Dead Sea Me

I think of my eczema less as a skin condition and more as an alien parasite that has somehow invaded my system, and which I get to chase around my body as it retreats from the steroid creams but never quite goes away.

At the beginning of the summer holiday, I decided to give up on the gluten-free and dairy-free diet, which was expensive and also ineffective. Although my eczema had cleared up (ish) for a while when I went gluten-free, it returned with a vengeance, and then hung around stubbornly.

So I went off to France for the summer and drank beer and ate bread and generally lived it up in the land of a thousand cheeses.

Interestingly, and just as it did the year before, my eczema cleared up a lot over the summer holiday. So what’s the recipe? Sun, sea, and sand? I had a week-long beach holiday both years, so it might be a factor. Also, our neighbours who let us use their pool use salt rather than chlorine.

Anyway, returning to work in September, the eczema returned, and proved stubborn even in the face of the strong steroid cream that the doctor is paranoid about prescribing. I also use a variety of moisturisers, aloe vera gel, anti-histamine pills, and even Vaseline to try to keep it at bay.

Recently, I purchased a small pot of this stuff, which contains, among other ingredients, manuka honey, coconut oil, aloe vera, and shea butter. It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to cream blending, and cost a small fortune for a 100ml pot. Needless to say, it didn’t work, and didn’t last long. One star

So then I decided to recreate some of the experience of that beach holiday in the home. I purchased some Dr Salts Dead Sea bath salts. I have to be careful with the water temperature (too hot, and it flares up the itching), but even after two or three goes, the eczema is nowhere near as bad as it was a week ago.

Which brings me to my latest hopeful purchase: Dr Organic Dead Sea Mineral Skin Lotion, which is more reasonably priced than Honeyskin, and might help to supplement the bath salts. Because maybe, just maybe, alien parasites are afraid of salt. It’s like something out of The Day of the Triffids.

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Give me this at least

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This.

If I could make a bargain with the universe over what I was allowed to eat without causing an eczema flare-up, I wouldn’t ask for much.

It turns out, if I don’t eat butter I eat a lot less bread, and if I eat a lot less bread I eat a lot less cheese. I miss it, but most of it isn’t a deal breaker. The vast quantities of mature cheddar I used to get through were just gluttony.

It also turns out that the only thing I really miss about milk is the tiny amount I put in a morning cup of tea. I like to drink. Just one. Cup. Of. Tea. Per day. I’m not your typical British person (or teacher) in that respect. I don’t even like it in the afternoon, unless there’s a Fortnum and Mason Dundee cake in the vicinity.

So I will set wheat bread* aside. And I will forego butter. And I will put oat or almond milk on my cereal and peanut butter on my glutard toast.

But if I could have the following, please, universe:

  • Mozzarella (*on pizza, yes, made with wheat flour), no more than once a week;
  • Parmesan (with glutard pasta or in soup);
  • A tiny drizzle of milk in a single mug of tea, once per day.

That’s it. I’ll stir oat cream into my soups and try not to think about cheese on toast, and I’ll drive to Woburn Sands for glutard fish and chips, if I could just have a carbonara occasionally, and a Saturday pizza made with my own hands, and a mug of Yorkshire tea.

Is that too much to ask?

(Eczema is substantially reduced – currently getting by with aloe vera gel and a nightly Benadril.)

Creams and potions and lotions

6102182sayL._SL1000_When you suffer from eczema, when you suddenly suffer from it in your mid-50s, you encounter a bewildering number of possible causes and cures. Some people, I note, seem to just live with it. My own mother always seemed to have a tube of Betnovate on the go.

But I’ve always been convinced that my own sudden onset eczema has an external cause, such as a food allergy or intolerance. Maybe it’s pollen. Maybe it’s stress (which is still an external cause). Maybe it’s a side effect of medication (most of the ones I take list “rash” as one of the possible side effects). Or maybe it’s gluten, or dairy, or bio washing powder, or simply heat or pressure from sitting or wearing elastic or a belt. Anyway, tracking down an actual cause seems nearly impossible. You’d be here to the end of time, trying to establish one using the scientific method.

Which brings us to the treatments. What you mainly want to do is stop the itch-scratch cycle. The guilty secret of scratching is that it brings a pleasurable relief. And if you scratch till it hurts, your spine releases serotonin, which brings relief, but also stokes the itch-scratch cycle. Strong steroid creams (on prescription) offer relief for several hours at a time (though sometimes take too long to work) and can clear up an eczema patch after two or three days, but in my case, the eczema just moves elsewhere. Most of my time is spent chasing it around my body.

But strong steroid creams are bad, and should only be used for a day or two. Chasing the eczema around means I’m not constantly putting the cream on the same spots, but I still don’t like to use it. Taking antihistamine pills seems to work, too, though they do seem to stop working for me after a few days. I’ve been taking Piriteze: two tablets, staggered over a few hours in the evening, can give me an itch-free night. But such a dose does leave me feeling a bit zonked. One tablet isn’t enough.

Looking for alternatives, you will come across many a web site making extravagant claims for various creams. I’ve tried a lot.

First, and most basic, is Dermol, which you can use as a moisturiser and as a replacement for shower gel. I get this in 500ml bottles on prescription. Used regularly, it can offer relief for a few hours: enough to get you to sleep, perhaps, though nothing stops you from waking up in the middle of the night itching like crazy. Dermol is good for spreading the steroid more thinly, and it absorbs well and is non-sticky.

