Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Is My Medication The Cause Of My Eczema?

Been doing more thinking about this "red skin syndrome" malarky to try to solve the mysteries of when did this happen, and more importantly, how did this happen?

I was talking on the phone to my Mum regarding when my eczema, asthma and allergies first started. She said my eczema started when I was a child, however she can never remember it being severe in any way, shape or form. It was mostly just sensitive, dry skin to which we stopped using bubble baths and switched to hypoallergenic products.

It was asthma that was most prevalent, often resulting in trips to hospital and taking oral steroids to help return my lungs to a more normalised state. I distinctly remember these times well. I would be at my Nana's house and she would dissolve the nasty little red tablets in some water in the "special medicine glass" to form the most vile pink fluid you will ever taste, which was always far too much for me to neck down, and would always proceed in me gagging. Memories to treasure, huh?

My allergies were also never really that bad. Although I did always have a snuffly nose and would produce more snot than is depicted as normal. Although I do distinctly remember picking up my friends' pet rabbit, and within seconds my eyes swelled shut and I was so itchy and sneezy and my asthma went mental. So never again did I pick up a rabbit. But I do remember going on trips to farms and picking up various animals and never having a problem. Same goes with cats. Misty was around before I was born. So I've always grown up with cats around me. In fact, my brother had gerbils too, to which I never reacted.

A face full of make-up, in my "Goth" attire, aged 15. Note the clear, pale skin :(

Fast forward a few years and I would often get small patches of eczema on my inner elbows, my upper lip and sometimes around my eyes. It was an annoyance, yes, but nothing that a bit of E45 and hydrocortisone couldn't help. I'm unsure as to whether my hormones played a part in this or not but I can't figure out what would have been the initial trigger.

Then we come to me aged 16 where I was faced with the awful situation of my Grandfather's funeral and meeting my biological Father for the first time in my life. I don't remember my skin being bad on the train journey down, though I do remember my asthma worsening as we changed trains on London Underground. I just remember the morning of the funeral the entirety of my face, neck, chest and arms were coated in a weeping, swollen rash which was so bloody itchy I couldn't stand it. E45 worsened it and from then on I've avoided it like the plague.

Now whether it was the stress of the situation that brought on the flare, my Grandad's extremely dusty home, the feather duvet's, the woolen carpet, or a combination of these things... I just don't know. It wasn't until the following day I believe, that I was admitted to hospital with an asthma attack. My skin had worsened so much and oozed and was burning and infected, covered in scabs that would just reopen and make me stick to the bed sheets.

It took around 6 months for my skin to return to normal after that, applying a zillion different steroid creams during this period. Then it returned to its "mild" form, not bothering me again for another 3 years. [Although it was during this "resting" period that I developed my heat urticaria. I came out in hives when on holiday in Spain and from then on whenever I got too hot would break out in hives.]

It was then in January of 2009 that it all kicked off again (for reasons I can't quite put my finger on...) and so I returned to using steroids, but this time more potent steroids. I was given oral steroids and antibiotics to prevent my reoccurring infected eczema. Unlike before where it was on my face, neck, chest and arms, it spread down my torso and then down my legs leaving no part of me unscathed.

I assume in the first instance of having eczema that it was down to a severe allergic reaction as why else would it have appeared on my most visible parts? I can only think that it was due to an airborne allergen... possibly the sheer levels of dust? The second time however, I really have no clue.

I have been in the same state since 2009 with only small breaks of respite. As I've mentioned before I've undergone all sorts of treatments, had allergy patch and IgE testing and nothing has really come to light properly, other than my obvious dust and animal allergies.

So could my eczema be a by-product of the steroids? Perhaps it was the steroids that caused me to get eczema to start with if I took them frequently for my asthma troubles. I just don't know and I need some answers soon.

Does anyone else who has suffered from Red Skin Syndrome have severe allergies? I need to help make a distinction I think.

Forever pondering...


