IID Conference 2018, PART 2

It was quite the struggle getting up Friday morning after the swift burst of excitement from Universal. We were shuttled back into the event location around 11:30pm. By the time we got home and I was able to shower/get ready for bed, it was past 12am. So preparation for Friday’s long events seemed arduous at the start of the day.

Once we were back in the venue, it was time to work. Kelly was alert and ready with a smile, manning our booth, and I was keen on hitting every poster and mini-symposium I could before we needed a food break (and I didn’t want to eat my weight in candy). Luckily, at the large Mary Kay symposium, I was handed a lunch bag!

The symposium was on air pollution and the effects it has on the skin, especially in places that are high in pollution like Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. A few things that are affected by air pollution are eczema, skin cancer, uticaria, acne vulgaris. There was a study presented that showed how pollution in Saudi Arabia was contributing to obesity and type 2 diabetes. And if there is chronic traffic pollution, facial letigens were increased. Researches were trying to find out if anti-oxidants (a specific mixture for the skin) could help suppress pollution-induced issues on the dermis. For example, DEP exposure induces skin darkening and melanin production. An enzyme called CYP1A1 is shown to reverse this damage.

When I linked back up with Kelly, she was super excited to have spoken with the NEA (The National Eczema Association) and felt confident that our voices were finally being heard. Just 5 years ago, TSW was deemed a myth on their website. Then a few years later, they had a task force put together to investigate this phenomenon because so many asked about it. Now, we have TSW being discussed on podcasts and being seen as one of the 3 leading reasons for worsening eczema. We also, while seated at our booth, were able to speak to two separate men (a researcher and a professor) who are in works with natural remedies for our atopic issues. They both agreed that topicals were dangerous to mess with long term.

Friday night was the big talk given by Amy Paller entitled, “How our Increasing Understanding of Pathogenesis is Translating into New and Emerging Therapies.” There was a lot of repetition from the early lecture on atopic dermatitis, however she delved into a few other therapies a bit more, particularly JAK inhibitors. This can help reduce inflammation. There was a study done (and I don’t believe steroids were allowed to be used) where 90% of the participants had mod-to-severe atopic dermatitis. It lasted 4 weeks, 2x a day using the JAK inhibitor or placebo, and they saw that it seemed to do slightly better than tacrolimus.

Two other newer treatments were 1) Topical Tapinarof. It resembles coal tar and can improve the skin barrier, along with lessening inflammation. It worked 50% of the time, fully clearing or almost clearing patients. The other treatment is 2) Commensal bacteria. This was touched upon in the other lecture, but Amy Paller mentioned a treatment called Roseomonas Mucosa. It is in open label study that is sprayed on the fossae and showed reduction of bad bacteria and improvement of the local SCORAD, along with reduced steroid use! (SCORAD is one way researchers and doctors measure the success of a drug or treatment).

One treatment that has already been out for a couple of years is Crisaborale, or Eucrisa. It is a non-steroidal PDE4 inhibitor. The trial for the drug lasted 48 weeks, and showed minimal detection in the blood. I do not remember the percentage for the effectiveness of the drug, but I do remember it being a bit low.

She, too, brought up antibiotic resistance issues, as well as the side effects AD can have on children. It showed that some may be more prone to having ADD — however, that may be happening because of the large amount of antihistamines being prescribed to patients. There are also many studies showing that 16% of patients showcase anxiety, and 14% have depression.

Overall, her talk was informative of new treatments, but it’s easy to tell that she is still very defensive of steroids and their cherished use in dermatology. She had shared a slide about allergies/contact dermatitis, and topical steroids were on the list of culprits. She would not mention their name and quickly scanned over the slide. I feel it is really hard for many dermatologists to acknowledge how unsafe topical steroids can be because it has been engrained in their mind that this is the one effective drug that works for patients — the end all, be all healer of eczema. I do appreciate how hard some of them are working though to find better and safer ways to deal with atopic dermatitis, long term. Change is coming, and I am glad she is talking about it!!

Instead of staying Friday night for the dinner after Paller’s lecture, we called it a night and cooked together at the apartment. She and I were exhausted, both of us still dealing with our individual TSW issues. We still didn’t get to bed until very late, myself strategizing about the next day and trying to decompress (I bought a new TENS stem machine at the conference from a booth next to ours and I was using it while cooking).

Saturday was a bit of an unpleasant surprise. The morning was fabulous. I came in earlier than Kelly to our booth and ended up speaking to two separate groups of medical students who were looking around. They had never heard of topical steroid addiction before, one even stating that she was learning about steroids at that moment and nothing like this had ever come up. Such a red flag knowing this isn’t even being touched upon in a class. However, to my and Kelly’s dismay, we had another run in with why we are encountering so many unpleasant and arrogant doctors.

