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How living with eczema for over a decade has impacted my life

I couldn't bear to face my friends when my eczema outbreak was at its worst.

Noreen Shazreen
Noreen Shazreen

Probably the coolest cat lady you’ll ever meet.


Published: 29 June 2021, 10:40 AM

I was seven years old when I noticed small dry patches of skin forming on the creases of my elbows and knees. 

No matter how much moisturiser I’ve applied, the dry patches continued to flake. In fact, the content in the moisturiser caused a reaction in my sensitive skin. In a matter of weeks, my skin that was once clear and baby smooth turned into crumbly, scaly and rough patches.

As my mother was concerned, she brought me to visit our family doctor, who diagnosed me with eczema – an inflammatory skin condition commonly referred to as atopic dermatitis

We thought it was an insignificant disease and hoped that a slab of medication would instantly do the trick. To our dismay, that was the beginning of many doctor visits as we soon learnt that eczema is an incurable, long-lasting condition.

Contrary to what my doctor had said, I wanted to believe that my eczema would heal on its own as I grew older. However, my hope was dashed as my eczema symptoms aggravated when I enrolled in secondary school. 

 

As I entered secondary school, my eczema flared-up and became red, itchy, and inflamed. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN

 

To avoid flare-ups, I was advised not to engage in as much physical activity as possible since it can irritate my skin – making it red and itchy. I was even granted an exemption letter from my doctor to sit out of my physical education lessons at school.

The humidity in Singapore also contributed to my flare-ups, which caused me to write my end-of-year exams in an air-conditioned room while the rest of the students took their examinations in the school hall. 

Impact on my emotional well-being

Eczema has impacted my quality of life in ways I could never imagine. On weeks when my flare-ups were at their worst, I would feel very conscious of people staring at my skin. The pain and discomfort of my eczema also caused me to cancel many outings with my friends.

I couldn’t bear to see them with such awful skin. My insecurities worsened whenever someone looked at me, especially when I caught their eyes staring at my skin.

It also felt isolating knowing that I would always be the ‘different’ kid. Everywhere I turned, my friends wanted to know what had happened to my skin or tried to give me some medical advice. 

Although they were probably just concerned about me, it felt uncomfortable knowing that their attention was always on my eczema. 

 

My eczema flare-ups only brought me misery and many sleepless nights due to the unbearable itch and discomfort. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN

 

It was discouraging to see fluids and blood leaking out of my skin whenever I bent my elbows to carry out simple tasks – like writing and showering. The eczema patch on my elbows started to develop pus-filled blisters, resulting in oozing and wetness of the skin. 

Eventually, it also started spreading to other parts of my body such as my neck, knees and underarms.

The pain was excruciating. At this point, I resigned myself to the fate of living with eczema.

Even when the flare-ups were occasionally gone, I would still be left with scarring and hyperpigmentation. Wearing sleeveless dresses or shorts was never an option because I felt uncomfortable showing my skin in public. 

Instead, I would only wear jeans and long-sleeved tops because it was the only way I could hide my skin.

Eliminating triggers and seeking treatment

I’ve tried everything – from topical steroids to oral medications, and even switched to a vegan diet. I have even tried drinking celery juice every day for a week to detox my body.

Unfortunately, none of these efforts were successful in controlling my eczema symptoms.

While the steroids controlled my eczema and reduced the flare-ups temporarily, they would never fully heal my skin. 

With my mother’s full support, I decided to seek professional treatment from another dermatologist. Thankfully, she referred me to the National University Hospital (NUH) for a skin prick test to determine if I was allergic to any foods or substances that could aggravate my eczema.

 

The skin prick test revealed that I am allergic to more than ten substances. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN

 

Through the skin prick test, I found out that I was allergic to various substances including pollen, animal dander and more. This meant that I had to stay away from pets and avoid visiting the park, as being near the grass can exacerbate my eczema flare-ups. I also had to avoid irritants such as fragrances as they can cause my sensitive skin to react badly. 

Moreover, I found that my flare-ups worsened whenever I felt stressed or did not get enough sleep. 

Even though I’m not allergic to any foods, I’ve found that consuming high amounts of dairy and sugar can also make my skin flare up ten times worse. The experience of limiting my sugar and dairy intake was challenging as I had to avoid consuming some of my favourite guilty pleasure treats, such as pizza and brownies.

Knowing what triggers my eczema made it easier for me to avoid irritants that can potentially aggravate it. After eliminating any potential food triggers and irritants, my skin began to improve gradually. 

Learning to embrace the skin I have

With many people suffering from eczema in Singapore, I know that I’m not the only one struggling to heal my skin. Having eczema isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it is never fun to live a life worrying about my skin all the time.

After a long decade of suffering, it was rewarding to finally see physical changes in my skin. 

My skin started to clear up after I avoided perfumes and certain foods. In addition, I had to adhere to a consistent routine of applying my moisturiser and topical medications every night before bed so that my skin could heal. 

 

Although my journey with eczema was not smooth-sailing, I am glad I persevered and found a treatment that worked for me. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN

 

My journey to healing my skin, however, hasn’t always been rainbows and sunshine. There were days when my skin was red and inflamed, but there were also days when it was smooth and clear.

Having eczema has not only taught me how to care for my skin from within, but it has also forced me to practise self-love and take care of my body to keep it functioning at its best. 

Feeling comfortable in your own skin can be difficult when you’ve got unpredictable flare-ups to worry about, which can affect your self-esteem and mental well-being. 

Nonetheless, look in the mirror and remind yourself that you are more than your eczema and your flare-ups. Your skin condition does not define your self-worth.

I hope that my story gives hope and comfort to anyone who is suffering with eczema. While healing your skin may seem exhausting, I hope that you will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel when you discover a treatment that works for you. 


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