063: Dyshidrotic Eczema: How It Changed My Life Forever

Living with skin rashes is hell. You’ve probably heard my say this before, but you may not know my personal journey overcoming Dyshidrotic Eczema.

Dyshidrotic eczema can affect both the palms of your hands as well as the feet. Fortunately, I only had it on my palms.

But that said, it drastically changed the quality of my life and my understanding of what it is like to live with chronic skin rashes.

I would never wish this upon anyone (even my own worst enemy… if I had one).

It’s my hope that through sharing my own story, you will understand WHY doing this work and changing the way that we approach and address chronic skin rashes is so important.

In this episode:

  • My worst moment living with dyshidrotic eczema
  • What makes dyshidrotic eczema different than other forms of eczema
  • How having eczema wrecked my quality of life
  • Steps I took to stop my eczema flares (and how long it actually took)
  • Why I started Skinterrupt and the Healthy Skin Show

Quotes:

I got all of these little paper cuts in the joints of my fingers and could no longer move my hands. My eczema in the summertime was completely different. It was red, angry, itchy, oozing, burning, but this whole dried out business was something entirely different. As I walked to the hotel from the train station, I was in so much pain — crying as I dragged my bag down the street because holding the bag was incredibly painful. I found my way to a Whole Foods and I remember breaking down in the skin care aisle. I was so desperate for some sort of relief!

“We don't really know what causes eczema, but a steroid cream can reduce the inflammation and keep the moisture locked in with Vaseline,” the doctor said. I blinked twice. “Vaseline?”  First of all, I have cuts all over my hands that don't really heal because I'm constantly bending my fingers to do pretty much anything. You want me to put vaseline (derived from petrochemicals) on my hands? Secondly, I don't really know how I'm supposed to function in life with Vaseline all over my hands from a very practical perspective. Everything I touch — my clothing, my cats, my husband, my home — everything will be covered in Vaseline!

Woman taking a journey in winter

My Journey Overcoming Dyshidrotic Eczema (FULL TRANSCRIPT)

Welcome back to episode #63 of the Healthy Skin Show!

In today's episode, I'm talking all about Dyshidrotic Eczema, which is the specific type of eczema that I have. Some of you know my story or you've heard fragments of it over the course of tuning into the Healthy Skin Show.

I thought it was high time to share my own journey with you. While I am 95% in remission, I do not forget some of my worst moments. I think it's important to start with a story that was one of the most frustrating, aggravating, and debilitating moments of my eczema journey.

I remember that I had traveled to an event in Boston and it was October at the time. So we're heading into Autumn and the weather is drying out. It was getting much cooler as I was on the train heading north from Philadelphia to Boston and I could feel my skin literally drying out the further north we road.

My skin got drier and drier! As I began to bend my fingers, I got all of these little paper cuts in the joints of my fingers. I got to the point during this six hour train ride that I could no longer move my hands.

I remember sitting there thinking, “how on earth am I going to grab my bag?!?!” 

I had never experienced this because it was really the first year of having Eczema. My eczema in the summertime was completely different. It was red, angry, itchy, oozing, burning, but this whole dried out business was something entirely different.

As I walked to the hotel, I was in so much pain — crying as I dragged my bag down the street because holding the bag was incredibly painful. I found my way to a Whole Foods and I remember crying in the skin care aisle.

I was so desperate for some sort of relief! 

I found a salve and I bought these white cotton gloves that many of us who have hand eczema use. That became my regimen — applying this salve and wearing the gloves. I had to wear them in public to the event and everyone's like, “Why are you still wearing gloves?” We’re inside!”

All weekend long, I kept applying this salve with the hopes that I wouldn't develop any more of these little paper cuts. It was one of the most mentally crushing moments of my experience living with Eczema.

Woman's hands while meditating

Symptoms Of Dyshidrotic Eczema On My Hands

I had been to dermatologists, but no one had prepared me for this. I don't think there's any way to have been prepared for it.

I just had no idea that this is what would happen to my skin because I had a completely different set of symptoms during the summer months (which is when this initially began).

Fortunately, I was able to make it through the winter without losing my mind. But in the process, I had to stop basically touching everything because I couldn't touch water.

It was bad enough when my hands were red, angry and itching and burning that water would burn, but tiny cuts all over your hands hurt even more.

It hurt because every time you grip a handle or turn a doorknob or shake someone's hand, it hurts.