Dr. Steven Feldman, a man who is supposed to be a professional dermatologist who teaches students, was ABSOLUTELY APPALLING. He gave a huge lecture on atopic dermatitis. I knew it was going to go downhill (and I mean, steep-no-brakes type of downhill) when he gave us an anecdote about this one patient who was getting worse and worse despite the amount of steroids he was using, so Dr. Feldman admitted him into the ER on a Friday, lathered him in triamcinolone, and by Monday he was better. He goes, “… there are 3 reason why someone who is extremely atopic, has tried everything, and then is sent to the ER where they cover them in triamcinolone and suddenly clear up … 1) poor compliance 2) poor compliance 3) poor compliance.” He reiterated this ALL throughout the lecture. It was always the patient’s fault if they weren’t getting better.

I can not even touch upon the nastiness of his scorn and condescension towards patients. What upset me most is when I looked him up and saw how his practice is unbelievably two-faced. On one website that showcases Dr. Feldman, this is what is stated below his biography: Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 7.39.13 PM

“Patients should recognize that physicians do care (even if it doesn’t seem that way.” — I witnessed this man show a presentation on how biologics work, turn to the audience with a prideful smirk and say, “We should play that video for patients. They’d leave with more questions than answers.” The little laugh that came out after just cranked up my anger.

“Sticking with one doctor and building a strong, trusting relationship…” — Trusting? He gave MORE than one scenario where he said he’d manipulate or lie to a patient. One instance is him manipulating the patient into using a new drug. He said if a patient was concerned about trying a new drug, he’d tell them an anecdote about how he JUST saw a patient in his office, in THE VERY SAME CHAIR they were sitting in, and they were using the drug and are super happy! YEA! *super sarcastic* The story didn’t have to be true; it would be told to ensure that the patient would be more swayed into taking the drug.

The biggest lie, which was told with SUCH condescension (like nails on a chalkboard) was  his policy on “skirting around” the steroid question. He literally stated that he wouldn’t answer the question “is this a steroid?” when a patient asked. Instead, he would say (and this is WORD FOR WORD since he said it SO MANY TIMES throughout the lecture):

*in a soft-spoken, patronizing tone*

“This is an all natural, organic, anti-inflammatory designed to compliment your natural healing mechanisms to bring the immune system back into balance and harmony because I like to take the holistic approach to the management of patients with skin disease.” BUTTTTTTTT then he’d add on “gluten-free, made in a nut-free facility” if they dressed like a hippy and were from California. ANNNNDDD THENNN, he’d add on, “made in America” to anyone who was wearing a red hat that said make America great again.

How unprofessional is that?

And this is a man who is EDUCATING students! The whole lecture itself counted as a continuing education course!!! Everyone that needed a continuing ed credit could receive one at the end by filling out a survey!! Despicable.

How are we supposed to trust doctors when this is what is happening behind our backs? We weren’t allowed to film the lecture. Why? Because then THIS type of behavior would be exposed? This was my reaction afterwards:

It truly brought our fighting spirit out that afternoon. These are the kinds of doctors so many sufferers are up against in the office. When we are told to hold a conversation with our doctor, THIS is what most are met with — haughty, know-it-alls who blame the patient for everything! We are the reason for our suffering, not them. They are devoid of any responsibility. Not all dermatologists of course are in this man’s category, but it’s very apparent that people who share his views are scattered all around the United States.  It’s dangerous allowing him and others like him to be the leaders of ‘continuing’ education.

I needed to have a quick ‘harness-yourself’ moment before Kelly and I got ready to sit through 2.5 hours of atopic dermatitis poster discussions. We were at the end of our ropes and tired but we managed to get through them! We couldn’t miss out on those while we were there.

There were 11 poster presentations in total. I’ll give snippets of each (if there were things of importance to share.)

1. How most adults with AD have it mainly on their face and neck. So they were trying to target certain genes that may be linked to this. They found 3 specific ones to re-sequence that may help these types of patients.

2. Talked about OX40 inhibition (one of the biologics are targeting this) and how it may be helpful to those with T-cell driven AD. The clinical trial was very small, though. More trials still need to be done.

3. Talked a lot about IL-22 expression and trial being done. I have a feeling steroids were used during the trial, and they also said IL 22 by itself isn’t significant, but if it’s tied with other cytokines, it can play a role.

4. Spoke about JAK inhibitors — they reduce IL 2, 4, 6, 13 and 31. They had 419 participants in the study but many were dropped because they didn’t allow rescue medication, and they were transparent with the fact that once the person stopped the drug, they went back to baseline (meaning lack to their original state).

5. Spoke about PAR2 over expression and how it shows dysfunctional barrier, entry of allergens, which then activates immune response (mast cells go up), and then ends with deterioration of barrier.

6. This one was a bit overly scientific for me to fully follow. Spoke about Suprabasin (SBSN), an amino, and how nickel absorption is heightened in mice that are deficient in SBSN.

7. This speaker was talking about pH balance, but his accent made it difficult to follow, sadly.

8. Discovery of filaggrin loss of function variants in Hispanic and African American/Native American children with AD – High prevalence in central and south America for AD (which maybe can be because these places may not have regulation of steroids? — just my thinking). There are 3 known filaggrin models (10, 11, or 12 repeats). High loss of filaggrin in Asia and in some parts of Africa. The frequency of FLG loss of production is enriched in mod-to-severe AD observed in kids. Basically, she’s found 6 different discoveries in variants.

