It may seem that a chronic illness journey starts with getting a diagnosis, but for many people with eczema, it’s a milestone met after years of confusion and distress. I spent my childhood and teenage years with symptoms but didn’t realize I had chronic eczema until I went through severe eczema in my early 20s. To start taking control of atopic dermatitis, you must first know you have this condition and then take the time to understand both the condition and your own body.
Be Aware of the Symptoms
The most important step is to pay attention to your body. A small rash here or there may not seem like a big deal, but it could reveal an allergen or the beginning of a worsening condition. Identify patterns, if any, when a rash or itchy patch appears. Could it be an allergic reaction to a new food? Have you started using a new product recently? Did you wear something on the same area within the last few days, like a bandage, makeup, or a scarf? Anything can cause an allergic reaction, so think big! Plus, these are the types of questions a doctor will ask, so be prepared in advance.
Go to the Doctor
Don’t suffer through eczema without trying to make it better. Go to the doctor! If you try one and they aren’t helpful, try another. When I went through very severe eczema during my first pregnancy, my thoughts were dark and I gave up on getting help. But after giving birth, a spark of hope crossed my mind and I decided to try a new doctor. I discovered an allergist that was a much better fit for me and significantly helped me. I’m so glad I didn’t give up.
Ask your doctors and friends for a dermatologist or allergist recommendation. Once you visit the doctor, share any patterns and details you can provide. When did your symptoms start? If they’re recurring, share your ideas on when and why they happen, even if you’re not totally sure.
Get Allergy Tested
Although stress is a big trigger for eczema, so are allergens. Both a skin prick test and a patch test are important tests to determine allergens that could be triggering your eczema. The tests will identify different allergens, so talk to your doctor about getting both tests. Conveniently, these tests can show the severity level for each allergen.
Once you find out your allergens, learn about each of them, especially the most severe ones. An allergen may be simple, like pineapple, or annoying like dairy (there’s dairy in so many foods!). Other times, an allergen is complicated and may be an ingredient you can’t even pronounce. Do your research and get to know your allergens; after all, they are a part of you.
Adjust Your Life Accordingly
If you find out you have skin allergies, there’s hope for improved skin! Adjust your life as needed to avoid your allergens. Most important, pay attention to your skin. Does it like to be moisturized, or is it better to keep it dry while it heals during flare-ups?
Sometimes an allergen won’t cause you issues. But you should test products that contain allergens one at a time to better understand your body’s reaction to each one.
Give it a few days before trying another new product. This will likely be the phase where you compare yourself to others and think things like, “Everyone else gets to use X product, why can’t I?” Well, because you can’t. That may not be fair, but that doesn’t change the situation. Accept and embrace yourself entirely, from mind, body, and skin to allergies. It’s easier said than done, I know!
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that can range from mild to moderate to severe throughout your lifetime. Thankfully, research in the eczema industry continues to advance and new treatments are being made available to patients. This is why it’s important to continue visiting your doctor every 3, 6, or 12 months, depending on the severity of your eczema. Even if your eczema hasn’t changed, staying in touch with your doctor will give you visibility into medical advancements.
Being diagnosed with atopic dermatitis is a milestone for eczema fighters. It’s a point in time where new information can help you take control of your skin situation. Although eczema is a lifelong condition, monitoring your body and getting medical help can make the journey easier (and less itchy!).
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