Seeking treatment for chronic illness: when desperation takes over

Allyson Byers was desperate to find a treatment that worked for her painful chronic skin condition.

I recently read an article by Self magazine about a young woman named Allyson Byers who suffers from a chronic skin condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). According to the Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation, HS causes painful abscesses and boils to form in the folds of the skin, often around hair follicles, such as the underarms and groin. While the exact cause of HS in unknown, it is believed to be autoimmune in nature.

Although the condition isn’t actually rare, with about 1-4% of the general population affected, HS is often misdiagnosed as other conditions, like cystic acne. Patients also frequently don’t tell their physicians about their symptoms due to embarrassment, until they’ve reached stage 3 of the disease (at which point, surgery may be required).

Allyson was fortunate to have been diagnosed six months after the onset of the disease, as a result of a knowledgeable family physician who recognized the tell-tale symptoms. She then went on to see a dermatologist, who prescribed a variety of treatments, from antibiotics, to diabetes medication, hormone-suppressing drugs and even immunosuppressants. But nothing seemed to quell the prognosis of the disease, and eventually, Allyson found herself in so much pain, she couldn’t even raise her arms or even walk, due to the abscesses in her underarms and groin. It even affected her sleep.

Needless to say, she was desperate for a cure- or at least a treatment. Allyson said that in her desperation, she turned to alternative medicine to help. She tried everything from special diets, like the autoimmune protocol (AIP), to supplements and topical solutions (like turmeric, tea tree oil and special soaps). She even saw a chiropractor for a controversial diagnostic test called applied kinesiology, which involves exposing oneself to potential allergens and measuring changes in muscle strength. She spent thousands of dollars on unproven ‘treatments’ in her quest to reduce her painful symptoms.

I know all too well what it’s like to be Allyson—I have HS myself. Unlike her, however, it took six years for me to get a diagnosis (the doctors I had seen in Canada hadn’t even heard of the disease). Before I got diagnosed, I was so desperate for a cure that I purchased different creams, salves and ointments online, that had no medical proof, but that claimed to ‘cure’ my symptoms. One of the salves I bought caused a horrible burning sensation on my skin; another, an oil made out of emu fat (I’m not joking!), did absolutely nothing other than make my skin oily. Some of these so-called ‘treatments’ may have even made my condition worse.

Several members of my family, who are big proponents of alternative medicine, even brought me to a naturopath in the hopes of combating my Sjögren’s Syndrome symptons. I followed various different diets to no avail, took all types of unproven supplements, and even tried chelation therapy, which involves the intravenous administration of drugs to remove heavy metals from the body (this can even result in death). Although I am not against exploring alternative treatments and making lifestyle changes, none of these treatments improved my condition, and they cost even more than science-backed methods.

Like Allyson, I am tired of always trying to ‘chase’ a new treatment, scientific or not, in the hopes of finding a cure. Although I will never truly give up, I would urge others suffering from chronic illnesses not to get desperate; or at least to not allow your desperation to cloud your judgement. If you’re going to try an alternative therapy, at least run it by your physician first, so that you can ensure it’s safe before testing its effectiveness.

Have you had any success treating your condition with alternative medicine? Comment below!

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