Monday, 12 November 2007

Asthma and eczema and winter

Sorry to scare you with that hideous image of my eye but I took that photo yesterday after I looked in the mirror and a lump appeared.


About 18 months ago I noticed I started getting these small raised itchy red lumps and automatically assumed they were insect bites. I just scratched them and hoped they would go away. However, I wondered how did so many insects manage to bite me without me knowing?? I left it for a few weeks (or was it months?) and finally went to the G.P. To my shock and amazement he told me they were not insect bites at all but dermatitis/eczema. I remembered it was around April-May which is autumn in Australia and now it is also autumn here and those hideous lumps have returned.

The doctor said the cause was the dryness of the air. Great. When the air is too humid I break out in thousands of little lumps all over the backs of my hands. When it is too dry I break out in lumps across my face.

Since eczema is incurable (and btw it's not contagious!) and steroid creams are not intended for long term use my personal tips are as follows. I hope someone finds this useful because I am finding that more and more kids and babies these days have eczema whereas their parents don't and they don't know how to deal with it.

* Keep hydrated - drink lots of water, use a humidifier in the room if possible. Make sure the humidifier is cleaned regularly so it does not breed bacteria.
* Keep the skin moisturized. Find a good, non-perfumed, non-coloured moisturizer and use it anywhere you have eczema. I like to use a simple face cream for my face, and a thick moisturizer for my body (straight after having a shower and/or before bed).
* Don't scratch (hahaha I don't even listen to my own advice!) if possible.
* Eat nourishing, hydrating foods.


Asthma is a real bitch, I have to say. Those that have it will usually have it for life and it is a highly life-threatening disease. Btw it is also not contagious (not that anyone would know the difference between an asthma-related cough and a cold/flu related cough!)

I find that with the cold weather and cold air now I am coughing every now and then as my lungs are unable to handle it. For most people 15 degrees is not cold but for me it is freezing and my lungs don't like cold, dry air.

This morning my ayi used some kind of cleaning spray in the kitchen. I was still kinda half asleep in the bedroom. Yes, all the way in the bedroom, and began coughing. I assumed it was the cold air but at the same time wondered why I was fine before that (I had been awake for a awhile but didn't want to get up yet). Turns out she had used the spray and I ended up coughing and feeling breathless for about 4 hours afterwards (even after I left the house). It was just horrible but thank God it's over now.

My tips for asthma

* See a good doctor and make sure you have all the drugs you need stocked at home, well before you need it
* Consider seeing a Chinese herbalist (TCM) doctor. I have found that over a long period of time the results I get from taking Chinese herbs are far better than using things like Ventolin and other 'puffer' sprays. (I have a good rec for one in Shanghai but you need to be able to speak Mandarin. She treats other ailments too, and I go to her once a week or fortnight).
* Keep warm at all costs. Asthmatic lungs don't like the cold.
* By the same token, do not eat cold foods nor drink cold beverages. Iced drinks are definitely out and refrigerated drinks too. I have for as long as I can remember drank warm milk, warm juice, warm water, hot tea... Most people would baulk at the idea but I would rather do that than be sick. It is so soothing for the lungs (and body overall) to drink and eat warm things. Even in summer I do not drink/eat cold things and now never eat ice cream. Even those few times I caved in to ice cream cravings I have felt very sick and coughy afterwards and hated that feeling so never again. I never eat ice cream.
* Wear a scarf. The neck/throat area should also be kept as warm as possible, esp. during nighttime and outdoors.
* Reduce stress and tiredness. Asthma can be brought on by these things too.
* Try to avoid areas with lots of smokers.
* Try to avoid areas with lots of crowds (hard in Shanghai!), wash hands often and try not to touch public things (door handles, poles, lift buttons, etc) too much. The reason is asthma can also be brought on by colds/flus which are easily catchable around this time of year.
* Never ever touch your face unless you have just washed them. Touching your eyes, nose, mouth is a good way to introduce germs into the body and possibly catch nasties from other people.

Both Eczema and Asthma

* Keep away from chemicals, scented/perfumed products, people, places.
* Try to wear natural fabrics, not synthetics. However if you are allergic to wool, wear cotton, cashmere or another alternative that doesn't itch you.
* Fish oil (omega 3) tablets are supposed to be beneficial for both

I asked my TCM doctor whether allergies were common in Shanghai and she said that they were, but on the other hand it seems that not many Chinese people have allergies and/or asthma. Even my friends from Sydney who were born in Taiwan don't suffer from these things. I wonder if it is largely a "Western" problem? My relatives here (from Taiwan) don't understand it and they all chain smoke. I must admit I get a bit sick of explaining to people (even back at home) why I can't be in a room full of smokers (not just cos I don't like it) for more than a few minutes, why I can't wear this, eat this, breathe this, etc. It just sux.

Well I should end this post on a happy note. Despite seeing all those red blood vessels in my eye (from allergic conjunctivitis) and hideous freckles (in the pic above), I still like my eyes. And I have better than 20-20 vision which not many people do, especially a person my age, or an Asian person. So although I hate the fact that I have all these stupid allergy related problems I am highly grateful that I have such good vision when the majority of people don't!

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