Saturday, November 6, 2010

A tale of two itches

As SK is cavorting across the continent, I will take the opportunity to introduce myself as a guest blogger on End Eczema. You can call me Dr Sib.

As mentioned in previous posts, I share in approximately half of SK's genetic pool, being his sister. Unfortunately for me, our genetic overlap appears to include a faulty filaggrin gene that has been the root cause of much unhappy scratching by us both. And, while I've certainly spent my fair share of time shredding my own skin with my 10 digits, I have to confess that this particular organ is fairly intact at the moment, my atopy manifesting itself more at the asthma end of the allergy spectrum.

I attribute this happy state of affairs, based on a sample size of 1 (myself), in part to my geographic locale. My eczema has never been as flared as it was for the 12 months I spent on Vancouver Island on Canada's western coast. There, I spent the entire time bleeding into my sheets at night, tossing and turning with the torment, and avoiding showers because the chlorine in the water burned too much to bear on a daily basis. No dietary measure had any effect. Nor did the usual routine of steroids and emollients that I had come to rely on in the past.

Musing back, I realize (quite ironically for reasons that will become clear in a moment) that I never consulted a physician during this time, nor did it even occur to me to do so. Essentially, anything I had learned about managing my eczema up to this point had been from personal experience and the advice of fellow sufferers. It was well known amongst this same cohort, that our family doctors had proven to be pretty useless when it came to treating our dysfunctional skin. At the same time, I had never been referred to a dermatologist, so I assumed I was stuck with things as they were, bad as they were.

Now, as a first year resident in family medicine, what do I do with this memory? I admit I do feel it reveals a certain incompetence on the part of the family doctors I've had in the past in managing atopic dermatitis. The time I've spent with dermatologists thus far in my training has suggested that family doctors have a tendency to be far too cautious when it comes to the use of topical steroids, particularly in children and adolescents. I seek to rectify the problem in myself by taking a special interest in the dermatological complaints of my patients. And, I hope I have a well-developed capacity to empathize fully with the impact a symptom as 'harmless' as ITCH can have on an individual's life. Finally, I feel the drive to be competent in diagnosing, counseling, and managing this problem in my own patients. For me, this will mean an extra rotation in dermatology during my residency training.

My story brightened when I moved back east, first to central Canada (Ontario), and then to the Maritimes. My skin healed of its own accord. While I used to attribute my temporary misery to some quality of the water to which I was exposed, I've come around to assuming there must have been an environmental allergen triggering me, be it mould in the basement apartment I was inhabiting, or some type of noxious pollen circulating in the botanical breezes of the west coast. Either way, I'm left a number of habits/superstitions that I use to ward off a recurrence: I never miss a full-body moisturizing after a shower/bath. I don't expose my skin to long, hot soaks. And, I'm aware that every coffee, every alcoholic beverage, and every spicy meal exacts a toll that may tip me over the edge into a flare.

1 comment:

  1. I was actually the first to diagnose Dr. Sib with eczema. She visited me in Vancouver when she was about 19, sporting a rash on her face that her doctor had identified as fungal. Surprisingly, the antifungal cream the doctor prescribed did nothing. I, of course, knew eczema when I saw it.

    Thanks for posting, Dr. Sib. More please!