NYC Mount Sinai Integrative Medicine Conference

New York City is one of my favorite places, so when I was informed by Henry Erlich that this conference was being held in the Big Apple, there was no hesitation in buying a plane ticket.

The conference was this past weekend, May 13th-14th. I was only able to attend the primary day. However there was plenty of information to be absorbed. My main reason for going was to hear the prestigious and awe-inspiring Dr. Xiu-Min Li spill her knowledge on allergic disease, ASHMI, and her take on Red Skin Syndrome. She will be one of the doctors I humbly get to interview for the documentary this summer, and I am stoked! Such an amazing woman whose research I know will change the way we treat eczema in the next decade. I see a Nobel Prize in her future.

Dr. Li has a phenomenal opportunity while working at Mount Sinai, bringing together both Western and Eastern medicine in a clinical setting. No Western doctor will be able to deny her results and her rigorous efforts to show how wonderful Traditional Chinese Medicine can be (and is!) for our growing allergy and eczema problems.

Besides Dr. Li, there were a plethora of doctors participating, some even flying all the way from China. We had headphones and a translator present in order to understand everyone speaking.

At the bottom, I will be posting a video of Dr. Li’s talk and all that I was able to film. Sadly, I was told we couldn’t video anything so I wasn’t prepared. It was only very late the night before that I was told I was misinformed. I did my best filming with my heavy camera and old phone while trying to listen. It’s a bit shaky, so I apologize. It had been down pouring that day, which soaked my shoes, so most of the conference I was bare foot, attempting to sit on my feet in hopes of warming them up in that already frigid auditorium room.

But here are a few highlights from the conference:

1st Speaker: Susan Weissman

Her son, Eden, had horrific allergies, asthma, and skin problems. She found Western medicine was not helping their son improve. She is an avid promoter of Dr. Li’s work and is happy to say her son is finally able to enjoy life because of her protocol. She is the author of Feeding Eden, a memoir about raising Eden with all of his serious health problems. I think the most profound thing she mentioned was her question to Western medicine doctors: “How do we treat the entity of allergic disease?” Medicine seems to be extremely narrow-minded instead of looking at the body (or a condition) as a whole.

2nd Speaker: Dr. Xiu-Min Li

She gave a brief oration before her longer one at the end of the conference. The merit of her work is astounding and she emphasized how necessary it was to be able to show how TCM brings results that Western doctors can believe in and not have them be able to dispute them as “false” or “not supported.” All of her work has to be proven through science.

4th Speaker: Shi-Ming Jin, MS

*Apologies since I skip over a few speakers*  I loved how she spoke about how the integrative world is striving to be more innovative and adaptive to Western world medicine in hopes of showing how TCM is helpful and important in giving patients relief.

8th Speaker: Jing Li, PhD, FDA Botanical Review Team

Basically, there are FDA guidelines/guidance for using botanicals (herbs) in medicine. They are tested in clinical trials just the same as Western medicine, so they are treated equally. It can not be written off. A demonstration of quality control was given, and how they wish to minimize any chemical, biological and pharmacological variations to obtain consistent drug substances.

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10th Speaker: Ke Xing Sun

He gave a speech about how using TCM is about keeping harmony in health with our whole body working together as a unit. We are individual people with individual needs, something Western medicine does not always provide. We should be more patient-centered with medicine. He also advocated health in daily life, reiterating how prevention is key.

11th Speaker: Arya Neilson, PhD

*She was a stellar speaker* She deals with acupuncture and the benefits it can give to certain patients, even those with eczema. One of the most interesting things was how this type of treatment post-surgery can help with opiod sparing since we, in the US, take up the vast percentage of opiod use around the globe. Opiod abuse it sky high and having this available is quite a remarkable treatment. Acupuncture is now even included by Western doctors in some therapies! When it comes to allergies and eczema, there was a study done to show how dust mite IgE levels were down regulated after using acupuncture, and how itching was reduced in eczema patients. However, acupuncture is more of a rescue therapy for patients and herbs should come first in eczema treatment. (She is featured on the video)

12th Speaker: Scott Sicherer, MD

He spoke eloquently about his field in allergy/immunology in babies and what could be causing such an exponential climb in allergies these past few decades. No one is for certain, but he feels having exposure to the skin could be a factor. For some reason, there has been found to be peanut dust inside of homes, which is where skin contact could become an issue. If babies have eczema, they are at a higher risk for allergies. He would use oral immunotherapy to try and desensitize the allergy, hoping to eradicate or raise the threshold. Scott touched upon using biologics (omalizumab) for some cases for 20-22 weeks (it’s an anti-IgE), but he says it doesn’t mean it’s going to be any more effective (just perhaps speeds the process).

