“Every time I want to give up, I remind myself of how far I have come.”
Welcome to my blog and join my journey as an eczema warrior. I am Kim, a 21 years old Hong Kong girl studying nutrition and food in Toronto. I have a long family history of skin diseases and allergies. My mom suffered from chronic urticaria when she was young and completely recovered after she gave birth to me. My uncle has severe shellfish allergy. My aunt in her early-thirties is still battling with eczema. As for me, I have been battling eczema for 14 years, struggled with urticaria at age 15 and 20 and experienced two anaphylactic shocks last year. I am allergic to nuts, shellfish, gluten, dust mite, yeast, mold and the list goes on and on.
I started getting eczema in grade 2. My eczema condition was the worst during grade 2 to grade 6. By definition, eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition, characterized by dry skin with scaly or hardened patches that are red and intensely itchy. Eczema on flexors (bends of the arms and backs of the knees) makes bodily movement painful and sometimes together with a burning sensation. Eczema was all over my body including my face and neck making my condition visible to everyone. It was extremely tough for my younger self because I did not have self-control when it came to scratching. Every morning when I woke up there would be new wounds and thousands of dry skin pieces on the mattress. As my mum recalled, my condition was extremely worse every year in March and November due to the change of season in Hong Kong. I had to stay indoor because exposing to sunlight and sweating could worsen my condition. I couldn’t sleep over at anywhere other than my home because dust mites are commonly found in bedding. I had to take Chinese herbal medicine every day and follow a strict dietary restriction. I felt different from my friends due to all the constraints in my life. However, it never hindered me from doing things that I like, such as dancing, drawing and playing musical instruments. I always enjoyed performing on stage no matter how bad my skin condition was.
At the age of nine, I did a skin prick test to check for immediate allergic reactions to about 20 allergens. I was diagnosed to have nut, shellfish, dust mite and fungus allergies. By avoiding the exposure to dust mite, eliminating allergens in my diet and taking Chinese herbal medicine, my eczema started to get better in grade 6. Throughout my secondary school life, there were only a few severe flare-ups, usually because of stress during exam seasons. In grade 11, my eczema was close to being completely cured after a constant 2-year electro-acupuncture therapy – which I will write more about it in my future blog post.
Never have I once hated myself, thanks to how loving and caring my family is. I know that I am not alone in this journey ever since day one. There were countless nights when I woke up because of itchiness, my mum and grandma would wake up to apply lotion and ice pack on my skin and put me to sleep. Sometimes my skin was so painful and uncomfortable that I would be scratching myself while crying at the same time. My mum was always there holding my hands and telling me everything will be okay. I know I wasn’t the only one in pain because it was heartbreaking for my family to see me suffering. My mum once had a mental breakdown and said, “I wish I am the one suffering”. I still vividly remember the disappointment in my mum’s eyes every time we needed to see a new Chinese doctor because nothing was working, and the hope in her eyes when there was a slight improvement. It was mentally draining for me and my whole family to go through tough times like this, yet we managed to pull it through.
Photos were taken before my first eczema flare up
Towards the end of grade 11 (before I move to Toronto), I started getting urticaria, also known as hives, at night. Urticaria is an outbreak of swollen, red bumps on the skin that causes itching and burn. It wasn’t as visible as eczema because it would usually go away in the morning. However, when the condition is severe, it is nothing less compared to eczema. It persisted for a short period after I moved to Toronto and was completely gone in grade 12.
Fast forward to Summer 2017, I went to Hong Kong for four months. The weather in Hong Kong was hot and humid. I had a severe outbreak after exposing to the sun for a prolonged period. With the help of Chinese herbal medicine, my condition was under controlled for 4 months. I started to go back to dancing in January 2018 and that’s when my nightmare began. I got hives all over my body after dancing. My skin was very itchy and burning. I took the over-the-counter medicine and it went down after an hour. The same thing happened when I went dancing the next week and I decided to stop all vigorous physical activities. From January to July, there was eczema on my body here and there and I kept taking over-the-counter medication daily. There was nothing severe until August 2018. I stopped doing photoshoots because I couldn’t stand how gross my skin looked like in pictures. Eczema spread from the limbs to my neck and my face. On August 29, I woke up with my entire body being swollen. I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. I went to the walk-in clinic near my house immediately. They prescribed me one dosage of oral steroids, which I have never taken before due to the side effects. Steroids are basically a bandaid solution that is harmful to your body if it’s taken long term. On August 30, steroid helped clear up my skin completely. On September 1, my entire body was once again swollen with the worst flare-up in my life. I went back to the walk-in clinic right away and got one more dosage of steroids. This time steroid didn’t help the situation as effective as before. I got a referral letter to a dermatologist on September 4 and went to the office on September 5. I started taking antihistamine and using corticosteroids cream daily. My skin got better two days after. I stopped taking antihistamine daily in late September to prevent the development of dependence.
On October 1, my skin got irritated by the wind and got hives on my face. I was shocked by how sensitive my skin was, yet I didn’t think of it as a big deal because the hives went away in a few minutes. On October 2, I went out for dinner with my friend at a restaurant I always go. I ordered the food I usually order and walked home in the cold for 30 minutes. When I was 1 minute away from my apartment building, I started coughing vigorously. I looked at the mirror when I got home and realized my face was flushing. I knocked on my roommate door right away and thank God she was at home. By the time I explained to her what happened, the rashes and hives have developed all over my body. We put ice packs on my back and my throat to prevent my respiratory system from shutting down. I had shortness of breath and difficulty breathing while my entire body was burning. I told my roommate I have to go to the emergency room (Note: everything happened within 5 minutes). When I was planning to call an Uber, my stomach started hurting. I ran to the washroom immediately while my roommate decided to call the emergency service. I thought I would have diarrhea but nothing happened except for intense pain on my stomach. I was sweating a lot because my skin was burning and I was still having trouble breathing. I felt like passing out but I stayed conscious until the paramedics came after 20 minutes. They asked a bunch of questions and injected me with epinephrine. I stayed in the hospital for 6 hours that night.
My eczema condition was once again stable but I constantly got hives or rashes on my face when it’s too cold outside. On December 13, 2018, the day before my vacation in Hong Kong, I had another anaphylactic shock. I spent one month in Hong Kong visiting the Chinese doctor and the immunology and skin specialist. I kept having flare-ups in Hong Kong and spent most of the time at home healing. On January 4, 2019, we got back the blood test results from Europe and discovered a new allergy that I developed – wheat. As described by the immunology specialist, wheat is an allergen that can cause severe reactions, especially with exercise. It explained the anaphylactic shocks I experienced since I don’t get hives anymore after completely cutting off gluten from my diet.
I was thrilled to find out I am allergic to gluten as I thought I could cure all my skin problems once and for all. My skin started flaring-up 2 weeks ago after 2 hours of pole dancing and now I’m struggling with eczema and self-esteem issues again. I am currently trying to cure eczema naturally without any medication and steroid cream. I am taking multiple supplements daily to promote optimal gut health, which is linked to reversing eczema. I would love to write about it and also share my gluten-free diet through the lens of nutrition. Through this blog, I hope I can channel all my emotions and pain into words and share this journey with all of you. Thank you for reading the whole post and feel free to follow this blog with the button down below so you will get email notification when a new post is out!
Stay confident and positive!
Cover photo was taken by @edwardchang