DH-Dermatitis Herpetiformis
Photo: Man with "Gluten Rash" or Dermatitis Herpetiformis on abdomen.
DH-Dermatitis Herpetiformis
Photo: Man with “Gluten Rash” or Dermatitis Herpetiformis on abdomen.

So you’ve been suffering from a “nervous stomach” the Doctor says and you’ve probably had it for years. It’s a term many of us have heard all our lives from childhood onward and for many, the answer always comes up short and doesn’t provide any lasting solutions.

In Short Order

For most, it takes years of various tests before some Doctor finally does the right tests and comes up with a diagnosis of Celiac Disease. Once we’re given that diagnosis, we struggle to understand just what it is, and how to deal with it and we must understand that it is a life long condition which has no cure.

Celiac Disease is in short, an autoimmune disorder where people suffer a reaction when they consume grains with wheat, rye or barley. The reaction usually attacks the “villi” or small finger like

Closeup of Wheat Image
Closeup of Wheat

structures that line the gut and are responsible for absorbing nutrients, vitamins and minerals from the food we eat.

When these villi are damaged, we can’t absorb those nutrients which leaves us many times underweight, malnourished, fatigued, anemic and causes a host of other conditions. If left untreated, it can increase your risks for intestinal cancers among other problems.

So what is it exactly?

The reaction comes from a protein in the aforementioned grains called “Gluten” and this protein causes a reaction by the gut that damages the villi and also sends an army of antibodies throughout the bloodstream that is mistaken by our immune system as a foreign invader and our immune system responds by attacking our own tissue.

For most with Celiac Disease it is the small intestine where the damage occurs but for some like myself, it attacks the skin with the most evil and ferocious itchy, burning, blistering rash you could imagine. This rash, often called the “Gluten Rash” is “Dermatitis Herpetiformis” or DH for short.

The top photo in this post is but one example of a DH reaction to Gluten. The rash can appear anywhere on the body and can be intermittent or continuous for some. The skin usually burns or itches prior to a breakout and then small bumps or blisters, sometimes filled with fluid but not always will appear and then the agony starts! These itchy rashes have been deemed among the most itchy and painful rashes known and I for one can attest to that as fact.

How Do We Deal With It?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that seems to help when dealing with DH, I’ve heard of people using oatmeal baths etc. but I doubt it does much good. In my case, these rashes generally last for at least 6-8 weeks before they somewhat subside and even then they never completely go away, and it leaves your skin with a dry, leathery feeling that still retains some of its itchy properties.

Small dark dots will remain on your skin for weeks or months after an outbreak calms and for some of us they may never really disappear. There is a treatment for the DH rash and Doctors generally prescribe an Antibiotic called “Dapsone” that gets rid of the itch and rash usually within 48 to 72 hours, however Dapsone brings with it some nasty side affects that may cause liver damage and others so frequent blood testing is mandatory for patients using this drug.

Treatment Options

The only long term solution is a “Gluten Free Diet” and that means a learning curve to select Gluten Free foods and also to find hidden Gluten in ingredients that do not specifically state Gluten Free. Yep, that does mean “No More Beer!” bummer…but there are a few Gluten Free brands out there, I just haven’t found any locally where I live.

There is a lot of Gluten Free stuff out there, we just have to really check out the labels. The Gluten Free Mall is one example and a good resource for checking out Gluten Free products but these days one can find them in almost all grocers.