9. AD is associated with fragile homes in US children – Can worsen with anxiety and stress, and create financial burden. Higher odds of AD in children living with single adult families, non-biological fathers, unmarried mothers, and single mothers. Stress can trigger early childhood trauma and genetics. (There is a chicken or the egg scenario here though, depending on how in depth this study went — did the children have AD which caused a rift in the household ,thus playing a role in the couples splitting? Or did the couples splitting worsen the child’s AD due to stress?)

10. Another study on Staph aureus and how different good bacteria may help — such as S. hominis and S. epidermidis.

11. Another Dupilumab study and safety profile. They only seem to see a slightly higher prevalence of conjunctivitis in patients who use the drug. About 10% I believe in the trials had this side effect.

Once all the presentations were over, we went to the closing ceremony (which many didn’t care to attend), and it seems this is the last IID conference. They are now calling it the SIID (I believe) and it will be held in Tokyo in 2022. The next SID conference will be held in Chicago next May. I’m sure ITSAN will be attending, hoping to make even more connections.

As we were walking to our cars, Kelly asks, “Want to get Pho?” My mind was so cluttered and overwhelmed, I just stared blankly and couldn’t even recall what pho was. I’m glad she suggested it — delishhh. What the doctor ordered.

The conference was a wonderful experience (with a bit of sour thrown in). I think we still have a ways to go, but it is refreshing to see curious med students and other doctors who see what an issue long term use of steroids has become. There are still those steadfast, obstinate doctors who aren’t able to look past archaic ideals and views, but we will prevail one day for the betterment of treatment and patient care. #IID2018

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It was an honor so sit beside ITSAN. They have been doing such a stellar job being professional while advocating for Topical Steroid Withdrawal. It’s not an easy road they are on. Changing minds in a tactful and responsible way for the sake of saving others from pain and years of suffering is extremely commendable and worthy of a round of applause!

Interview #11: Jen Hall

fullsizerenderJennifer Hall

Jacksonville, FL

“Nothing is wasted” I heard this from a T.D. Jakes sermon. It basically means that no matter what suffering you’re going through it won’t be wasted…it will be used in some way for your best benefit. It will make you a stronger, wiser, more resilient person who will be more appreciative for the little things in life. You can even use your pain and experience to help others. This saying held true & gave me faith through my healing process (and still does till this day), it kept me going and looking towards the future and how I can use my experience in some way.

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

10 months old. At around 7 months old my parents noticed that I had spots of a skin rash, I was really itchy and the doctors told them to use over the counter creams to keep the symptoms at bay. When they noticed it was getting worse, to the point of wrapping my arms in gauze to prevent me from scratching my skin to bleeding, they took me to a dermatologist and they prescribed me topical steroids.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

.025% kenalog (triamcinolone ) cream

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes, higher potencies of triamcinolone (the main steroid I used for 26 years of TS use) as well as Desonide for my face, a mixture of steroids and lubriderm, and steroid shots of (I believe) triamcinolone in my hands and feet.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

I didn’t know there was a name for it until I found itsan.org. I had been withdrawing from the topical steroids for a little while already just because I was fed up of being sick and looking into natural remedies to heal my skin. I had found eczema-natural-healing.com and followed the woman, Donia’s story and how she stopped using the creams (and worked on cleansing and diet) and healed her skin. I took the same approach she did and I believe it was months later I found out about itsan.org and that there were doctors who had a name for it: RSS and TSA (topical steroid addiction) and were promoting cessation of steroids to heal the skin.

Following Donia’s approach inspired me to share my own story on my blog eczemaholistichealing.wordpress.com and help others just as she has! I receive many emails from all over the world from eczema warriors and I assist them with advice with diet, supplements and essential oils. I also truly believe that my overuse of topical steroids for 26 years led me to have cancer: stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2008. This overuse of topical steroids has also lead me to have Keratoconus in both of my eyes (but worse in my right) which I will have to have treatment for soon to correct the misshaping of my cornea and poor vision.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

All of the symptoms matched up to mine. I’m darker skinned but you can still see redness in my tone. I could never go a day without using some form of topical steroid on my skin, I was constantly itchy, if I would stop using the medication at any point in time my skin would revolt and flare up.

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?

