Book Review: Living with Itch: A Patient’s Guide

Sometimes I am so focused on my food allergy, and what I can or cannot eat, that I forget that I have eczema. My food allergy and eczema (specifically known as atopic dermatitis) are interrelated. When I eat foods with high concentrations of nickel, I get an annoying eczema rash.

I really appreciate the work of the National Eczema Association. I receive their email newsletters, follow and engage with them on the social media and I look forward to my quarterly magazine. While listening to one of the NEA podcast’s, they mentioned the book: Living with Itch: A Patient’s Guide.

One great features of this book is how it includes both personal stories of those with eczema and the scientific explanation on many different types of eczema, like my atopic dermatitis, or psoriasis, and others. I thoroughly enjoy understanding the science of how my body and immune system physically reacts when I eat something with nickel, such as nuts or leafy greens. Reading about others’ food allergy struggles heightens my own awareness of my relationship with food.

One patient story, briefly mentioned how his eczema improved when he eliminated wine and anything pickled from his diet. This patient realized that one of his eczema triggers where the histamines in these goods. Doctors Yosipovitch & Kwatra write how,

Histamine is an important chemical that is released from mast cells in the skin. Mast cells are a part of the immune system. Inside them are tiny granules containing different chemicals that cause inflammation and itch such as histamine and proteases. When mast cells release histamine, and inflammatory response is activated[1].

I have also noticed how ingesting foods high in histamines causes my eczema to occur. In addition, the authors highlight how stress can be a common trigger for eczema flare ups. They write:

stress is known to be an aggravating factor for itch in people who have atopic dermatitis. Building on this association, a study using brain imaging found that people that itch in people who have atopic dermatitis significantly differs from itch induced in healthy individuals; that is, itch in people who have AD activated areas of the brain involved in emotion and in the memory of negative experiences. This study highlights the role of cognitive and emotional factors in the exacerbation of itch in AD[2].

When I was first diagnosed with my allergy, I was under a tremendous amount of stress. I started a new job with the understanding that a position on the team would be eliminated within the next year. Fearful of losing my job, I placed so much pressure on myself to excel. Those days are behind me, yet my perfectionist tendencies continue.  Both my physical and emotional well-being rely on my ability to cut myself some slack and appreciate my flaws.

If you are curious about learning more about the scientific process of itch or reading others stories of how they have dealt with their own or a family member’s eczema, I recommend you read Living with Itch: A Patient’s Guide.

[1] Yosipovitch, G. & Kwatra, S. (2013). Living with Itch: A Patient’s Guide. (p. 18). Johns Hopkins University Press.
[2] Ibid., p. 38.

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