14th Speaker: Rachel Miller, MD

Rachel continued to speak on allergies and issues in infants and children, focusing a bit on pregnant woman. She showcased how if a pregnant woman is under stress, her child is more likely to have wheezing. She also explained how methylation and DNA does play a role in some of these areas and how Dr. Xui-Min Li’s protocol, ASHMI, has shown good results in pregnant mothers.

16th Speaker: Anna Nowak-Wegryzn, MD

She gave a very in-depth speech about allergies and infant treatment. When she mentioned starting oral tolerance as early as 1 year old, a question popped into my mind. If we can detect and start to treat allergies at that age, why is it that Western doctors are so quick to lather steroids on a baby, but claim they can not test for allergies until about 3 years old? That’s something that I feel should be addressed. When it comes to peanut allergies, she said she personally thinks using boiled peanuts instead of baked are safer to use for desensitization without losing efficacy.

** Funny side note** Dr. Xiu-Min Li came up and asked a question during Q&A. She asked it in Chinese, and the speaker answered back in Chinese. Everyone asked what was said so Dr. Li offered to translate. She started to do the translation, but didn’t realize she was still speaking in Chinese, so someone stopped her. She didn’t realize she wasn’t speaking English. We all had a laugh.

18th Speaker: Julie Wang, MD

 She spoke about a drug trial (See pics below)

20th Speaker: Dr. Kamal Srivastava, PhD

One of his best and to the point notes was that IgE is central to the pathology of allergic disease. Another subject he touched on was FAHF-2, which is another herbal formula much like Dr. Li’s ASHMI. Berberine, an herb, is the most potent at reducing IgE levels, and can even help lower glucose. However, it is very badly absorbed taken orally, so they are trying to make it more effective (perhaps, adding to a molecule).

22nd Speaker: Dr. Ying Song, MD

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23rd Speaker: Anne Maitland, MD, PhD

She studies Mast Cell Activation Disorders. Anne used the Great Wall of China as an analogy, how it’s not always effective for keeping the bad out. Mast cells can release different things, like histamine or tryptase, and just like a police call, you want to send the correct team out to help for the correct situation. She also touches on how when we figured out how to decrease certain bacterial-based diseases (like Measles), hypersensitivity disorders increased (like allergies). Naps, apparently, are something we need more of to help with stress (which I totally agree!).

24th Speaker: Julia Wisniewski, MD

She spoke about our skin barrier and how we shouldn’t use alkaline soap on baby skin. The best thing she mentioned however was that at the latest AAD meeting, she saw a slide that said steroids do, in fact, have the ability to cause allergic reactions in patients. Near the end, she spoke about Vit D and how it’s definitely important for our bodies.

The last two speakers were Tiffany Camp Watson, the mother who gave her testament about using Dr. Li’s protocol, and then Dr. Xiu-Min Li herself! They are both on the YouTube video speaking. Most of the video is of Dr. Li speaking. After 6:30 mins, it is all Dr. Li and her presentation.


I hope this was informative and I can’t wait to have all my equipment in to shoot these upcoming interviews! 2.5 weeks to go!

Interview #10: Kline

klineKline (and Loren, Kline’s mother)

Lake Tahoe, California

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

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

Kline started at 4 months old for baby eczema.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

Desonide and antibiotic compound.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

His eczema kept spreading and getting worse What kinds? I think dermasmooth was the highest potency we used.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

Google.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

He looked just like everyone else…red sleeve and all.

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

We saw Dr. Rapaport at 6 weeks off topical steroids to confirm it. Yes, Dr. Rapaport and some homeopathic and chiropractor.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Full body flares.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes.

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

No.

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

The length of the withdrawal and watching your baby suffer and not be able to help them or speed it up.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

Started February 21, 2012, 4.5 years ago. Kline is still in withdrawal but living his life and much, much better…the itch and skin is managable but not perfect.

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

Popsicles, ice packs, lavender oil, EPROMs salt, Shea butter with essential oils, gauze and tape.

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

I had to take a night job because Kline couldn’t go to school.

14. Has this affected your Kline’s education? He had to redo kindergarten

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

Yes, I think we all have PTSD and depression from this terrible life changing ordeal.

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

 

Take each moment by moment ..don’t get your hopes up on a time frame for healing, expect more flares to come. And ask for help! You are beautiful and strong and can do this!!!