When I found out about taking the steps to naturally heal my eczema I knew that no doctor would understand so I just grinned and bared it by myself. I did have a dermatologist at Duke University Hospital that I had before I started TSW (and whom I’d get prescriptions from). When I scheduled an appointment to see her and tell her about what I was going to do as far as cessation of the medications and taking a holistic approach, she flat out told me “well there is nothing we can do for you here, I prescribe medication, so… sorry.” She had no alternative treatments for me, no information about diet or any info on how it truly is possible to be addicted to topical steroids. I even believe that she had said “there’s no cure for eczema“. I still plan on one day showing up and showing her how I got through this and how I’m much better off than I ever was on any cream she wanted to prescribe me! The only doctor who supported me was my oncologist at Duke University. I even showed him horrific photos of the beginning stages of my TSW and he was so impressed by how far I had come (6 months in) and he praised me for taking such control of my health and choosing this route of healing. He even offered info for a holistic doctors that he knew, but I couldn’t afford it.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Hot red skin, raised bumps, intense itch, hot and cold feverish symptoms then came the ooze… the dreaded ooze with huge cracks in my skin. My legs and especially my feet looked like I had a flesh eating disease because the skin was so raw, open, bloody and oozy. The pain and leg spasms were insane, like ants crawling UNDER the skin, and tingles like pins and needles. Showering gave me anxiety as the water stung and burned like crazy, I ended up going months without showering and just washing up not only because of the pain but also because getting my raw legs and feet wet just made it worse.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes, very much so. I’m so thankful for my mother for physically taking care of me for so long and for both of my parents for helping me out financially. My parents both felt so terrible and guilty that because of taking me to the dermatologists to use these meds all of this time had got me in this situation.

Just like thousands of parents just wanting to see their child better, they did the best that they knew how and what they thought was right, to take me to the doctor. My mother and grandma would always pray with me and encourage me to keep my faith, let me know that God is always in control and this suffering won’t be in vain. My friends were super supportive and so kind throughout all of my health issues. They never made me feel like an outcast, always encouraged me and spoke healing into me. Still to this day they tell me how much they admire my strength of all that I’ve been through. Hearing those words from them always keep me going.

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? Why?

I have never gone to a hospital for TSW as I already knew doctors wouldn’t understand and just want to give me steroids, antibiotics and pain meds. I also couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for a holistic doctor or naturopath. The one time I went to a clinic for a signed doctors note to excuse me from work, the doctor looked at me as if I was a fool and flat out said that what I was doing “clearly wasn’t working” and I needed to immediately get back on the steroids.

 

10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

Symptomatically the ooze for sure… the smell of it is so awful, the icky sticky feeling it leaves on your skin and when it sticks to your clothes is aggravating, the way it crusts and hardens and itches is maddening. With all of that I know that the symptoms are good things, they show that the body is cleansing properly and getting all of that gross toxic metabolic waste out, by any means necessary. Emotionally and mentally would be holding on to the faith and hope that this will end someday, and digging deep to continue fighting. Just not giving up and giving in to suicidal thoughts that would plague my mind from time to time.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

Since March 2012. I still cannot believe that I will be 5 years topical steroid free in March 2017! I can honestly say that I’m about 90%-95% healed, with just some irritation still from my knees down. My legs are just flaky and itchy at times and my feet are the same but with small areas that can get ever so slightly oozy. I’ve been able to comfortably wear socks and sneakers more recently, which is a huge milestone! Some days I have to just wear sandals (thank goodness I’m in Florida lol). I just have discolouration and wrinkling that is really left to repair, but no intense symptoms like the years before thank God!

12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

Always reminding myself that “this is temporary” also that, “this pain and struggle will take a fraction of your life to endure and heal”. Lots of prayer and listening to uplifting sermons and gospel music. Reading positive, inspirational books. Crying instead of holding it all in. Crying on the phone to my mom and hearing her encouraging words. Listening to dance music, watching lots of movies and getting crafty. Constantly staying educated about detoxification & healing with food and natural remedies. Seeing my friends and laughing my booty off. And always, always having gratitude, even when I was in the deepest darkest hole I gave thanks to God because I knew the the only way out was to battle through it and that each passing day was one day more without topical steroids… one step closer to full healing. I always tell my readers to give thanks for the good and bad, the breakthroughs and setbacks, because the body doesn’t take overnight to heal because it didn’t take overnight to accumulate toxicity… it will take time and to always trust its natural ability to heal. Have gratitude for the pain because it shows that your body is properly cleansing and that you are becoming the healthiest version of yourself, free from the dependency of topical steroids!

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

I’m currently looking for work, but with my eczemaholistichealing.wordpress.com site I make a small income from the supplements and essential oils that I use and recommend (feel free to reach out for more info: eczema.holistic.healing@gmail.com). I was able to work retail for 1/2 a year, but a TSW flare brought me to quit my job as it affected my legs and feet, making it impossible to put on shoes and stand for any long length of time.

14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

I have not, and I would’ve benefited from it for sure in the darkest of times. I found my therapy to be connecting with others through support groups as they knew the struggle first hand and we could all encourage one another, even if it was via the web. I found it amazing at how many people all over the world were suffering and feeling the exact same horrific symptoms as I was, especially when in the very early stages I felt like I was completely alone. It’s also wonderful to see so many doing much better and enjoying life to the fullest!

 

15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

Don’t ever give up, you are a warrior and this pain and suffering you are feeling is temporary… it is literally a fraction of your life dedicated to repairing. It may seem like it’s dragging on forever but it WILL end, the body is so amazing at self healing! Always keep the faith and always have gratitude. Treat your body like the temple that it is with healing foods, lots of rest, exercise and loving thoughts. Focus on the future and the amazing things that you will do when you’re body is healthier, how you will live life fully, be more compassionate to others, share your story to encourage others and be of service in any way you can. Remember that this isn’t “happening to you” but it’s “happening FOR you” to be the healthiest version of you! Continuing the steroids for years and years would’ve only increased the toxicity in the body, and would’ve led to other health issues like myself with cancer and now Kerataconus. TSW is a huge battle to endure and embarking on it is the bravest thing you can do, commend yourself and keep on fighting!


