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Solving a decades-old mystery

A woman dealt with persistent and debilitating skin issues for 40 years before a visit to the dermatologist leads to an allergy diagnosis that changes her life.

JoAnne's story

I first started experiencing skin issues when I was a teenager, such as dry and scaly patches on my hands and itchy breakouts across my body. Mostly, I just lived with it. I had the symptoms for so long that I figured that’s just how life was for me.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I knew something more serious was happening. I’d switched to a new hair conditioner and my skin really started bothering me. I was itchier than ever before with red patches popping up across my body.

The itchiness was unbearable. I scratched my skin until I bled—and even that didn’t stop the itch. It was just a few nights before my birthday, and it got so bad I went to the ER. A doctor prescribed me a medication, but it didn’t help. I wore a turtleneck at my birthday party to keep people from seeing my skin.

After more doctors’ visits didn’t reduce my symptoms, I was referred to Dr. Schwarzenberger. Dr. Schwarzenberger tested me for skin allergies and we learned that I’m allergic to many common ingredients in products like lotions and hair dyes. She helped me identify all the products I used that contained the offending ingredients and find safe substitutions.

Within a week, I was almost entirely itch free and my skin had cleared up considerably. Within a month, my skin was better than it had been in 40 years.

Seeing Dr. Schwarzenberger changed my life. She listened to me closely and got to the root of the issue, fixing debilitating skin problems that I’d dealt with for decades. Itching may sound trivial at first, but to have such severe itching with no relief and for so long was excruciating.

I still visit Dr. Schwarzenberger annually for a check-up. She’s always happy to answer my questions about the allergy risk of new products I’m unsure about. Without the constant itching, I’m able to be fully present in every moment. The quality of my life has dramatically improved.

JoAnne lives in Portland, Oregon.

The dermatologist's perspective

Kathryn Schwarzenberger

“Listening to patients and understanding where they’re coming from is vital for physicians when developing a treatment plan. Through talking with JoAnne, we realized she had a range of symptoms that led us to identify the underlying cause. It’s always a joy to make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives and I’m so grateful we were able to help JoAnne find relief. ”

─ Kathryn Schwarzenberger, MD, FAAD, Professor of Dermatology at Oregon Health and Science University

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