  1. Interesting that you consider the steroids used for your asthma. There is certainly a link with asthma and eczema and this does seem like something that would be overlooked. I've certainly never considered it.

    I'm a sufferer of both myself too. I can say while I did use my steroid inhaler occasionally throughout the years, I haven't used it frequently at all (naughty me!) because I never get into a habit.

    I had patches of eczema on behind the knees and elbows when I was a child and steroid creams were used to treat it. It suddenly got much much worse around the age of 19 - spreading to face and chest (and all-over on really bad days). I use steroid creams probably more often than I should to keep it at bay. After trying a lof of moisturisers I found most flared my face, as in sore red. Calmurid is the only moisturiser I've found that doesn't appear to do this, I was originally given it because I said to the doctor about scaly/falling-off dry skin and it certainly does its job. I only apply it once after showering and it's fine for 24hours, any more time and I need a shower otherwise it'll get itchy (I find keeping any moisturiser on for over a certain amount of time will make you MORE itchy. The doctors certainly never mention that and even tell you to avoid showering as often! The same for if you apply too much, don't drown your skin!) It burns occasionally when applying on raw skin but it's definitely worth the minute of pain compared to others, it distracts from itching at least.

    One oddity with my eczema is I find the back of my neck does clear of eczema for months if I apply steroid (no moisturiser) once and completely leave and forget about it. Don't get the same results on my face or chest unfortunately. I have a feeling the scalp area works a bit differently.

    I feel like we need a website/app for adult eczema suffers to join together and vote on what products really work for them, with a profile on their eczema history (i.e. used steroids as a child), filling in daily reports on how their skin is (clear, flakey, red) so we can collect data to analyse. I think a lot of data gets skewed by child-suffers that grow out of it. Doctors appear to be useless at using modern technology to solve these kind of things where I feel we could really solve it if we work together.

    1. Thanks for your comment :)

      Yes, I'm definitely an atopic individual with my eczema, asthma and allergies but it just strikes me as funny that so many people talk about Red Skin Syndrome being the result of steroids and I did used to take oral steroids frequently for my asthma. Just makes you wonder how the body processes it if I also suffered from mild eczema at the same time. Food for thought anyway.

      I find that I don't go a single day without needing to take my steroid inhaler. But it's been this way since I was a child. I definitely took the preventive one and the steroid ones morning and night and would often need them during periods of exercise or laughing fits, which still get me now! Though nowadays my asthma is more allergy based.

      I just think it's funny how everyone's individual cases of eczema are different but so similar at the same time. I'd love to know how prevalent eczema and allergies were 60+ years ago as it seems more and more people have it nowadays.

  2. Again, your blogpost really struck a chord with me. Our experiences have been very similar.

    I come from an atopic family and as long as I remember, had allergies to all sorts of things. I had my first pet, a rabbit, aged 4 and couldn't stroke or hold her because of my skin reactions. I remember during a school photo getting a reaction off the grass we were sitting on. I had my first really bad reaction when I ate a Brazil nut when I was about 6. My throat and eyes swelled shut. It was really scary.

  3. Hi Jenny, I found your blog through tumblr, I'm waywrd on there. I've been atopic my whole life, eczema from 6 months old, terrible skin from then til I was 15 when I mostly outgrew eczema. I was allergic to dairy, if I had it before I would be itchy and rashy within an hour or two.

    I'm still allergic to pawpaw which gives me hives, and walnuts which make my throat immediately itchy and start to swell, I've never eaten enough for a major reaction.. I'm sensitive to animal fur - I used to have rabbits and if I held them and didn't wash my hands or change clothes, I'd start to get itchy skin and watery eyes. If I pat my dog now and don't wash my hands, I'll still get itchy.

