Is it a hickey…or just eczema?

Although I’m pretty much just tired of thinking about and dealing with eczema, I’m still getting a lot of hits on my Execrable Eczema post from May 2012, so I thought I’d post an update. After this I’ll go back to my regular schedule of photo challenge posts, homeschooling posts, and posts about how I avoided fights in junior high.

First off, all of this is just what I’m doing to treat myself. It’s not a doctor-prescribed regimen, nor is it something I’m suggesting for anyone else. I just thought I’d post about it because I thought people might be interested.

So, the eyelid eczema I wrote about in May 2012 lasted from September 2011 through April 2013, and it was joined in 2012 by a patch of eczema on my neck. I looked like I was a 36-year-old with a large, perpetual hickey. And I assure you, even though hickeys are associated with teenagers, a hickey look-alike does not lend an air of youthfulness any more than adult acne does.

All of the eczema went away in April after I made some changes to my diet and my habits, but the patches on my eyelids started trying to come back again in September. It isn’t too bad right now, though, and I think I’ve narrowed down a few things that help keep it at bay.

First, I’m pretty sure I’ve identified some triggers:

1) Dairy. This is what set off my flare in 2011, and the flare before that happened in 2009 when I did a dairy challenge. I normally avoid dairy, but sometimes I get it accidentally, so now I’m more vigilant.

2) Sugar. Sugar bothers me anyway, so I usually avoid it, but sometimes I just want to have a little something sweet. The current mild flare I’m having started after I ate a bunch of salt-water taffies a friend brought for my kids this fall (and then Halloween happened, and it took me a while to get away from the sugar again).

3) Whatever was in my old facial care products. I’ve gotten migraines from artificial fragrances since I was in junior high, so I always avoid those, but when I switched to using only unscented castille soap and extra virgin coconut oil on my face and body, my eczema improved dramatically.

I don’t think any of these is the root cause of my eczema because avoiding them doesn’t get rid of my eczema entirely, but they do seem to trigger it and/or make it worse.

When my eczema finally went away (for a while) this past April, it coincided with starting an immune-balancing regimen and quitting raw kale. Now, kale is a very healthy, nutrient-dense food, but I’d been eating a LOT of raw kale, and it might have been too much of a good thing. I was consuming 1/2 to 1 bunch of raw kale a day, in addition to 1/2 head of romaine lettuce and 1/2 bunch of cooked kale, collards, or other leafy green. I already have thyroid issues, and I think this was just too much for me.

In April I quit the raw kale—and my eczema went away. Hooray! (I also lost 7 pounds, which would support the idea that it was messing with my thyroid.)

But this fall when the eyelid eczema started coming back, I decided to tweak things again. I decided that I would focus on what I think are the two main causes of my eczema: inflammation and auto-immune reactions. I’ve not been able to get much help with this from my doctor (or, doctors, since I’ve been doctor shopping again), so I’ve been cobbling something together on my own. We’ll see how it works.

In addition to avoiding my triggers, here’s what I’m doing:

-Diet: I’m eating vegan, but with no raw crucifers. (Well, I’m vegan except for special occasions because I’m just not ready to trade turkey for lentil loaf.) I’ve been gluten-free since 2006, and now I’m avoiding all grains (not eliminating them, just eating much less of them). I’m also avoiding refined sweeteners, caffeine, and alcohol.

I went back to eating vegan because it’s the way of eating that most sources agree is the most anti-inflammatory. Personal, possibly TMI, anecdotal evidence of this: I have really painful menstrual cramps when I’m on an omnivorous diet. Like, wake-me-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night cramps. Like, “I gave birth to a nine-pound baby in a tub in my dining room and this is painful” cramps. I’ve been vegan again for a month, and it’s already better. Maybe it’s the anti-inflammatory effect? Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

-Supplements: I’m not super keen on dietary supplements, but there are a few I’m taking to help balance my immune system. I take an herbal immune balancing formula (Chinese mushrooms, vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium, probiotics), cod liver oil, time-release vitamin C, extra vitamin D, and a probiotic blend.

