Bitching about itching: Can you travel with atopic eczema?

I am sweating as I slowly walk uphill. Fit runners pass me by, but the only thing that is up for a race today is my heartbeat. You used to walk a lot, I remind myself.

You can do it, common! You´ve done it before.

When I was twenty, I walked more than 850km in a single take. It took me a month and some days and afterwards, I was fitter than ever. I was even skinny for a short period of time! Well, skinnier than I am now, anyway.

Somehow I have fallen for the illusion that I am still that girl; the one who carried her eleven kilograms of bullshit across Spain and didn´t give up.

I carry a lot less today; yet my soft belly shakes with every step and so do my thighs. My back is itching, but I can´t reach it through the backpack.

I howl in agony inside of my head – there is nothing worse than an itch you cannot scratch, as somebody said in the Blade Runner movie.

My whole body is covered in red rash anyway so I just start scratching another part of it, trying to forget about the small of the back where I feel most of the discomfort. After frantically carving my sharp nails into my arms, my knees and that annoying place under my breasts that sweats more than a jazzman at a midnight show, I am painfully and guiltily satisfied – I am now bleeding from several small wounds, but pain is easier to deal with than the incessant itching. A couple of muscular hikers have passed me by. (I tried to pretend I am normal but I think I failed.)

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I continue walking – my husband is far ahead of me already – but after ten minutes, the salty sweat burns so much that I have to stop again and take off my backpack. I sit and wait for my shirt to dry in the sun and wind; I sadly caress my back and tiny squares of dry skin come off, sticking to my hand. I carefully root one finger in the most annoying place. Shit, I think as I feel the crust give in and I see the blood under my nail. Fuck this fucking shit.

I am feel disgusting. What I am is ill.

I can´t go on like this, can I?

raspberries in hand

On the other hand, I am not willing to postpone my travel plans although many people advise me so. I can be allergic in whatever corner of the world, isn´t it true?

But how have I come this far in the first place?

I´ve had atopic eczema since I can remember; when I was fourteen, my mouth and eyes were all swollen with it – I hardly ever spoke in public back then, pale bookish creature that I used to be, but when I did speak, I´d cover my mouth with my hand to hide my shame. Luckily enough, I never got bullied for it.

When I reached twenty, my skin was sort of fine; small red patches on my arms and back didn´t annoy me or my crushes and I didn´t worry or treat them much.

The real trouble began perhaps in 2014 when I left to live in Colombia. The oily food and chlorine-treated water or perhaps pollution affected my skin badly – it went crazy and has been raging ever since. (I have an unclear idea that it has to do with the lowered immunity after having dengue fever.)

At first I applied the usual creams and said I just ate something bad. I´ve always had that, no worries. I can handle that.

Only I couldn´t.

So what did I do about it?

I cried in the night. Then I cried in the day. I applied lots of corticosteroids but it didn´t help, on the contrary, my skin was getting uglier and itchier every day.

I cried some more. I made scenes. I cleaned up our apartment to avoid any allergic reactions, then I screamed at my boyfriend for touching me without washing his hands. I boiled herbs and poured cups of oddly smelling brew all over myself, shaking in the cold shower. I stopped using perfume and bought plain soap with no fragrance. I stopped washing my (horribly greasy) hair to give the skin some rest. Nothing worked.

Then, I gave up on the corticosteroids completely.

I have gone without corticosteroid creams for a few months by now as they have stopped working for me after years of heavy use; I have tried diets, not taking showers (water worsens my condition), coconut oil, black cumin oil, cream with cannabis seeds oil (that one is wonderful, really), baths in magnesium salt, baths in the ocean, applying fresh aloe vera, pure cocoa butter, panthenol, only eating fresh food, bitching about itching, mud baths on a volcanic island and many other things that I am forgetting, all along with searching for and trying the cleanest, most hypoallergenic body lotions to sooth my panicking skin. All of it to little or no effect.

