Close Encounter with Plaquenil

Cutaneous Lupus was the diagnosis that my dermatologist came back with after doing a biopsy of my scalp. I had gone to him after a persistent itch morphed from minor annoyance to a major preoccupation and finally forced me to act. At first, I was not sure how serious of an ailment it was till he referred me to a specialist at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  My wife and daughter calmed me down, as Lupus was not yet confirmed and there were medicines available to treat it.  Even then, a possible diagnosis of Cutaneous Lupus got me all worked up. As a confirmed hypochondriac, who has his WebMD on speed-dial (bookmarked), I needed all my powers of restraint from  spending hours on the internet researching this.

Based on my dermatologist’s  referral we were able to get a quick appointment with the specialist at Penn.  At the appointment, she and her team took their time to analyze the earlier biopsy results and ordered their own specific tests/biopsy. After a few weeks, at the second appointment she narrowed the diagnosis  down to Lichenoid Dermatitis, and planned to start me on Plaquenil. Yes, this is the same Plaquenil (Hydroxychloroquine) that is currently being touted as the possible miracle cure for the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

One of the possible side effects of long term use of Plaquenil is eye damage leading to loss of vision. Because of this, the doctor asked me to have my eyes checked out by the ophthalmologist to establish a baseline before starting the medicine. While I was starting to accept the diagnosis and the prognosis so far, the seriousness of this medicine and its potential side effects rattled me! On the way back from the ophthalmologist, Uma reiterated her previous theory that maybe all this was due to the use of hair dyes and that I should stop using them. I had dismissed this earlier – thinking that she was just jealous of my youthful looks.  Finally, because of her persistence, I stopped coloring my hair (just to prove her wrong, of course 🙂 ). After a month or so, the itching stopped COMPLETELY! The sores on my scalp gradually healed!

Phew! That was close! If it weren’t for Uma’s idea and insistence that I stop the coloring, I could have gone blind – a ‘young-looking’ blind guy,  instead of the George Clooney look-alike (with the salt-n-pepper coiffure) that I am today!  🙂

Modeling “Just For Men”                       Au Naturel

You are probably eager to get the name of the hair dye that caused all this angst.  I had used “Just for Men” for several years before switching to “Indica Easy Hair Colour” based on the recommendation of a dermatologist (who said this was more natural). The problem started when I used this brand. After I stopped using it, the problem got resolved. Then after several months, I was tempted to go back to “Just for Men”, to see  if the issue was limited to that original Indian brand. Well, guess what? The exact same problem was back! So, essentially, I was allergic to an ingredient that was common to all these hair dyes.

The takeaways from this experience (in no particular order):

  1. Always get 2nd and 3rd opinions for any major diagnosis
  2. Forget the George Clooney look, I really should have just shaved my head and gone with the Vin Diesel look
  3. How many people would I have fooled with a wig or toupee?
  4. In order to have harmony in your matrimony, always listen to your wife and do what she recommends (and be prepared for “I told you so” for years…)
  5. If I had not goofed off in high school and worked hard, I might have become a  dermatologist myself! Oh well…
  6. Beware of the side effects of all medicines. DO NOT ignore them! We have smart scientists. I wish they would come up with better side effects. For e.g.: How about an erectile dysfunction drug that reduces belly fat and fixes hair loss (based on the targeted users of this drug)?