-Exercise: I take a brisk 30-minute walk and do 15-20 minutes of yoga every morning. I try to do other exercise, too, but this is the guaranteed, must-do, rain-or-ice exercise I do every day.

Things I want to add in, but I’m not quite there yet:

-Meditation: I do meditate, but it’s really hit-or-miss. My goal is to meditate for five minutes before lunch and then for 30 minutes in the evening. My sub-goal is to be able to meditate for 30 minutes in the evening without nodding off and then jerking myself awake when I start to teeter on my cushion.

-Essential oils: One immune-balancing protocol I’ve read prescribes specific essential oils at different times of day. I’m doing the morning one (rosemary or lemon, which I put in my morning shower and in the oil I use as a moisturizer), but the lavender at lunchtime and the eucalyptus in the evening aren’t happening regularly just yet.

-Sleep: 8-9 hours a night would be nice. My spouse attended a scientific conference last month where he heard a presentation about circadian rhythms and artificial light. Apparently, artificial light really screws up our circadian rhythms, and LED lights screw them up worst of all. Since the 1950’s, we’ve lost an average of 1.5 hours of sleep per night. While we sleep, our lymph system dilates and works to flush out toxins, like the metabolic byproducts of running our big brains, and if we don’t get adequate sleep, this process is incomplete. I’d like to give my lymphatic system ample time to clean out the junk, but I’m not quite ready to give up my evening quiet time or to read by candlelight, so this one’s going on the back burner.

For now, my eczema is in a holding pattern. My eyelids are itchy and varying shades of red, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was before. So, either what I’m doing is working, or it’s all just a big coincidence and I could actually be eating steaks and cupcakes and wearing eye makeup and it wouldn’t make any difference at all.

Because I like to have an illusion of control, I’m going with the former.

Once again, this is not a doctor-prescribed regimen, nor is it something I’m recommending for other people. It’s just what’s working (or at least what I hope is working) for me, and I’m sharing it because I think some folks might be interested. Please don’t take it as advice because that’s not at all what I intend.

2 Replies to “Is it a hickey…or just eczema?”

  1. It has been suggested to me that my eczema may have something to do with detoxification, in which case, the pattern of your eczema and diet changes make sense for you too. But I also agree that it is not the only cause (I think I have identified corn as a trigger) and that the emotional root must be addressed. Even the super-conservative CDC recognizes that 87% of disease is emotion-related (stress, etc.). Your plan definitely considers all of this, so I think it’s a great start!

    Probably not-so-coincidentally, my eczema has been worse since I contracted Lyme disease, and coincides with the detox times … but it could also be attributed to the auto-immune crap going on and of course all of the inflammation.

    Just make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats in your diet … in my book, there’s nothing better than Kerry Gold butter, but it’s definitely not vegan (coconut oil is a good choice too). 😉 That will help with the inflammation and promote healthy skin.


    1. The link between emotions and the physical body apparently isn’t very clear at all. It’s clear that there is a link, but scientists don’t seem to know whether bodily sensations cause emotions or the other way around (this notion I got from a book by Daniel Siegel, but others have written about it, too).

      I have had a reaction to alcohol for years, but I always thought it was just anxiety until it got bad enough that I realized it was something that started in my body and included an emotional component rather than something that started in my mind and made my body feel bad. The same thing happened with dairy. My digestive symptoms caused me anxiety, and here I thought it was the other way around. (Why I go immediately with “I must be crazy” rather than “it must be something I ate” is another matter.)

      Another example, with stress hormones and thyroid hormones, a doctor recently explained to me that stress hormones can cause the body to make “reverse T3” instead of T3 from the T4 the thyroid produces. The reverse T3 fills the receptor spot that T3 does, but it doesn’t do the same work as T3. It got me wondering how many other processes are derailed by stress hormones. And of course, stress and inflammation have been linked for a while now. So, it makes sense to hit it all. Besides the fact that we’re mind-and-body not a body with a separate mind, as reflected by the CDC numbers you referenced.


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