My hands could go from hurting a little bit to a tremendous amount depending on how inflamed and swollen those little cuts were.

Now, as I shared, I have come a long way with my skin rashes. I don't ever wish to go back and I'm so grateful for all of the effort that I've put into it.

However, it reminds me daily when I think back to moments like this why it's so important that you know that you have other options!

Because in the beginning of my journey, I didn't know what was wrong. All I knew was that I had these little clear bubbles underneath my skin, which is a hallmark of Dyshidrotic Eczema, which tends to affect the palms and the feet.

Those little bubbles would eventually become very itchy. So itchy, in fact, that they would eventually burst and ooze and I would end up with this whole rashed area of skin that would spread.

So I would get these flares where it would affect one area. Then it would heal up after a certain point and flare again and become worse and worse and worse.

My eczema began on one side of my middle finger. (If you have a sense of humor, there you go!)

It began to spread up the sides of the fingers and then affected the palms of my hands.

It eventually began to destroy the growth of my nails. They became very wavy and had divots in the nails which were very unattractive. And my joints became very thickened as well.

Dermatologist applying steroid cream

What The Dermatologist Suggested For Dyshidrotic Eczema

The first dermatologist that I saw basically told me that this was just something I was going to have to live with. She was proud of me that I had been gluten free, dairy free and egg free for at least six years before my Eczema appeared.

But no one bothered to ask me if I had any current stressors or anything else new going on in my life that could explain why this was happening.

When I asked why my skin was doing this all of a sudden out of the blue, I got a shrug.

“Well, we don't really know,” she said, “but what we do know is that a steroid cream can help reduce the inflammation and stop the flares. So here's the cream and oh, by the way, keep the moisture locked in with Vaseline.” 

I blinked twice.

“Vaseline?” 

“Oh yes. It's very occlusive so it'll keep the moisture in your skin so it doesn't dry out.” 

Now take a moment to think about that…

First of all, I have paper cuts all over my hands that don't really heal well because I'm constantly bending my fingers to do pretty much anything. You want me to put vaseline (derived from petrochemicals) on my hands?

Secondly, I don't really know how I'm supposed to function in life with Vaseline all over my hands from a very practical perspective. Everything I touch — my clothing, my cats, my husband, my home — everything will be covered in Vaseline!

It was one of the most impractical suggestions and frankly it was not in alignment with my own health values, which I've talked about HERE.

Aside from these two suggestions of steroid creams and Vaseline, I didn't really get any further with any dermatologist.

Fortunately, my father who's a doctor had warned me to not overuse steroid creams because there can be problems with it. So I feel lucky in that I had family members who at least understood the condition from a medical perspective.

Sad woman alone looking out window

How Dyshidrotic Eczema Impacted My Life

But that said, not everybody in my life understood nor empathized with what I was going through. Not being able to use the palms of your hands can have a huge debilitating impact on the quality of your life.

I couldn't wash my hands.

I couldn't even touch water because of how badly it burned.

I couldn't wash my hair! I can tell you that no matter how tight gloves are, water will still find its way in.

I could no longer go to the gym. I couldn't touch any of the weights or the equipment because I couldn't wash my hands.

Because I didn’t want to get my hands dirty or touch anything in my home, I started wearing these blue gloves that I bought at Home Depot. I would keep a spare pack of those gloves in my car as well as my handbag. That way, I was always prepared if the pair of gloves that I was wearing ripped.

I also found, unfortunately, that people don’t want to shake your hand when it doesn't look normal. 

They become uncomfortable to touch you (especially strangers) because they think that you're infected or dirty. I don't necessarily blame them, but it doesn't make it hurt any less when a person tries to bail out of shaking your hand.

I also had to stop teaching cooking classes, which was one of the things at the time that brought me the most joy.

Eventually I started to feel like someone had cursed me.

I would ask myself and other people if maybe I had done something bad in a previous life or if somebody had put the evil eye on me. I had no idea what the heck happened and why I deserve this when I tried so hard to take care of my health.

I was in the middle of Grad School studying to become a clinical nutritionist and I thought to myself, “why on earth would anyone want to work with someone whose hands are a wreck?” 

Thankfully my husband was there to help talk me off the ledge, so to speak, at a moment when I really felt like throwing in the towel.

I had become incredibly depressed. 

I had withdrawn from going to social engagements and hanging out with people whom I knew.

