Nadine has been generally healthy and didn’t even consider herself an allergic person except for runny nose in the spring. When she first noticed a red itchy patch on the back of her right hand with tiny bubbles oozing fluid she didn’t think much of it and dismissed it as poison ivy she perhaps touched in the backyard. But then the patches started spreading – first to the fingers of her right hand, then arms and legs. The itch was becoming intolerable. She was scratching her skin until it was bleeding. Her family doctor diagnosed her with eczema.
Nadine had enjoyed organic all-natural diet for years and decided to try natural remedies to deal with her new diagnosis. She started wearing soft clothes, tried hard to keep her skin moist, and only used mild soap. The eczema still wouldn’t go away and now spread to her neck. Skin patches were becoming rough and ugly, and she had to wear long sleeves and turtlenecks. She read that some common foods might trigger the condition but eliminating milk, eggs and bread from her diet didn’t help at all. Nadine’s doctor insisted on starting a medication regimen, and after resisting for a while, she finally relented.
Different anti-inflammatory creams and ointments with steroids and other strong medications had some success in cooling off the most inflamed skin patches but the disease was becoming a moving target with new patches popping up in new locations without warning. Some of her scratches were deep and became infected. Nadine’s doctor told her if she didn’t take antibiotics the infection could spread. To avoid more scratches and ugly permanent scars, Nadine had to wear mitts at night and cut her nails short. Speaking of nails, some of them became pitted and ugly.
At her next appointment, Nadine learned that since the eczema is caused by abnormally functioning immune system, she needed to take medications to suppress it. Her doctor said she had to choose the lesser of two evils: medication side effects or miserable life with eczema. The medications she was offered were prednisolone and cyclosporine. Taking the steroid would mean weight gain, unsightly body shape changes, mood problems, and eventually high blood pressure, cataracts and osteoporosis. Taking cyclosporine that is usually given to organ transplant patient to suppress their immune system could lead to infections and eventually to cancer.
Nadine wasn’t ready for that. After quite a bit of research she learned that her severe eczema could be caused by food intolerance that is different from typical allergies and is not routinely picked up by patch and other skin tests. She also found out that some of the tests for food sensitivities although readily available, were not offered by her doctor and she had to seek help elsewhere.
When we first met Nadine she was depressed but hadn’t lost hope for a better solution than toxic medications with severe side effects.
Because Nadine had already tried eliminating several types of food that are known to cause trouble and that didn’t help, she was tested with one of the most comprehensive food sensitivity panels available, a 184-ingredient panel. It showed that in addition to the usual suspects, Nadine was moderately sensitive to zucchini and blue cheese and had severe sensitivity to anchovies. Learning she had to stay away from her favorite party snacks – celery dips, grilled veggies and pizza toppings was a bit upsetting for Nadine but she was happy to learn the test had pinpointed the previously overlooked sensitivity.
Within a week of eliminating the newly discovered offending foods, Nadine’s skin lesions started to heal, and new patches and blisters stopped appearing. Her skin was healing, and she was very happy about it. After a month her eczema was just a memory. A few months later, however, the scare of eczema came back. It happened right after a Labor Day Barbecue party. Nadine was sure none of the “bad” ingredients were in the food she ate. By then she knew to read the labels meticulously and let restaurants and party hosts know about her food sensitivities. But the itch was too familiar to mistake for something else. After some investigation, the culprit was found. It was the BBQ sauce! It turned out that although anchovies were not listed on the label, Worcestershire sauce was one of the ingredients, and it contains anchovies. Nadine felt relieved both physically and emotionally, and now lives a normal life free of eczema.
As Nadine’s story shows, sometimes even foods that are considered safe and healthy such as zucchini are not tolerated by a particular person and the manifestations of such intolerance are not always obvious. Food sensitivity should be suspected and thoroughly investigated whenever unexplained symptoms occur.