Thank you so much, Loren, for taking the time for this 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 #8: Stephanie Miller

stephamie-millerStephanie Miller

Brooklyn/Queens, NY

‘At the end of the day, we can endure more than we think we can’–Frida Kahlo 

‘Be easy, take your time. You are coming home to yourself’—Nayyirah Waheed

 

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

I think it started when I was about 6. I was definitely in elementary school at the time. I developed regular eczema when I started a new school, and my parents took me to the dermatologist. That’s when they started to give me ‘rash medicine’ as my family always called it. I never went to bed without putting “medicine” on my skin.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

I don’t remember the first potency they gave me, but I do remember they kept prescribing more potent ones as my body became ‘immune’ to the less potent ones. That’s what the doctors always said was happening…*eye roll*. I remember having tubes of all types of steroids all over the house, especially the tiny tester ones. Doctors would always give me handfuls of those.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes, I used every topical steroid under the sun until they prescribed Clobetasol when I was 14. During the summer before high school, my family moved to a new town, and I remember my skin getting better. Between high school and college, eczema was never an issue. I may have put dabs of steroids on my skin every now and then, but it definitely burned out as doctors said it would. However, during the summers between college, I started working at a summer camp in my old hometown. Within 3 weeks, my eczema came back. But then, when I would fly back to Massachusetts where I went to school, the eczema would go away. By my fourth summer at the summer camp, my eczema returned ferociously. I went to the dermatologist where they immediately gave me Clobetasol and Protopic. They said use the Protopic regularly, and the Clobetasol occasionally. Well, the Protopic didn’t work…so I used Clobetasol…and boy did that work wonders. I am pretty positive that’s when my addiction started. After that summer, I moved to NYC. It was September 2011. My skin was still a major struggle, but I didn’t let it stop me. I had my tube of Clobetasol just in case. For the record, I used it as prescribed….”twice a day (morning and night) for 2 weeks”. Usually I would only need it for a week, then my skin would clear up! But, as the story goes, when that week or 2 weeks of using the cream ended, my “eczema” would come back with a vengeance within 2 to 4 weeks. I thought I was allergic to the city, but I loved it too much to leave. From 2011 to the beginning of 2015, that was my struggle. My right palm suffered the most, but I would also get small patches on my arms, my torso, and legs. I knew I shouldn’t be using steroids long term, so I tried to avoid it. I would only use it when my skin became unbearable. The relief was always worth it even if it only lasted a month, 2 weeks, or less.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

Back in January 2015, I used topical steroids for the last time, and my “eczema” came back within a week and started to spread to places I had never seen it before… and it was spreading fast—the backs of my hands, big patches on my legs and arms, my left palm. That was a huge wake up call. I decided to take control of my “eczema”, and went on the autoimmune protocol diet for 6 weeks. I was promised that I would see great healing after a month, but my skin only got worse and worse. As I was doing research on ways to heal eczema naturally, I kept coming across ITSAN. When I initially learned about it, I was in denial. I was convinced that if I kept up with my diet, I would heal. Well that didn’t work. I stayed on a pretty strict diet for 5 months, and my skin only got worse.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

As I continued my research, ITSAN kept popping up on Google. Once I actually looked at the pictures closely, I knew instantly that my skin looked EXACTLY the same. I also remember looking at Briana’s blog, and her pictures looked like my skin!  It was surreal. I thought I was looking at my own hands, my own legs, my own arms. Then I distinctly remember watching the animated videos that ITSAN made…that story was my story….I stopped breathing and burst into tears. I felt a huge weight lift off of my shoulders. I remember watching Dr. Rapaport’s interview immediately after and felt a huge sense of relief. I WAS GOING TO BE ECZEMA FREE. The journey would be hard, but I WOULD HEAL.

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

Nope and nope. I diagnosed myself.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Spreading red rashes that began to cover my hands…and I mean my whole hands. Also, within 3-4 weeks, I had the infamous red sleeves and pant legs.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

I don’t live near my parents, so they didn’t have any control. They were emotionally supportive from afar, but I do think they would have questioned my choice if they actually witnessed what I was going through. Now that I have made a ton of progress, they are very supportive of my decision. My friends were supportive, but I kept very quiet about it for the first 4 months. I didn’t start owning the condition until month 5 or 6. Even while I was suffering during the worst of it, I was so disconnected from my body, that I wasn’t feeling anything. I covered everything up and numbed myself as I continued with my life9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this?

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

Oh yes. Back in May of this year, 2016, I was 15 months or so in. I was still suffering terribly from my anniversary flare. It had spread full body, which was a lot worse than my initial flare. At the very end of April, I suddenly felt a strong pain on my right side…right under my armpit. Within, 2 hours I got a fever of probably 102. I went home, tried to sleep it off for the next two days, but my fever wasn’t breaking and the pain kept spreading. On May 1st, I went to urgent care. They took my vitals and said I had to be rushed to the hospital. I was going into septic shock. They took a ton of blood, hooked me up to antibiotics and fluids. I don’t remember the chronology, but essentially within a day or two, they found strep and staph in my blood. My lungs were filling up with fluid, and my right breast was infected with mastitis. They also gave me a hydrocortisone IV, which I was very hesitant at first…but at that point, I just wanted them to save my life. My skin cleared up for a week! Woohoo! It looked strong and beautiful. Looking back, I’m grateful that I agreed to it because the nurses were taking my blood multiple times a day. That would have been even more of a nightmare if my skin was still flaming red. However, after the first week of clear skin, the redness and rashes started to creep up on me and grow, which proves that it was the steroids that caused all of my problems. Anyways, I was in the hospital for a total of 17 days. I had reoccurring fevers for most of the two weeks because my body was still trying to fight the infection. I’ve made a full recovery though!!