I certainly didn't want to meet anyone new because I really didn't want to be stared at or asked what was wrong. Or to be told that I was doing something wrong and didn't know how to wash my hands. And I should try a different moisturizer… even though that person had no idea what exactly was wrong.

I had just had it with the unsolicited advice and was ready to become a hermit in my home.

Natural soap and skincare

Can You Treat Dyshidrotic Eczema At Home Naturally?

And that's what my husband said to me that I should take this as an opportunity to look at my skin puzzle from a different perspective.

He said, “what if a client came to you with this problem? How would you begin to address it? How would you look at it differently than the doctor would?” 

And that moment was the game changer where I began to Google different natural remedies (only to find that they didn't really help all that much except for staving off a flare or reducing it or make the itching a tad more bearable).

I began to find pieces of my puzzle hidden in different websites and ways of addressing other health problems that weren't necessarily being applied to skin issues.

So on a whim, I created a “protocol” for myself based off of what I thought was possibly going on.

I didn't have any testing to go off of except for some regular blood labs. And to be honest with you, for the first six months, I had no idea if what I was doing was even working.

And by the way, for those of you wondering what worked —  I'm not going to share exactly what I did.

I know that you think that what helped me will help you and that's not necessarily the case because my triggers, my root causes are likely different than yours.

[READ MORE ABOUT THE 16 ROOT CAUSES OF SKIN RASHES HERE]

And I have to admit that my protocol at the time wasn't really fleshed out and as knowledgeable as what I now know. I didn't have access to all of the information and the research that I do in this very moment.

Knowing what exactly I did isn't important.

But what you do need to know is that I first started to reduce stress on a really serious consistent basis.

Second, I got much more serious about eating home cooked food as opposed to frozen packaged gluten free products that were easy to heat up.

I also began packing my diet full of lots of nutrition to help rebuild my gut through protein shakes.

And I also made the effort to support my liver in the process with the right nutrients.

So for 6 months, I soldiered on flare after flare after flare having no idea if this was working. I kept blindly following and trusting that I was doing something right.

After about six months, my skin flares lessened and the time between flares got longer and longer to the point where the flares finally stopped.

The whole process took me about a year. 

From there it took time for the skin around my knuckles to soften and look less thickened.

After about six months, my nails finally began to grow out normal.

It would not be fair to say that I’m 100% in remission as I have had a few flares since I was able to finally rebuild healthier skin. But those typically correlate with times where I drastically changed my diet. Or I was traveling and didn't have the capacity to take the supplements that I normally consume in a skin-soothing protein shake (because as many of you know, I cannot swallow pills).

Happy woman sitting on dock

Why I’m Grateful For My Dyshidrotic Eczema

I have so much gratitude for what Eczema taught me. 

If it weren't for Eczema, I wouldn't know all of the things that I know now. I wouldn't know the level of pain and suffering that people like you go through on a daily basis.

You can't fully understand the type of hell that skin rashes are unless you live with them or you're watching someone close to you go through it.

And while my journey seemed like it was over, I realized that I was actually at the beginning.

I now had the opportunity to give back and help everyone like you who's struggling and looking for answers find the answers that I've found.

I threw myself into research, and connected with experts and functional medicine doctors and researchers to ask the tough questions, to dig and to connect the dots that just aren't being connected.

And I discovered tests that really can give you straight answers when your doctor is perplexed.

So I hope that as you listened to this story, know that I'm in this boat with you. I still occasionally have flares and yes, I have a deep, deep understanding of what you are going through.

You are not alone.

That's why I created Skinterrupt and the Healthy Skin Show!

If just one person is helped, then all of this is worth it.

If you've got any questions about Dyshidrotic Eczema or my own personal journey, leave a comment below so we can continue the conversation!

And if you know somebody who's really struggling with Eczema, whether they have it on their hands or anywhere else, please share this episode with them so that they know that they are not alone.

Thank you so much for tuning in and I will see you in the next episode!

I got all of these little paper cuts in the joints of my fingers and could no longer move my hands. My eczema in the summertime was completely different. It was red, angry, itchy, oozing, burning, but this whole dried out business was something entirely different. As I walked to the hotel from the train station, I was in so much pain -- crying as I dragged my bag down the street because holding the bag was incredibly painful. I found my way to a Whole Foods and I remember breaking down in the skin care aisle. I was so desperate for some sort of relief!


Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.


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