Thank you so much, Jen, for this phenomenal interview! 

Interview #9: Mattiel Brown

mattielMattiel Brown

Atlanta, GA

“All Things Must Pass” – George Harrison

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

When I was about seven years old, I used Desonide cream very sparingly for eczema around my mouth and ears. This was not the period where I became addicted to steroids, though. I was fine as a teenager and only experienced very occasional, small spots of eczema.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

Desonide .05% cream (and I also used some Protopic)

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes, but I didn’t use the whole tube and not for very long.
Triamcinolone cream. Used for small spots of eczema around mouth.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

Video of Dr.Rapaport’s interview on youtube.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

My eczema was spreading to places that I’d never had it before – my neck started breaking out, my back… it was just a sign that something was NOT normal.

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?

Diagnosed with eczema, told that it was a very hard disease to treat. I did not have a supportive doctor until I met a “naturalist” doctor named Dr.Maziar Rezvani in Marietta, GA. He helped me through the later stages of my withdrawal after I explained the situation to him. Very supportive doc.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Rashes spreading to unfamiliar areas, very sensitive skin, burning, swelling eyes, yeast infections, and after using Protopic I started to get styes in my eyes and even a cyst in my arm. These were all very strange symptoms to me and a sign that something was not normal.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes, my mother and boyfriend were extremely supportive and believed in TSW after I explained the situation thoroughly.

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? Why?

No.

10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

Physically, it was very difficult. But mentally – I was really a wreck at about one year into my withdrawal and I had to see a counselor. I was in a very, very dark place and couldn’t sleep, hated having to go through the day, and was in a lot of pain – I was so depressed. Worst experience of my life was the mental toll this took on me.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

April 2014 / August 2016. I would say it took 26-28 months for me to say I’m definitely healed.

12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

I got a prescription for muscle relaxers to help me sleep.

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

I am employed and I stayed employed during my whole withdrawal. The only time I took off was two weeks last summer to collect myself mentally when it was getting really tough.

14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

Yes, I had to see a therapist. It helped me a lot – just to have someone to talk to and to see their outside perspective.

15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

This will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do in life. Period. It will end, but it is a long, difficult process and you will need support from friends and family (and hopefully a doctor). It’s a very hard situation to explain to other people (especially traditional dermatologists), and it’s even hard to understand what your body is going through when you’re suffering from it. And as hard as it is to believe, you will look back on this experience as a tiny fraction of your life. A period of your life that REALLY sucked but it ended. It DOES end.


Thank you for such a terrific interview, Mattiel!

Interview #7: Maja Ster

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaja Ster

Slovenia

‘I am strong and I love myself for fighting this condition so bravely – worsen my symptoms, stronger my love. If I can fight this, I can do anything. I am unstoppable.’

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

I started using topical steroids when I was around seven years old. I got Atopic Dermatitis and due to my symptoms my dermatologist prescribed me my first corticosteroids. My parents didn’t like them, but of course wanted to help me, so they followed medical instructions. I was very itchy at the time and had patches of red and dry skin on a few parts of my body (especially arm and leg joints). So we started applying steroids – who will you trust if not a doctor?

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

Advantan

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes. I was applying Advantan to my skin regularly through all my childhood, never been told that it could be mixed with a cream to be less potent. So I had been using 100 % topical steroids all the time (not very heavily though) and as a teenager realized that they had no real effect on my skin anymore. I got more potent corticosteroids around my 18th year from my dermatologist. They were called Elocom.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

I was searching through the internet to find a new solution for my skin, because I had one of my bad skin days that day. And I somehow found a blog, written by a girl from nearby town, saying that she had been two years into withdrawal of corticosteroids at that time. She wrote that topical steroids worsened her skin condition and as she had realized later – made her addictive. When I was reading those lines, I stopped breathing and I started to shake. She wrote about her withdrawal process, how bad her skin had been on the beginning and through the whole withdrawal, how she didn’t know if she would survive. I was crying and crying and crying. Because I knew at that point – that I was addicted too.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

I knew when I read the first post on that blog. It was like someone would finally told me the truth I had already knew. Corticosteroids never felt good on my skin (apart from immediate effect it had on my skin) and my skin was like a wax or something artificial after applying them. I knew because my skin has changed in years of TS usage. Inflammation started to spread over my whole body and it appeared on places not typical for Atopic Dermatitis too. My outbreaks were unpredictable and uncontrollable, it came in seconds and bursted over my whole body.

6.What were your first symptoms?

