It's NOT "Just Skin" - Eczema and Eye Health

“It’s just skin” - by far one of the phrases I cringe most at from people that don’t understand skin conditions. Most people don't understand there is so much more involved.

Our skin is our largest organ

Since our skin is our largest organ, I’d say it’s quite important and impacts our entire body. Not only is it a protective barrier from all outside influences, but it is also a mirror of what is going on within.

One of the things I least expected that completely terrified me was dealing with eye issues after years of dealing with atopic dermatitis. When I started topical steroid withdrawal, it only got worse.

I started to lose my vision

I started to lose vision in my right eye, to the point I was unsure I’d ever be able to see again. I had many days during topical steroid withdrawal when my eyes would be swollen shut, crusted over with thick, yellow, sticky ooze. At the time, the only thing I could do was lay in my bed with my eyes closed.

I was diagnosed keratoconus

After seeing several eye doctors, I was informed I had keratoconus in my right eye. This means my cornea is basically not the shape it is supposed to be, to put it simply. According to Mayo Clinic, "Keratoconus (ker-uh-toe-KOH-nus) occurs when your cornea — the clear, dome-shaped front surface of your eye — thins and gradually bulges outward into a cone shape."1

Treating keratoconus

I started to read about treatments for this, and one of the most common ones to fix vision is getting a corneal transplant. Of course, I freaked out right away, thinking the worst. I went to several specialists and eventually ended up at a college eye institute downtown Chicago, where I thankfully found the best doctor I could have asked for.

Keratoconus is common for eczema patients

They did tons of tests, and my first appointment lasted about 4.5 hours. They told me I had permanent corneal scarring in my right eye, as well as keratoconus. The damage was caused by the severe inflammation in my skin and eyelids as a result of my topical steroid withdrawal and atopic dermatitis. According to the National Eczema Association, this is somewhat common in patients with eczema, and while there is still research to be done, it is a known complication.2

I could see again!

Thankfully, after a lot of hard work, they were able to fit a scleral lens in my right eye. This improved my vision from 20/100 to 20/25. I will never forget starting to bawl right in the middle of the office when we put the lens in. I could see so clearly - every detail, every color I never thought I’d be able to again. An overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude had come over me. If this hadn’t worked, I’d have had to have the corneal transplant, which is not a very pleasant experience, from what I have seen through my research.

Eye health and skin conditions

In my experience, there is not enough awareness about eye health and skin conditions. Yet, it’s such an important part of the process and something that should be kept an eye on – no pun intended! It is so important to get our eyes checked regularly, as we are more prone to complications.

Our eyes are, of course, surrounded by skin. So these two things are very much related.  In my case, the eye damage that has been done to my eyes will unfortunately never heal. However, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to wear lenses instead of having to go through a difficult surgery.

It's not just skin

So when people say, “it’s just skin,” I’m reminded of how much more it is. It affects every part of our body, even our vision. It’s not “just skin.” Our skin is a direct reflection of all that is going on within us. And that is certainly overwhelming at times, to say the least.

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