In April, I quit my job; we – me and my patient, sweet, helpful boyfriend who applied fresh aloe on my back for months and worried for me, googling possible causes and remedies all along – emptied our flat, packed a couple of shirts and took a flight to San Francisco where we were about to start hitchhiking all the way down to Cancún.

I filled my bag with creams and lotions, anticipating difficulties, but I got a surprise instead; after a few days, my skin started recovering and soon I was fine again. I ate spicy tacos in Mexico and drank heavy beer in California and went without showering for days, but my skin was happy.

Until I came back to Slovakia, that is.

In September 2015, I looked just as fine as when I was leaving my home-country – only I was fatter (and engaged). In December, however, I was back in trouble, neck deep in shit.

I am just stressed, I said. I´ll be fine.

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I didn´t cry anymore; I resigned. I was grateful that my skin was sort of normal on my wedding day so that I didn´t look like a clown on my photographs, but that was about it. I stopped caring – I stopped looking for a magical solution, I stopped pretending I am not itchy and I scratched myself in public shamelessly because, who cares?

I hoped once my thesis would be done, my finals would be over and I would be free to roam again wherever I please, my skin would be clean and happy again. I politely declined the PhD. position offer (jeez, I see myself whistling in a tent in some hills, not writing papers!) and waited for my academic process to wrap up finally. But unfortunately, traveling is not a cure all, not even for people who can´t manage their stress levels as  other decent human beings.

After my finals, my skin did get a tiny bit better, but not for long. Soon it got back to worse.

mountain top

Tell me more about responsible behavior now.

I put on my backpack anyway and went off to the mountains, where I sweated and sweated and the salt of my sweat burned my swollen epithelial tissue as if it were a scarlet letter. I went to a hippie festival, I hitchhiked around, I couchsurfed and stumbled towards mountain tops.

Then I saw myself in a mirror one day.

Red as an apple, but not quite as healthy – my face full of dark blemishes, my thighs, my arms, my back and my belly of a constant purple color as if I got burned, my butt reminding me of a hipster bicycle – white with red dots. I couldn´t sit as my ass would scratch. I couldn´t lie on my back as it hurt, but neither on my stomach because that was even worse.

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That was just a few days ago. I came home and reluctantly searched through the huge box full of pills, syrups and tinctures past the expiry date (every Slovak household has one of those, believe me) until I found a corticosteroid. I took a long shower in cold water, bathed in magnesium salt and applied that white mystery all over myself.

Then I felt the need to defend this decision in front of my husband:

I did what my doctor told me to do. I´ll use what she gave me for ten days and then we´ll see.

Ok, he only said. I hope it helps you.

After many months, I´ve spent a night without scratching myself. Now I sit here and hope that it will work, that my skin will get back to normal. I want to get closer to that girl who´s walked hundreds of kms without the need to constantly scratch her butt until it bleeds.

Wish me luck with achieving that.

* * *

Do you travel with an illness? How do you go about it? Do you have any special tips for curing / treating atopic eczema? Share them with me in the comment section!

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Atopic eczema is a chronical skin disease, showing up on your skin as an itchy red rash. Read about my experience hiking and traveling with eczema on
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  1. Lucia

    Respekt za to ze si to zverejnila kari, neviem ci by som to ja dokazala. Chudiatko moje! Dufam ze sa ti to vylieci, vraj inak mrtve more na to pomaha, ale treba to pravidelne :-/ ale kupila som ti sol aj liecive bahno, poslem po mikesovi alebo po babach ked pridu

  2. Lucia

    My mum had problems with it after giving birth and what helped her in the end was (wait for it) INDULONA. Have you tried it? (Sorry, you probably have, just tryina help here). Btw, ‘bitching about itching’ – get that patented before it’s too late 😉 (i.e. before Indulona does).

    • That is an interesting point, I´ve never thought of that! I am using lots of weird creams, currently one that they mixed for me in the pharmacy so it doesn´t have any weird shit in it – but I might give Indulona a try as well. Some time ago when my skin was crazy dry the only thing that helped me was an ordinary Dove lotion.