Fizz with liquid inside and dry red burning patches of skin. Bone deep itch that was stronger than anything that I had ever felt in my life. In the first few days of withdrawal over my hands, arms and back. In the first month over my whole upper body and around month three over my whole body. Shivering of cold in the middle of summer (all together for four VERY LONG months), the shivers, feeling of ants crawling under my skin, heavy shedding of my skin, heavy sweating (for a few months, especially at night), hyper sensibility of skin to everything – from fabric to food and even to my own touch. Insomnia. Oozing, soreness of skin, deep devastating hopelessness and entrapment of my happy outgoing soul in my waning weak sore body.

7. Is your family supportive? Friends?

I am so happy to have my boyfriend, who is super supportive through this whole process. My friends too and my family – it is hard to accept something so brutal, so they needed their time to accept / understand. It was (and still is) hard for them too.

8. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? 

No, fortunately not.

9. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

Accepting that this is it. That everything I have loved and cared about has to be put aside for an indefinite time because my symptoms are taking everything I have away from me. My time, my energy, my patience, my will to live. Itch itself has been so devastating that after a ‘good’ itch attack (sometimes on a bad day even on every two hours or less), I have been left with nothing. Empty shell. All my energy was wasted on that insane itch and to stay sane I had to turn myself off afterwards. I had to stop thinking about everything else and had to focus on just being.

Accepting that all my dreams, desires, wishes, all my hard work to became good at something, to accomplish something, had to be forgotten for that long never-ending period of time. Accepting the feeling of frozenness in the moment, when (almost) everyone around me had lived their lives on like nothing had happened.

Like I would be nearly dying next to them and they wouldn’t even notice. That was the worst.

The inability to explain to my closest people what I was going through in the way that they would really understand. And the inability to do all those things I had wanted to do so badly (from going for a walk or shower without pain to doing my hobbies – later in the process I started to hanker badly for creativity, productivity and physical activity).

10. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

I have been withdrawing from 28. January 2015, so one year and 9 months until now. I am not over with withdrawal yet, but I am feeling much better now. I think that it will take one more year or even two or three to be completely healed.

11. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

I had a no-diary, no-gluten and no-sugar diet for my first 8 months of withdrawal. I don’t know if it has helped on the recovery process, but at that time I reacted to practically everything and I was using the diet as my ‘power’ to have at least something in control. I am using moisturizer creams now (Avene Xera Calm Balm and Zinc Oxide) and I bath when my symptoms worsen (with apple vinegar or sodium bicarbonate). I use tubifast strapping in that case too.

12. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

Yes, I am, as a student worker. In the beginning of Topical Steroid Withdrawal I had been very lucky to just complete my studying, but had not yet graduated – and I could take one extra year off as a student. I didn’t had to work so hard that year, because I had still lived with my parents, so I didn’t had to worry about my finances so much, which was a life saver.

I had to stop many student jobs and hobbies on the other hand, which affected my life a lot. And it was hard (and still is) starting to do those things again because I lost so much specific knowledge after a year and a half of not doing it. But I’m starting to learn and explore again and I am ready to live a much fuller life now.

13. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

I think that I will recover my whole life from the withdrawal. From time to time I cry heavily remembering my worst months and meeting my darkest hidden demons, which is a kind of therapy too.

I believe that my therapy will be all the things that make me happy and touches my soul. I will be recovering through dancing, being with all the people that mean the world to me, hiking (hopefully without the itch) and deep conversations with myself and my closest people from time to time.

I truly started to love myself through that process and that is why I am grateful for it. I believe it was meant for me to overcome TSW and it made me know myself 100 times better.

I see my path now. And I’m ready to start walking it.

14. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

You are strong and very brave. Don’t ever doubt about that. If life had thrown you into that terrible process, you had to be strong and brave enough to fight it, why else would you be the one thrown there? Don’t step on the path towards healing in the role of the victim, but tell yourself that you can do it, that you are a victor!! Embrace the pain and love yourself deeply through that process. It is not fair, it could be prevented, but don’t stress about that through your darkest nights. Focus on surviving, do all you have to do to come through. And remember, it becomes EASIER and it ENDS eventually. IT REALY DOES!

Be grateful for having the symptoms that won’t last your whole life, but ‘just’ a few years. That may sound negative, but it really puts things in perspective. It could be worse! You can always be grateful for something, and that makes life (and even the symptoms) much more tolerable. Be your own comforting inner voice saying: ‘I am strong, I am beautiful, I can do anything, I will manage the next minute / hour / day and I will NEVER give up!’


Spectacular, Maja! Thank you for your interview!

Different Atopics Podcast

Dr. Matthew Zirwas, an Ohio MD, gave a very poignant (albeit slightly arrogant) talk in Arizona this October about atopic dermatitis in adults and how he categorizes this condition in order to give the right treatment.

He starts off with saying he is able to fix 90% of his patients. About 1 out of 10 of his patients he just isn’t able to truly help. Perhaps they are those with Red Skin Syndrome?

He checks IgE levels to see just how atopic they are (and to help initiate compliance).

Overall, I don’t appreciate the way he spoke about patients (very condescending), and even stated he had no problem lying to patients to get compliance, but I do wish to write about his lecture because it had interesting points.

