laura and the angry itch: recent experiences with both sides of the medical divide

As my Facebook friends know all too well, I have been struggling with severe urticaria -- hives -- for two months. I have been going out of my mind with unrelenting itching. My skin is on fire.

For six weeks, I had no idea what had caused the urticaria, and nothing known to me relieved the itching.

At the end of a day of itching and burning, Aveeno soothing baths and a thick eczema balm help calm things down.* Ice packs offer some relief. 

Antihistamines do nothing, although I continue to take them, fearing it will be worse if I don't.

I've seen a doctor twice, which was almost useless, although he did refer me to a dermatologist. There can sometimes be very long wait-times for specialists, and apparently dermatology is one of those. I don't expect to see a specialist for months. I've heard allergists are even worse.

A friend recommended a naturopath who practices in a few different towns, including ours, and I thought, why not. I had a very thorough consultation; she thinks I may have developed an allergy to dairy. At this point, I will try anything. 

It's day four of dairy-free. Apparently it will take two or three weeks to know for sure. 

The naturopath also pointed out (and I have confirmed) that a medication I'm taking is not meant to be used long-term, and some other issues (not itch-related) I've been experiencing could be side effects from that. 

The M.D. asked me the standard allergy questions -- are you using a new soap or shampoo or laundry detergent, are you eating anything different, and so on. He suggested Benadryl, which I knew, but he advised me to take higher doses, and more frequently.

The naturopath looked at everything. Her intake form was 10 pages long, and her initial consultation ran over two hours. No M.D. could possibly take the time she did. The system is simply not designed that way.

* * * * 

Some people hate standard, so-called western medicine. They don't trust it and will do almost anything to avoid it.

Reasons to distrust western medicine include a lack of focus on prevention, an over-reliance on pharmaceuticals (and the very justified distrust of Big Pharma), pathologizing anything outside a narrow norm, and a problem-oriented, atomistic approach. 

Add in racism, misogyny, and victim-blaming -- plus, in the US, the profit motive -- and you've got a very ugly picture.

I can't really disagree with any of that. Western medicine can be all of those things.

Some people hate and distrust alternative or complimentary medicine. They dismiss it as snake oil and woo-woo. They cite a lack of scientific studies, and claim that anecdotal or experiential evidence is invalid.

* * * * 

Unlike most things I think and write about, on this, I take a middle ground. 

I've had good and bad experiences with both western and alternative medicine. 

From the western medicine side, I've seen sexism, and arrogance, and a rush to the prescription pad and to the scalpel. 

I've also seen lives saved, possibilities opened, quality of life improved. I've seen doctors who listen and apply a dogged, creative determination to rule out every possibility.

From the alternative side, I've also seen a deeper understanding of things like micronutrients and trace minerals, a wider range of options, and more honesty and disclosure about potential side effects. And perhaps most importantly, a holistic approach that looks at the social determinants of health.

I've also seen impossible claims, an over-reliance on too-gentle remedies, and an obsessive belief that everything can be fixed by changes in nutrition. (Nutrition is extremely important. But not everything can be cured by a change of diet.)

Some practitioners on one side fear and distrust the other side. To me the best practitioners are willing to look at a wide range of options. 

I had an excellent doctor in New York who encouraged me to try natural and alternative supplements. If I took supplement X, and made no other changes, and there was a positive effect, she was willing to say, although we can't prove that there is cause and effect, we can trust our own experiences, so let's go with it.

Meanwhile, the itch goes on.

* I learned about "Aveeno bath," as it is called, when I had chicken pox at age 25 -- the sickest I had ever been. Aveeno makes a full line of fragrance-free products made with colloidal oatmeal. Highly recommended.


Amy said...

I sure hope this works for you. Did the naturopath have a suggestion for what's next if dairy is not the culprit?

When I had digestive issues, the doctor put me on an elimination diet where I had to eliminate lots of foods from my diet for two weeks. If my symptoms stopped, I was to add one thing back in at a time. The first thing I added back was gluten; no problem. The second was dairy---boom! That was the problem. My issue wasn't hives, but I wonder if doing something like that would also help you identify the trigger.

One other thought---the only time I've ever had hives was from chocolate chip cookies made with macadamia nuts. I don't know what triggered the hives. I also was flying the next day, and you know how nervous I used to be about flying, so I don't know whether it was the stress or the cookie.

Hope you feel better soon!

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy. I've done elimination diets too. Or you can use a food diary -- that's how I learned I was lactose intolerant.

I'm essentially doing an elimination diet in reverse. I've taken one thing out of my diet, and we'll see what happens.

No plans for what else it might be. It hasn't been enough time. I do have a follow-up appointment booked.

Amy said...

Best of luck---keep us posted.

laura k said...

Thank you :)

With God's Help said...

I like your middle ground stance on this. I feel the same. Maybe it's time I see a naturopath about my 4 month old leg rash. (Have already seen dr virtually and tried various creams)