Living with severe atopic dermatitis (AD), people are always asking me a lot of questions. What’s that on your skin? Is it contagious? Why are you scratching? It’s something I have never been able to ignore.

The itching and dry skin started when I was a baby. I don’t really remember it, but my parents will never forget the endless scratching and sleepless nights. My doctors thought it was regular baby stuff, but it continued to get worse and worse.

For a long time, the doctors tried treatment after treatment but nothing worked. In that time, I scratched my skin completely raw. I was crying and staying up all night because of the pain. I was even hospitalized a few times for infections.

Finally, at four years old, I was diagnosed with severe AD. It was somewhat of a relief for my family to finally have a diagnosis, but the uphill battle didn’t stop there—it was only the beginning.

Climbing the hill

Over the years, AD has taken a lot from me and my family. Sleepless nights and painful skin meant a lot of missed school. Bad flare-ups meant my parents had to leave work in the middle of the day to take care of me.

It got to the point that my skin was so bad, especially behind my knees and around my elbow creases where there were open cuts. I was walking around our house like a stick figure, keeping my arms and legs straight because bending them hurt my dry skin too much.

As I got older, all I wanted to do was play baseball—my favorite sport. But the grass and the springtime heat caused my AD to flare up. Basketball, and the sweaty, hot gym, had the same effect. Sweat is a big stressor and trigger of my AD. So I had to put my athletic dreams on the back burner.

People often saw me and thought I was contagious. I looked—and felt—like an outcast. Nobody understood me. I just wanted to be accepted for who I am. But that comes with educating people. So I realized that I first had to better educate myself.

Gaining new knowledge

My family and I have always been active in the AD community, learning about the disease and connecting with other people living with it. At a recent AD conference for the community, I learned about type 2 inflammation which is an overactive immune response that can cause AD and can be the driver of other diseases like asthma and food allergies, which I have also struggled with.

I decided to turn a negative into a positive and use this information to educate others about these diseases. I understood more about my disease, how it might be linked to my asthma and food allergies, why it’s happening and why it doesn’t simply just go away.

I feel I can be more proactive about managing my AD and the underlying inflammation, instead of just reacting to the flare-ups when they happen.

My knowledge of type 2 inflammation has helped me have better, more informed conversations about my disease. Instead of waiting for the inevitable questions and stares, I’ve learned to be more upfront:

Hi, I’m Isaiah, I have atopic dermatitis, it’s caused by underlying inflammation and it’s not contagious. This is just how my skin looks normally.

An exciting next step

While I’ve been through a lot, I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I want to tell my story so that others can have empathy and understanding, so they can be kinder to others with type 2 inflammatory diseases.

If you take away anything from my story, I hope it’s that you should never give up.

I have persevered through everything my diseases have thrown at me. Now, I want to continue to put my struggles in the past and move forward with positivity.

I recently started college, and while it can be hard to be in a new place and tell new people about my disease, I’m excited.

I’m excited to join a band and play the drums (my passion!). I’m excited to join an entrepreneurship club and learn to grow my car washing business and to make new friends and connections and maybe even start an AD support group.

I want to seize opportunities that I missed in high school and be independent for the first time in my life.

But most of all, I’m excited to prove to myself and everyone around me that I can do anything I put my mind to.

Isaiah, United States