Something similar is Cetaphil, which I think some people get instead of Dermol. I tried Cetaphil in mousse form, but felt it left my skin feeling slightly tacky.

Bog standard moisturisers like Vaseline Intensive Care can be used, and I’ve tried a Vaseline lotion with added Aloe Vera (and a Garnier equivalent). They’re okay, though no more effective than Dermol. The most pleasant moisturiser to use is Aveeno, especially the one with almond oil. Problem with Aveeno and the other commercial brands, they have too many SKUs, and almost nobody stocks them all. I also tried their after shower mist, which was okay, but didn’t seem to last very long.

But nothing is quite so effective at providing a protective barrier for your skin as actual Vaseline petroleum jelly. Which is nasty and greasy, but lasts a long while and promotes healing.

When itching is at its height, aloe vera gel can be very useful in cooling the skin and relieving the immediate itching sensation. If you then apply another moisturiser on top, you might get relief from itching for a few hours.

I’ve also tried coconut oil, the only real benefit of which seems to be its pleasant smell, if you like that kind of thing. Doesn’t work particularly well as a moisturiser, however, and doesn’t help the eczema.

Finally, I’ve also tried cannabis-based cream, such as Atopicann, which contains hemp oil as well as coconut oil and zinc. No THC, though. It smells a bit like the Mytosil ointment we used to use for nappy rash: not very pleasant.

At the moment, the combination of antihistamine tablets,  aloe vera gel and Atopicann seems to be working to keep the itching at bay. And who knows, maybe giving up gluten and dairy is helping too. But probably not.

 

The Boy in the Bread Bubble

LN_870160_BP_11Surveying the trolley after doing the grocery shopping last night, I realised that – for someone who is supposed not to be eating wheat anymore – I still have way too much invested in beautiful bread.

It’s the stuff of life!

The big Waitrose in MK does a sliced (and toaster-shaped) sourdough from the Bertinet Bakery that is possibly the best bread I’ve ever tasted. It puts the “sour” in sourdough. At £3.50 a large loaf, it’s not so preposterously expensive that you pass it over. After all, a standard gluey white sliced loaf is over a quid these days.

In addition to that beauty, I was unable to resist the opening offer on Waitrose’s sourdough crumpets, and there was a nice filone pugliese that crusted up beautifully in the oven as an accompaniment to tomato soup.

Meanwhile, because I’ve been playing fast and loose with the gluten consumption lately* (I’m not coeliac, but have developed otherwise unexplainable eczema in my middle age), I’ve got itchy patches springing up at the top of my left leg and the bottom of my right.

Medical tests were so inconclusive that I can’t even say for sure that my eczema is caused by gluten, except that it clears up on its own if I don’t eat it. And, yes, that could all be the placebo effect, but that’s the problem with the human mind. This whole business kicked off with insomnia, which the doctor – not wanting to give me sleeping pills long-term – tried to treat with antidepressants (Sertraline), and which then triggered the eczema.

My latest symptom is that my eyes won’t stop watering. Especially first thing in the morning, they’re streaming all the time. It kind of clears up once I’m at work, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m away from the environment that triggers the tears, or simply because I’m at work and otherwise distracted. Because the thing is, the itching from the eczema also tended not to bother me (much) during the busy working day.

So: either I’m a mess of symptoms which are all stress-related; or I’ve developed allergies – in my 50s – to a variety of substances. Is it gluten? Is it the pillow? The mattress? The cat? Dust? Meanwhile, I’m still sleeping really badly. I get that sleeping pills are addictive and that no responsible doctor would keep prescribing them, but if I’d stuck with them, maybe none of this would have happened.

Pass the butter.

*We had visitors last week, so I was cooking for nine, which meant that doing a special glutard meal would have been a pain in the arse.

Detox yer box

grapefruitwaterWhen people talk about detoxing, they’re usually referring to the idea of cleaning out your system by abstaining from something for a period of time, or by only eating one genre of food for a weekend or so. So a weekend drinking nothing but fruit juice, for example, or a (first two weeks of) January without alcohol.

Well, I’m here to tell you…

When I was investigating possible causes of my eczema (now confirmed by biopsy as such), I came across a reference to the idea that gluten intolerance might cause such a rash. Huh. So I gave up the gluten for two days. Ha ha! Classic detoxing.

No effect, so I went back to the wheat and carried on (literally) scratching my head as to the cause of me having to scratch my head.

But the doctor who performed the biopsy suggested that giving up gluten needed to happen over several weeks, and I later found a website which mentioned that it could take up to six months for any positive effects of giving up gluten to be felt.

Six months. Not six days, or a weekend, or even a whole January.

In the event, it took precisely 5 weeks for my near-constant itching to diminish and disappear, once I gave up gluten. And, six weeks into the experiment, I’ve been advised to continue it for another six weeks before cautiously reintroducing gluten-containing foods to see if the rash comes back.

In short, if you want to detoxify your body of Substance X, you have to detoxify it for an extended period of time before every last molecule of X leaves your system. This is most clear in the case of drug addiction. Giving up cigarettes for a day or two is easy. Giving them up forever is much harder, because the cravings can be present for weeks, or months. So juice purges or whatever dietary fad you’re following aren’t really achieving anything. As to what’s really going on inside, there’s an argument that says your liver, which is designed to naturally detox your body – that being its function – is working at peak efficiency when it is given something to work with. In other words, drinking (alcohol) moderately is better for you than not drinking at all.