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Eczema Flares and Food Sensitivities

Posted on September 1, 2023

It was 6 a.m., time to rise, and the itching was unbearable. I soon felt my anxiety level rising as well. I staggered to the bathroom to assess the damage. My face and neck appeared seared and tomato red. I wanted to scratch, but I knew I would pay a huge penalty if I proceeded in that soothing but destructive direction. Distracted and unable to focus, I somehow managed to prepare for my busy workday. I pressed on, in spite of my relentless companion, eczema.

That was the start of it. That crisp fall morning, so many years ago, marked the beginning of an all-new, unanticipated dermatologic battle. I had never experienced this type of intense discomfort before.

The miserable days and months passed, evolving into years. The problem persisted. I was desperate for answers. There were none. There was no perceived reason for these episodes. My face and neck were exclusively and chronically affected.

Red and raw, I carried on. My position as a nurse required great focus and commitment, but eczema was once again vying for my constant attention. As I careened from the dermatologist to the allergist to the primary care physician, I became increasingly frustrated and disheartened. Not one consultation offered any plausible answers. Not one practitioner seemed to truly listen or understand the nature of my plight. I was eyed with pity and blank, vacant stares.

I was becoming a “frequent flyer” not by choice but by necessity. I did not want to be THAT patient, but I needed a resolution.

I began to realize, to my utter dismay, that I was on my own. I was out of ideas and certainly out of tolerance. Eczema was defiant and clearly winning this new battle. I felt defeated.

Then, suddenly and miraculously, a breakthrough began to emerge.

I had just finished a titrated course of oral steroids, when my daughter suggested I make an appointment to see a holistic dietitian at the functional medicine/integrative health practice where she was employed. Perhaps my latest variety of flaring was food-related. Ever hopeful, I had nothing to lose.

I soon experienced an enlightening office visit. My new health care provider seemed determined to get to the root of my agonizing skin condition. For the first time during this entire unnerving chapter, I felt heard.

We discussed gut health and autoimmune issues related to diet. An immunoglobulin G blood panel was ordered to assist in identifying any suspect food sources. I reported during the intake interview that I had often noticed exacerbations of burning and itching the morning after ingesting certain foods. The severe symptoms would persist for up to a week and then gradually dissipate. She assured me that we were on the right path. We arranged to meet again, after the results of the blood work were analyzed. I felt validated and encouraged. It was exhilarating!

As it turned out, my issues were related to food sensitivities. Interestingly, the primary offenders were fermented foods. Aged or pickled products were identified as the chief culprits. I had a new diagnosis of histamine intolerance. My body had difficulty breaking down histamine, and according to my dietitian, those high-histamine fermented foods would build up and accumulate in my system. That meant that if I consumed pickled foods or aged cheddar cheese every day, I might experience chronic flare-ups.

Her expert guidance was spot on. She quickly assisted me with adjusting my eating plan, prescribed a high-quality digestive enzyme to take before meals, and helped me plan regular follow-up visits. I was ecstatic!

After two years of searching, I finally had answers. My problem had not been cured, but it had been identified. I now had a workable treatment plan. Am I 100 percent compliant? Of course not! I have an occasional slip now and then, especially during vacations and holidays, but I never fall down completely.

The flares are mild and few since I am now mindful of my fermented food choices. Occasionally, a glass of wine is permissible, but I know and understand its consequences. Salad dressings and marinades are used sparingly, with substitute options available.

Moving forward, I will always have to adjust my eating to accommodate this issue, and I may still experience additional food sensitivities. But I was ultimately led to the right treatment — and it was a simple treatment once my symptoms were unraveled.

As the father of medicine, Hippocrates, is said to have stated over 2000 years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Truer words were never spoken. My restored health has been testimony to that.

On MyEczemaTeam, members discuss eczema from a specific point of view. Would you like to share your personal story to help others living with eczema? You can learn more about this paid writing opportunity from MyEczemaTeam here.

Members’ articles don’t reflect the opinions of MyEczemaTeam staff, medical experts, partners, advertisers, or sponsors. Content on MyEczemaTeam isn’t intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Posted on September 1, 2023
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Kathryn Carlino, MyEczemaTeam Member is a registered nurse with an extensive background in human services and adult wellness programs who has had chronic eczema since birth. Learn more about her here.

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