Understanding Eczema: a Conversation with Stephen

Posted on August 4, 2017 by kerri
My friend Stephen (who has chatted with me before about sleep apnea!) has eczema, and is the reason that I have not just glossed over writings on eczema when I am doing asthma research! Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that results in scaly, itchy rashes on the skin that can be red, tough, and even painful. Eczema is connected to allergies and asthma—although like allergies and asthma, you can have one without having the others (or you can be unlucky enough to have the whole triad). Some people have eczema so mild that it is easily treated and only causes problems once in awhile. Other times, eczema can be constant, more severe, and cause issues more frequently than the occasional flare-up. After reading some about eczema, I asked Steve if he would answer some questions for me, so hopefully together we can help people better understand this common but not easy to deal with skin condition.
Stephen, dark hair pulled back in ponytail, smiling for a professional-close up shot wearing a light white and grey plaid shirt against a black background.
KM: Hey Steve, thanks for joining me today. For readers who haven’t met you before, tell us about yourself.
SM: I have been blind with my left eye since 1981 and lost right eye August 1994 from eye infection and I am now completely blind. My eye specialist to this day does not know how—so I’m left with the same question. Over the years I have changed things in my life, such as doing different sports, something I did not do when I was sighted. I did kickboxing, Hapkido, Goalball, golf, archery and more.
I have had guide dogs for about 21 years. I am now on my third guide dog, whose name is Murray—he turned 5 a few weeks ago. My service dogs changed my life and gave me lots of independence. I mention this because I thought I might be allergic to dogs, which could be bothering my eczema. In about 2004 I started having more frequent skin problems like welts and bumps, mostly around my arms and sides. Since I was a child I’ve been allergic to certain fabric softeners such as Bounce, but the skin problems only started getting worse in the last ten or fifteen years.
KM: How did you find out you have eczema? What symptoms did you have?
SM: Over the years I’ve had skin problems, and have seen different doctors. At one point even it was too much to bear and I went to the emergency room at the hospital. They gave me different medication but it still didn’t help. Because I’ve done martial arts over the years, the doctor thought I might have scabies from contact and gave me medicine, but there was no change with my skin. The symptoms started mostly around my arms and worked up my arms, and sometimes started on my back. Sometimes it was so irritating that I cried because I couldn’t handle the pain. One doctor after another couldn’t figure out what it was, until one said maybe it was eczema, but wouldn’t give me a for sure answer until I saw a skin specialist. The specialist was also not certain, but asked about my family history. My sister had the same problem, and she later told me that it was eczema. Based on that the skin specialist figured out I had a family history of eczema, which made it more likely that I had it, too.
KM: What have you tried to help treat your eczema?
I’ve tried changing laundry detergents, body wash, shampoo, cleaning supplies, washing surfaces like counters and dressers more often to get rid of dust—I think maybe dust from certain wood causes problems because I’ve had itchy skin when touching new wood in hardwood stores—and it’s hard not to touch things like that because being blind, that is how I know what I am looking at. 
I mentioned the Bounce dryer sheets before—I do not use them anymore but my wife who passed in 2009 did use Bounce at times, but not on our sheets or my clothes. But I still may have had contact with items that used them, though not for quite awhile now.
KM: What do you want people to know about eczema?
SM: See an allergy specialist if you can’t get your skin problems under control. I have an appointment set in September of this year, finally. I hope to get a better idea of what might be causing me problems and this will help me deal with my skin problems better. I hope the allergy specialist can give me other things I have not tried to solve this cactus skin problem that is often too much to bear. I think people might think that eczema is just a minor annoyance, but it can be a really serious problem if it’s not treated correctly. I hope the specialist has better options for me.
Thanks Stephen for taking the time to join us again! You can follow Stephen on Twitter at @smckinney68 (ask him about goalball or coffee, you’ll make a new friend fast!). In the United States up to 10% of people live with eczema, and this rate is as high as 20% in some states. [1] Often, eczema, also called atopic dermaitis, occurs alongside asthma and/or allergies. If you have severe allergies or asthma, wearing a medical ID bracelet can help you in an emergency.

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