For years, Heidi Nunnally was treated for what her doctor said was acne, but her skin never seemed to get better.
"I felt like a leper. I was embarrassed to go out in public," said the 44-year-old legal secretary. It was only after she was correctly diagnosed with rosacea seven years ago that she finally was able to regain a clear complexion and her self-confidence.
Heidi said she first noticed changes to her face about 10 years ago when she developed a cluster of tiny bumps on her chin. She thought they might be caused by the phone she used at work, so she started cleaning the phone with an antiseptic wipe every day. When the pimples remained, however, she sought the help of a physician.
Her doctor diagnosed acne and prescribed a variety of medications, one after the other, none of which improved her facial appearance. Heidi recalled that her self-esteem hit a low during that time. However, a move from Virginia to New York City about seven years ago proved fortuitous.
"My new doctor, a dermatologist, took one look at me and said, 'You've got rosacea,'" she recalled. He started her on a course of oral and topical medications. Within a few months, Heidi said, she was shouting "Hallelujah!" The stubborn bumps and redness were finally diminishing.
Her prescriptions have changed slightly over the years -- her dermatologist recently reduced the use of oral medication -- but her skin care routine has been a constant component of her success. Heidi said when she is tired or on a crazy schedule, it would be easy to skip her routine and topical medication, but she knows what a difference it makes in her appearance. "Today people compliment me on how nice my skin looks," she said.
Heidi also learned about triggers and identified three that particularly affect her rosacea: overheating, wine and spicy foods. She said she has learned several coping mechanisms that work for her, such as using a damp towel to pat her face or drape around her neck when she goes to the gym, and staying hydrated when she works out. Spicy foods had always been among her favorites, but she has cut way back on these to reduce flushing episodes.
One of the truest signs of Heidi's success might be the response she gets from her friends when she mentions her rosacea. "They look at me and say, 'You don't have rosacea,'" she said. "I tell them it doesn't look like I do because I follow my regimen."
That commitment -- to follow her prescribed medical therapy, facial care routine and avoidance of triggers -- is the one thing Heidi said she hopes other rosacea sufferers will learn from her. "Never give up," she said. "If something doesn't work, try something different. Stay committed, and it will work."