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

The rebound flare definitely. By January of 2016, I thought in my deepest heart that my skin was only going to get better. By February, my anniversary flare started to spread. By April, I was in an almost full body flare. I didn’t struggle with that at all during my initial one. The days when you wake up and know it’s only getting worse are the hardest. You never know when you’ve reached the abyss before you turn a corner and start to heal. You just have to breathe, suck it up, and do whatever you can to stay comfortable.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

I’ve been at it for almost 21 months. Unfortunately, now I am struggling with the fact that since I got the hydrocortisone IV in the hospital, I’m technically not 21 months into my withdrawal. I’m almost 6 months steroid free. But, I’ve been suffering for 21. I started my initial withdrawal unknowingly in mid January of 2015, and I’m doing really well right now.

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

Anything to make me laugh. Last year, I re-watched all 10 seasons of Friends. The Office is also another comfort show.  I also realized how important my close friends are to me, and I recognized that they are the ones that make me feel human. That was also a major psychological struggle during this journey. Since you’re physical self is such a mess, you feel inhuman. Your body doesn’t feel like yours. For the past 2 years, my limbs have felt like these other disgusting creatures that I have to nurture. They’re not mine….they’re not mine…

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

No, fortunately this hasn’t affected my job status, except when I was in the hospital. I’m a nanny, and the family was very understanding and allowed me to care for their child however it suited my needs. Fortunately, my face was never severely affected, so I was able to hide my condition under long sleeves and gloves.

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

No…but I need to. I’ve done this completely alone. No caregivers. I’ve had friends to talk to and cry to…but I’ve been able to pretend that I’m fine. I talk about it as if it hasn’t affected me…but it has…and it’s been really fucking hard to face it.

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

It’s a gift. Fucking trust me. Your quality of life will transform. It will develop on its own time. Healing is not linear. It’s not it’s not its not. This, my love, will only make you stronger. YOU. ARE. A. WARRIOR.

Just be. Listen to your body. Don’t beat yourself up about anything. There’s no right way to heal. You have to trust your gut and take action on your own time. Everyone’s journey is drastically different, and we can’t compare. The only things that remain true amongst all of us are…and I mean all of us…the story, the symptoms, and the moment you realize you have RSS are all the same. And it’s one of the most empowering discoveries you’ll ever experience.

Oh and take pictures, especially at your worst. You won’t regret it. You’ll forget how much pain you were in, and the pictures are a reminder that you are a fucking warrior. Don’t ever underestimate that.

Last, but not least….

You are loved.


You are certainly loved, Stephanie! Thank you for a lovely interview!

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.

 

Feature #13: Ariana & Hayley

ari-mundAriana Yunda

Age: 30

Career: unemployed due to TSW

When did you cease using topical steroids: August 23 2016 (third try)

What type did you use: I can’t remember every kind. I’ve been using for 29 years: hydrocortisone, prednisone, clobetasol, betamethasone, Elidel, Mometasone Furoate and tons of injected immunosuppresants like Bethaduo and Ciclosporine.

What is your favorite product for comfort? It changes, but lavender essential oil has helped as sleeping aid (I put it in my feet every night),  zinc oxide when oozing and lately a spray called MR. Wheatgrass that I put on my skin when I get out of the shower and reapply every time I feel dry. Any other moisturizer, whether it’s a cream or oil, burns.

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Having the symptoms of the shivers, the oozing, the no sleep, the crazy diets stopping my life.

What is the first thing you are going to do when you are healed? Jump in the ocean, work out and dance without worrying about my sweat burning. Start working again! I became a therapist in the process 🙂 I want to help others.


Hayley hayley-szabo

Age: 24

Career: Unemployed for two years due to TSW

When did you cease using topical steroids: 17 December 2014

What type did you use: Diprosone and advantan (very potent)

What is your favorite product for comfort? Zinc balm and ice packs!

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? The severity of my facial symptoms, the lack of independence,  having to put my life on hold and the bloody heinous OOZE…

What is the first thing you are going to do when you are healed? I’m going to do everything I had to put on hold! I want to start working again, I want to go back to uni and get my masters, and I want to travel to Europe with my boyfriend!