    I definitely think topical steroid withdrawal is separate to these allergies - I used to get occasional flares from stress/playing with my dog/whatever which I would control with Elocon. At a rough guess I used it maybe a week out of every two months? That was for about four years. I didn't think this was excessive use, until early this year I ran out of Elocon and hydrocortisone. I figured my skin was doing pretty well, I wouldn't refill it. When the usual dry, itchy patches started coming up, I tried all my usual tricks - oatmeal baths, copious amounts of moisturiser, cut my nails very short, etc. but nothing worked. It spread and spread all over my arms, torso, shoulders, neck and was nothing like the eczema I knew which was broken skin, itchy patches but a normal skin colour. Instead, my skin was burning, bright red, intensely itchy, the surface was verrrry dry but not broken. I went crazy trying to figure out what I had done, then I realised the only thing I had changed was that I stopped using steroids. Started googling things like "stopping topical steroids reaction" and came across ITSAN and everything fell into place.

    I definitely think atopic eczema and steroid withdrawal are completely separate, but the process of withdrawing made me even more sensitive to things I'm allergic to like animal fur.

    I'm currently relapsing and back on steroids, I'm not happy about it but I just can't work and withdraw at the same time, I tried and it was hell. I've given myself til June to finish off some big projects I'm doing at work, then I have to think seriously about whether I can work from home or take a career break, or quit my job. I don't know yet. I definitely share your work vs health struggle. I have savings and I'm very lucky to still be living at home so financially I can afford to stop working, but I'm only in the first year of my career and the job market for my field is very poor at the moment so I don't know how I will go getting a new job when my skin is manageable again. So for now I have two weeks to think about what I will do.. I'm still at a loss. I guess the reason I want to withdraw is that I already have quite bad steroid atrophy - the insides of my elbows are more lax and wrinkly than my 82 year old grandmothers - no joke! (She does have beautiful skin though!) On top of that, I'm scared of getting to a point where steroids will no longer work for me, then I'll be forced to withdraw and after many more months/years of steroid dependant skin. The sooner I stop the better I think.

    I hope that helps! Sorry it was so long haha. If you're thinking about withdrawing I definitely recommend joining the ITSAN forum and the facebook group, theres lots of good info there.


    1. Hi, I have Red Skin Syndrome too. You are lucky in one regard and that is that you are still young and your recovery from steroids would not take that long. I am 37, 13 months off steroids and still having a hard time, though there are some improvements.
      I has childhood eczema and probably never outgrew it due using steroid creams off and on.
      Good luck with everything. Not everybody oozes and some people go to work with this

    2. Wow, thanks for your comment Waywrd/ Jo. Sounds as though we are quite similar. It's answered a lot of questions that I had in wondering if people who were suffering RSS had allergies too that still caused skin to flare. A lot of people just seem to say that they sneeze a lot/ have itchy eyes etc or go straight into anaphylaxis/ breathing issues but never seem to talk about it coming out in their skin.

      I'm definitely going to try it out in the future to see what happens. If I can't cure my allergies, then hopefully I can try to give my skin a helping hand by stopping the steroids.

      Definitely stay in touch anyway and I will follow you on Tumblr :)

    3. Thanks Bea! I wish you the best too :) unfortunately I think my skin will definitely weep if I withdraw because it weeps on such a regular basis anyway. In fact I felt a flare come on last night and my eyelids became wet. This morning I awoke to eyes basted shut with dry weepage (new word right there) and my entire face is now blotchy. Always occurring though grr!

  4. Hiya,

    A very familiar story indeed. I made a video (that some people say is very funny) about chasing my allergies. Turns out I was just chasing my tail! http://youtu.be/0VxVkHOMupY

    It'll link you to my blog where I'm charting my progress through Red Skin Syndrome - I think you will find it all strikes a chord! There's a wonderful support network out there with wide open (red) arms so do get in touch.

    Much love, Kitty xxx

  5. While I'm no scientist and can't give you a sure answer, I do know that each person may react differently to allergens and medicines alike, which is why it's important to get any illnesses properly diagnosed to receive the right kind of medication. That aside, I hope things get better for you soon, Jenny! -Juliana Vanslyke @MedicineShoppeCrowfoot

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    Best regards Graham Lea