  3. I have this patches of dry skin on my hands and legs too and while it isn’t as bad as what you have, I can understand the bitching about itching. That’s really awful and I’m sorry you have to go through it. I hope you find a permanent cure.

    In my case, I don’t even know what causes it. Doctors told me that it’s because of stress. Everything they can’t explain I guess is because of stress. 🙂

    Hope you feel better.

    • Thank you Noemi, I hope yours will get better too! Stress is a huge factor for me, but it really depends on each person individually. Most of this stuff is inherited usually – we have it in the family so it´s not really surprising. Still annoying, though. I also knew a guy who got really horrible eczema after wearing a new t-shirt without washing it first…I don´t even want to think of what they use for it.

  4. I had no idea how bad this condition could be and good for you for not letting it affect you! I’m glad you’re finally taking something that will help you and I’m glad your husband is so supportive!

    • Thank you, Gina 🙂 Well, there are still many people who have it worse then me, particularly it tends to affect teenagers (maybe I forgot to grow up? 😀 ). Me too, I am happy for having my husband the way he is – I can´t imagine anyone else dealing with it the way he does 🙂

  5. Thanks for speaking out about your condition and sharing your experiences – I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve had struggles with it flaring up so horribly. My husband has a severe gluten intolerance which makes traveling very difficult, especially in countries where there is a language barrier and he’s unsure of what he can eat.

    Wishing you all the best for future travels – congrats on your wedding!

  6. My friend suffers the same problems, i think se visited all dermatologists in Slovenia but no cream helped her. She felt very ill after taking corticosteroids cream. Its poison and it takes years for body to clean it out of the system. Did you try bioresonance?

  7. Sheena

    It takes lot of guts to keep on going in this condition, I can´t really imagine myself in that situation… and any kind of itching is actually driving me crazy. .. But exactly as Lucia said I was thinking about Dead sea …I believe that might help and at least you´ve got inspiration for your next trip now! 😀 I hope one day you can forget you´ve ever experienced something like this :-*

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  12. Thank you so much for this – I can so relate to everything! I have stopped using steroid creams as my skin has become thin from overuse since I was a child. I now occasionally resort to oral steroids when I’m desperate and they work (a few days relief anyway!). I hope you find what works for you, I know just how horrible it is (hugs).

  13. ouchithurts

    Wow, I’m so glad to find this post because I do feel so awfully alone with this. Can I ask you how you couchsurfed with atopic eczema? It’s right now on my face for the first time, and I am so ashamed of it. I am not sure I can face my hosts and know they’d feel either disgusted or don’t want me in their house of fear they get infected. It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t see it, but now it’s written all over my face, I am not sure I can couchsurf! Shall I let the hosts know in advance and ask them?

    • Hello! Thank you for reading my post. I hope your eczema gets better soon! I’ve had it on my face for a long while by now and I know how you feel. It is always a bit stressful to meet new people who might not know what are those red patches on my face…but generally, I haven’t met a host who would be rude to me because of my skin. People usually get concerned (once when hitchhiking, one man even was insisting on driving me to a hospital to see a doctor…) and I normally explain that it is not an infection but a genetically caused condition like an allergy. I was surprised to find out that many more people than I thought also suffered from eczema and sometimes we even exchange tips on what works best for us to make it better 🙂 In order to face my shame, it is better for me if I don’t look at myself in the mirror, then I am able to forget how red I must be and behave normally. I haven’t met anyone who’d make me feel disgusting, people are very nice when it comes to health and often rather ask if they can do anything to help me or gift me a cream. I know it is tough but you shouldn’t cancel the trip just because of it – it is not your fault that you have eczema and I am sure you are doing your best to control it, so you shouldn’t punish yourself by missing out on an experience while traveling just because of it. I never warned a host that I have eczema – I also wouldn’t turn a guest down just because they are ill in one way or another. (For the record, my guests from Couchsurfing never commented on my skin either. Most people are very polite so don’t worry and go for it! :)) Let me know how it went and if you want to chat, feel free to DM me on instagram or something!

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