God provided a MIRACLE and healed my hand from the inside out! Friends and family who saw my hand months before could not believe the healing that took place. My hands looked and felt brand new! They were smooth, hydrated and back to my regular skin tone. Not only did they look great, I was able to do things that I did over 18 months ago! I was in disbelief when I took a normal shower and was able to wash and scrub my hands together under running water. Giving baby K a bath for the first time in over a year brought so much joy to the both of us as we splashed, scrubbed and played in the water. And what I still am trying to convince myself that I was not dreaming was when I went swimming in the pool and was able to hold baby K in the water as she swam from my husband to me! Still amazed to this day, I have never been so appreciative of having two whole hands.
While this past year and half has been a rough journey, I have learned a lot about health, diet and how healing starts from the inside. On a deeper level, I’ve learned how to persevere through trials as a mother for her child’s sake, gained a deep compassion for those who are going through physical trials and learned not to take anything for granted, whether it’s my two hands or my pinky toe!
Since last August I have slipped up in my diet here and there and have been able to recover quickly with the new knowledge about how my body responds to various foods and environmental conditions. As I continue to deal with eczema and learn from my experiences, I will add to this post and hopefully this will help encourage someone who’s on a similar journey.