Well, I’ve seen all there is to see / And I’ve heard all they have to say
I’ve done everything I wanted to do . . . / I’ve done that too
And it ain’t that pretty at all – zevon
Well, this post won’t win any coolness points but I’ll write it anyway on the offhand chance it helps another paddler find an answer to an embarrassing but very real issue. And no, it’s not Monkey Butt. (Watch the video, It’s Hilarious! Thanks BH !)
For a long time I didn’t know what my problem was. (Don’t even say it!) I rarely had symptoms. The ones I did have didn’t fit with anything I was reading at WebMD. When it showed up, I didn’t want to think about it. Eventually it would just “go away”. It wasn’t really until 2008 or so when things became so constant that I was actually fearing hikes, running, riding a bike and especially paddling. Finally I had to talk to the doc. The issue? Eczema.
Eczema is a chronic skin problem that creates itchy scaly rashes normally. It tends to show up in folks with a family history of eczema. It shows up more commonly in kids but adults get it as well. Sufferers (victims?) may also have allergies, asthma or hay fever. The two seem to walk hand-in-hand. Eczema can be made worse by dry skin, contact with rough materials, fragrances or dyes in lotions and soaps, colds, stress and maybe most relevant here, exposure to water.
Eczema can get much worse than a simple rash. If your eczema is especially sensitive to water it can flare up fast and usually shows up in all the worst places, places where the skin cannot get dry; Around the ears, under the arms, between toes, private area and bum. Anywhere moisture can sit. Sweat is the worst. It can cause your skin to split and bleed. Sweat, friction and scratchy paddling clothes can turn many outdoor sports including kayaking into torture. As a less embarrassing example, I can have eczema flare up so bad behind my ears that the skin can split and bleed right where my sunglasses set. Wearing sunglasses when the skin is irritated is like setting a knife into an open wound. And that’s actually sort of manageable. In other areas, it’s much less manageable. As I said, depending on location, eczema can make arm and leg movements so painful that paddling becomes an all-out nightmare. Longer trips and symposiums that keep you wet, make you sweat and never allow you the time to treat your eczema are the very worst.
So, what do you do? Cope mostly. Well, one thing is to stay as dry as possible. (Yeah right!) Quick drying gear helps.. but only to a point. Wicking materials won’t help if they are rough to the touch or the seams are rubbing in sensitive areas. For the most part you just need to get out of your wet gear as often as possible. IF you can find the time. Trips and symposiums rarely let you get away long enough to do anything substantial. There are also a variety of medications out there that can help. See your doctor. Tell ‘em you’re a paddler, always wet, and yeah, tell them the embarrassing stuff so you can get the serious treatment you may need. In addition, it sometimes helps to use zinc oxide creams which can at least protect the skin from more water and sweat that make the situation worse. Then again, at the end of the day.. get dry.. somehow.
My experience has been that nothing works perfectly. Not if you are constantly re-exposing yourself to the irritations. Especially if you’re sensitive to water & salt. You can quit paddling and exercising. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen! To some extent you simply have to manage the best you can. Really the hardest part is suffering eczema in silence; Skipping out on a day trip so you can get back and dry out, or pushing through the pain and not letting on. I’ve pealed “rash guard” & neoprene from raw, bleeding skin more often than I care to mention. It’s not pretty. Eczema can suck.. but there it is then. It makes Monkey Butt look well, almost funny.