Adventures with Eczema

About two months ago, I found my legs itching quite a bit.  I thought it was mosquito bites at first, but it seemed like too many bites in one spot to be blamed on a bug.  Anyhow, the itching was quite persistent, and bothered me for a few weeks.  It was so bad, I would wake up from the itching.  

I got so fed up with it I went to see a doctor about it. The doctor, a general practitioner, ruling out a resurgence of chicken pox (no fever) or bed bugs (not the right bite pattern),  simply concluded it must have been some kind of allergic reaction that had gone out of control.  She prescribed me some anti-histamines that should give me a good night’s sleep and some steroid cream to handle the itching during the day.

At first that seemed to help, and I was sure I’d be back to my normal self soon enough, but then the itching started to wake me up at night again.

Before I could get too upset from the lack of sleep and itching, I took a trip to the US (a travelogue post to come), and the itching started to subside a bit, though was pretty persistent.  My sisters urged me to see a dermatologist at my soonest convenience.

Upon my return to Hong Kong, things suddenly took a turn for the worst.  The itching came back with a vengeance and started to spread.  I had itchy bumps all over my legs, then my arms, and forget about sleep.  I sought some dermatologist recommendations and got three.  Each of them were in high demand and would not give me an appointment for at least three weeks.  I advised each to call me should a cancellation arise that could get me in sooner.

Then suddenly two of my appointments were moved up to that week.  I couldn’t be happier.

When I showed for my appointment with Dermatologist 1, the waiting room was packed, and despite being a bit early for my appointment, I wouldn’t see the doctor for another half hour. When I got in front of the doctor, he interviewed me about my situation and then looked at my skin under a bright lamp.  He told me I had a form of eczema.

Eczema!? That’s not something I want to hear I have! I thought eczema was something most sufferers were born with, so I was pretty surprised to hear this diagnosis.  Derm 1 said that the causes of eczema are unknown, but even a single allergic reaction can give rise to a widespread reaction in the form of eczema. 

He prescribed the same as the first doctor – just stronger meds.  Hopeful of results, I just went ahead and cancelled Derm 2’s appointment, though I left Derm 3’s appointment intact, since it was far enough in the future that I could leave it as an insurance appointment just in case. 

Again, the first few nights seemed great, but then the itching came back, and as though it was angry that I tried to quell it, came back with a vengeance, and spread even more.

By that time I had already cancelled appointment with Derm 2, feeling hopeful of Derm 1’s treatment.  How wrong was I!? Recovering Derm 2’s appointment would take another few weeks, so I arranged to see Derm 1 again. 

At that point, I was really worried, since I now had small bumps on my hands! What was happening to me? I revisited Derm 1, who didn’t seem at all alarmed by what was happening, told me the condition on my hands was called pompholyx, and just prescribed even stronger meds.  He also ordered an allergy exam for me – which tested common food allergies and Hong Kong environmental allergens, which included mold and cockroach!

Once again, the new meds were not doing much for me, and the itching only spread more and more.  I was really worried, so why wasn’t my doctor? Thankfully, I got to see Derm 2.  

Derm 2’s diagnosis was no different.  He agreed with the first dermatologist regarding the eczema diagnosis, but now added on another affliction – folliculitis! He prescribed yet MORE strong steroid creams, antihistamines, and now antibiotics.  I was skeptical, but still listening.  Derm 2 felt confident he could be of help and reassured me that he helped lots of overseas patients — which seemed like an unnecessary dig at Derm 1, despite his failure to me.  Note – Derm 2’s consultation fee was double Derm 1’s.

Learning my lesson from last time, I took Derm 2’s advice and then proceeded to my next appointment with Derm 3.  Unlike with Derm 1 and 2, I did not have to wait at all, though I did have to wait 3 weeks for my appointment. Derm 3 ALSO agreed that I had eczema, though the cause of it was unknown.  He just explained that despite the cause, he was sure of the remedy – a cortisone shot!

He explained that my condition was quite extreme and needed this extreme measure, but that I would feel relief in a day or two.  I hesitated, but the doctor did not push me at all.  Instead, he looked at my medicines, tried to improve upon them, and sent me on my way to return whenever I wanted the shot. Notably, his consultation fee was the most expensive — three times Derm 1!

Now I had the consultations of 3 doctors, and plenty of creams and pills, and the option of a shot looming.  The itching had become insufferable at that point, and when I explained the different opinions to my siblings, who are also doctors, I felt encouraged to go for the cortisone shot.

The next day I decided to stop bothering with the creams and antihistamines and saw the nurse at Derm 3’s office just before it closed (at noon). But would it work?

That afternoon I felt substantially less itchy.  The next day, the blisters on my hands started to recede.  In 48 hours, I was steroid and antihistamine free and feeling fine!

Meanwhile, my allergy report came back with no new news – I have no food allergies and am highly sensitive towards cats. 

So what have I learned from this ordeal?

1. Eczema can arise at any time apparently.  The cause of my horrible bout of eczema? It’s unknown, but I do suspect the pollution has something to blame and perhaps mold had creeped into my closet from the humidity.

2. It seems the most expensive doctors are actually worth their sums!

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