One woman opens up about her lifelong struggle with eczema—and the support system that helped her take control of skin once and for all.
I’ve never known a life without eczema. My earliest childhood memories all involve my skin: at age 5, itching my legs so much that the blood would seep through my clothes; at age 7, sprawled out on the kitchen floor, crying because of the pain. You don’t have a lot of self-control when you're so young—all you know is that you have an itch and you need to scratch it.
There were nail marks all over my legs where I was destroying my skin. Kids noticed it, of course; they asked me about the scratches, and I had plenty of excuses. Oh, I slid playing softball, or, My puppy scratched my legs. Then I would go home and take oatmeal baths and numb my skin with ice packs. Worse, though, was the lack of sleep. I'd be up all night itching, then have to wake up and go to school. When I think back on those days, I just remember being tired all the time. The eczema wasn't just a rash; it was an illness.
When everything changed
Up until I was in high school, my skin stayed relatively the same. (There was even a brief reprieve in my early twenties.) But when I was about 26 years old, my eczema evolved into something completely debilitating. It wasn't just dry skin—I had open, oozing wounds that I’d never experienced before. At the time, I was doing a lot of client meetings and presentations, and I had to look professional—not easy, when you’re bleeding through your clothes. I wore a lot of black back then, and I always kept a spare set of clothes in my car.
My boyfriend, now fiancé, basically became my caretaker. He wrapped my skin in ice packs every night. For about a year, we didn't even sleep in the same bed—I could only sleep in a leather chair in my living room, because the material was cool and didn't make me itch. I was starting to obsess about things, too. I remember constantly changing my shampoo, trying to figure out if it was something that I was using or putting on my skin. I tried allergy injections, acupuncture, different diets. Nothing worked.
It was a really scary time for me. I don’t think many people realize that in addition to the trademark rash, eczema can have other effects, such as mental exhaustion. There was a time when I was seeing four different doctors at once: an allergist, a dermatologist, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist—all because of this disease.
Taking control of my skin
Four years ago, I attended the annual Itching for a Cure walk, which is sponsored by the National Eczema Association (NEA). For the first time in my life, I met people who were going through the same things I was. And once I started opening up to others about my skin, I realized that there was a huge support system out there.
There was a time in my life when I swore I’d never have kids. I thought if there was even a slight possibility of me passing this disease on, I wouldn't do it. But now, there are so many different therapies that can help treat eczema. When I was growing up, all I could do was use topical steroids and take oatmeal baths. When I think about the future, I’m hopeful that people won’t have to suffer the way I did.
—Ashley Blua, as told to Maria Masters