One of the first things he began to mention was how awful the mainstream treatment for atopic dermatitis is for patients, especially when it comes to topical steroids. Dr. Zirwas gave a scenario of what usually happened when he was a resident. His doctor would state,

“Here is your triamicilone ointment, use dove soap, wear cotton clothes, stay cool, don’t sweat too much, don’t shower too much, good luck.” And we should have said as they were walking out of the door, “you’re not going to get any better…”

He knew there needed to be a change. He wanted to help people actually get better. He said  that topical steroids actually make the skin barrier worse. It may seem to help the symptom in the short run but it’s not fixing the problem, it’s actually causing a problem. He uses the analogy of using prednisone on bacterial pneumonia. The patient will feel great 12 hours in, but then will die because the steroids will have allowed the infection to get worse.

“Topical Steroids is probably one of the worst imaginable things you could do. If you were going to say ‘What’s the worst thing you could do for atopic dermatitis, it would be topical steroids.”

Now, I am going to get a little scientific on you. He used A LOT of big words. The lecture was riddled with jargon.

Dr. Zirwas explained the role of filaggrin for our skin. It is what brings together cyto-skeletal proteins. So, he uses the analogy of a hollow brick or shell as your stratum corneum (the outer layer of skin), and the filaggrin is what hardens it so nothing harmful can get in. It then degrades it into amino acids (which is our natural moisturizing factor, acting as a retainer for moisture in the outer layer of skin). Furthermore, it is a source of urocanic acid (a UV absorber). For those of us who are deficient in filaggrin, we are susceptible to friction, dryness and scaling, and fissuring (cracking).

While explaining this, he concludes that we shouldn’t be calling our condition atopic dermatitis, but cutaneous barrier disfunction. The biggest problem is our broken skin barrier.

Normal skin is like a wet sponge, moist and flexible and hard to tear. Atopic skin is much like a dried out sponge that’s hard, dry, and cracks.

He moves on to the main topic of the lecture: his 4 categories and how to treat them.

When it comes to mild-to-moderate atopics, it’s usually just water and irritants penetrating into the skin. With severe atopics, it is usually proteins leaking into the skin. Finding out which proteins these are will help you understand which treatment will work.

Main Goal: 1) Improve Skin Barrier and 2) Reduce protein exposure

The 1st Category, which everyone fits in, is barrier disfunction. This means lichenification, xerotic, usually worse in winter, and dull red. Treatment: physiological moisturizers (Ceramid based moisturizers). He feels these are effective because they penetrate the stratum corneum (outer skin layer), into the keratinocytes, into the golgi, and helps create natural skin moisture.

Ceramide based products, like EpiCerum, take time. Dr. Zirwas says no one will see results overnight. They need at least a week for results.

Here is where I get a bit off with his method, but it’s his way…

He mixes clobetasol steroid solution in with the creams for patients. He tells them to take the 50mg solution and pour it into a tub of new CeraVe (found at your local drug store) and use that for a month, 2x a day. That is a super potent steroid. Why give someone THAT potent of a steroid, regardless that it is diluted? His reasoning is that he feels the physiological cream makes the steroid less harmful to the skin barrier. Is there scientific evidence for this? I have no idea. I wish there was. And I am not sure if he has them do it for more than a month. If it’s just a month, I can kind of calm down about it, but if he puts his patients on this for a while, then it worries me.

The rest of the treatment for your barrier is: Shower at least 2 times a day and put a physiological moisturizer on right after – use a shower filter – double rinse your laundry or use vinegar in the mix – and use DryerMax dyer balls. 

He also went into talking about how he feels ointments are not the best choice for topical steroids. His logic is that steroids are looking for the most oily environment. The more oil in our vehicle of choice (like an ointment), the less likely the steroid with leave and penetrate into the skin. So he sees it as ointment is the worst, then cream, then lotion, then solution is the best. I can see his logic in this, but I don’t know of any scientific research backing this. I know ointments are more occlusive, so I would think, no matter what, the steroid would penetrate.

Category 2: Airborne -type

Aesthetically, men have what Dr. Zirwas calls an ‘inverse t-shirt’ pattern. Everything under his shirt is fine, but all the rest of his skin exposed to the outside is not. And women usually have facial dermatitis. Also, these patients usually have asthma and bad itching at night time.

He feels these are the hardest to treat. The problems are protein ‘allergies’, such as dust mites, pollen, ragweed, etc. These allergins are protease, which means they cause itch and worsening of the condition. These are the TH2 and TH17 triggers (which, when imbalanced, cause issues).

His Treatment: Mattress and pillow case covers (keeps the dust mite poop down) – washing at least twice a day, women washing their face as much as they can (and then putting on physiological moisturizers)

Category 3: malassezia driven

It affects the head and neck area. Usually they have eczema as children, but then into adulthood, it gets bad on their face.

This is his favorite type to treat since it’s easiest to him.

His Treatment: Itraconazole (check LFTs — which is liver function) 100mg 2x a day for 2 months, and ??? on weekends 100mg a day (literally could not understand what he said) – or- Ketoconazole (always check LFTs). He feels the former drug is safer than the latter, and feels orals must be used, not anti fungal creams.

Category 4: staph driven

It usually looks like moist atopic dermatitis with fissuring, crusting, and scabbing. Fairly bad eczema but it explodes/flares

He says he doesn’t swab (which made me angry) because he feels most of the time it isn’t MRSA so he doesn’t need to check. Well, I had MRSA on my skin in Month 8 of my withdrawal. If he hadn’t swabbed me, then I would still have had MRSA.

He says there hasn’t been a decent research article written about this. He also touched on antibiotic resistance and how we will be screwed possibly down the road.

His treatment: Keflix, Doxycycline or Bactrim for 4 weeks – Rifampin for 1 week in the beginning paired with one of three above (says it’s for decolonization) – Bleach bath once a week with clean towels, PJs, and sheets – Antibacterial washes (he likes Dial moisturizing antibacterial body wash) – avoid ointments (since he said most are contaminated with bacteria) – Neosporin 1 week per month on nostrils

Also, another reason for staph- driven dermatitis is decreased cathelicidin production. That means Vit-D production. You need to take LARGE doses, about 4,000 units a day. He says a study says it’s safe to take that much. No idea where that study is, but you can try and find it.

After explaining all of the different categories, he goes into some of the other treatments he gives on top of these if the patients are really bad. Things like immunosuppressants (Cellcept, Cyclosporin, Methotrexate). He says he barely prescribes these things since he can usually get things under control with his normal treatments.

Overall, it was informative. His method of treatment interests me, but not so much the compound steroid with CeraVe. I wonder how these patients would fair without the use of the steroids and just the other elements of his treatment.

 

FDA Reporting: Adverse Effects

Want to report adverse side effects? You don’t need to wait for your doctor. In fact, with Red Skin Syndrome, many adverse effects aren’t getting reported.

So let’s be proactive.

Visit the Food and Drug Administration page: FDA WEBSITE.

I apologize for this is only an American site, but others out of the country may be able to find your own government page to report adverse effects.

The papers you should fill out are the Consumer Voluntary Reporting Form

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When you go to mail or fax the pages, you can also attach a picture of the product you are reporting. Do not physically send them your product, but keep it in case they want to contact you for more information.

The FDA will reply to you so you know that your paperwork was received.

You want to fill out Sections A, B, D and E. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to answer every single question. Just fill it out as best you can.

Also, the FDA have the ability to share your name and contact information with the company that produced your product. If you want your information private, make sure to check the box in Section E.

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Any questions, you can call their toll free number, 1-800-332-1088

Once the forms are complete, mail them to:

MedWatch, Food & Drug Administration 

5600 Fishers Lane

Rockville, MD 20857

If you’d rather fax, the toll free number is, 800- 332- 0178

Good luck, guys! Let your voices be heard! 

Prescription Without A Cause

It’s not the steroid itself I have a problem with in the medical community. No. It is the overprescription & the lack of detective work to see if the patient even NEEDS the steroid that can cause so much harm when abused. That is what I have a problem with…

Take this dentist for instance. Here is the article that surfaced about his intense struggle with facial eczema.

Link to full article about Dr. Frances Tavares 

This dentist, Dr. Frances Tavares, was not only misdiagnosed and mistreated, but then had to deal with Red Skin Syndrome because of his overprescription of topical steroids (on his face no less). We already know that the face is one of the most sensitive areas/high absorption spots on the body. To use topical steroids on the face is already a risk, but then for such a long period of time is extremely neglectful.

After countless different dermatologists giving him different brands of topical steroids, Dr. Tavares was finally allergy tested 2 YEARS after first being seen. That is an obscene amount of time for a dermatologist to wait when the patient is not responding well to the steroid. It even says on topical steroid inserts that doctors should reassess the situation if it doesn’t get better (… not 2 years later).

After he had the allergy test, he found out he had an allergy to propylene glycol, which is commonly found in lotions, toothpaste and other body care products. By getting rid of products with this ingredient, he was fine. Or was he?…

No, he wasn’t. He had to withdrawal from the topical steroids that he had been using for so long because dermatologists didn’t take the time to properly diagnosis him. If they found the root cause to begin with, there would not have been any need for steroids.

And the biggest problem I find about this article is the emphasis they put on tapering, as if to say tapering solves all your problems. There are many Red Skin Syndrome sufferers who have tapered down, just as their doctors have prescribed, and still flare badly. Could it help with adrenal fatigue? Sure, I can see that if they need it for their adrenals. But to say they will be fine once they taper is not accurate.

“The doctor who diagnosed Tavares’ allergy says there’s no problem with the prescription of corticosteroids, but it is a mistake for patients to come off them cold turkey.”

Yes, yes there is a problem. No, I am not a doctor, but YES there is a problem. These topical steroids should not be prescribed for long periods of time, especially not on the face. It is not only neglectful but shows a lack of education on the topic of steroids.

So, I beg of you. If you have a rash come up, anywhere, get it tested (allergy and or swabbed for infection) before you start slathering on topical steroids as a solution. They are not meant for a long term solution.