A MAN was left with red and painful sores after he scratched the pigment from his skin after years of battling a mystery illness.
Neil Cobb was left in agony after small patches of eczema on his hands spread across his body like wildfire.
The 64-year-old’s skin is so itchy, he has scratched off the pigment.
For four years he has been plagued by red, open sores — and he once collapsed unconscious and was left fighting for his life after an infection engulfed his body.
But Neil’s real torment is having no idea what is causing his pain. He is one of many people living with undiagnosed health conditions.
What makes these people’s illnesses much harder to cope with is the lack of answers — and that uncertainty can cause mental as well as physical problems.
Now a new BBC series, The Diagnosis Detectives, hosted by Dr Michael Mosley, aims to help find answers with the help of 12 experts.
Speaking on the programme Neil said: “I’m merely existing and suffering as I exist. If no one can help me, I don’t think I will be around much longer.”
Dr Michael Mosley, who presents the show, told The Sun the makers were inundated with people desperate for answers when creating the series.
He says: “A lot of these people have had undiagnosed conditions for years. They have been around the houses and seen several different doctors.
“You look at poor Neil and think, blimey, this has really affected his social life.”
But happily, on the show Neil DOES get a diagnosis, and successful treatment, and Dr Mosley says this was “life-changing” for him.
Neil, originally from Missouri, US, moved to England in the 1990s to work as a mechanic at a US Air Force base in Norfolk.
He first noticed symptoms in 2016 and military doctors put it down to an allergic reaction to a chemical in cleaning fluid.
Initially, he was given a steroid cream to treat small patches of irritation on his hands. But the rash then spread “like wildfire” up his arms and across his body, and he was unable to work.
He tells the show, before his diagnosis: “I itch so intensely, I have scratched my pigment off.” Indeed, so severe is his scratching that he is left with gaping sores and widespread infection.
Neil was recently found unconscious, his body consumed by sepsis — a deadly immune response to an infection, where the body attacks its own tissues.
He turned to the TV specialists in the hope of finding an answer.
Consultant dermatologist Dr Sharon Wong, who leads the investigation into Neil’s case, says: “Skin is the gateway to the rest of your body and in extreme cases some patients can die from skin disease. So it isn’t a superficial problem. It goes a lot deeper than that.”
Dr Wong tells viewers Neil recently had a tumour removed from his kidney, so it is possible some cancerous cells were left behind and that could be contributing to his skin problem.
She says there could also be an underlying blood cancer such as T-cell lymphoma, which can appear on the skin in a way that mimics eczema.
Otherwise, the rash could come down to the initial diagnosis of an allergic form of eczema, which needs to be brought under control.
Dr Wong takes three skin biopsies and sends Neil for a CT scan to rule out anything related to cancer. In the meantime, she prescribes strong steroid cream and tablets, as well as a course of antibiotics.
When Neil returns to her London clinic weeks later, his condition has improved. His skin is much smoother and the flare-ups appear to finally be under control.
His test results show no evidence of kidney cancer and there was nothing to point to T-cell lymphoma.
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After four years, Dr Wong is able to give Neil the diagnosis he has craved — he does have a severe case of eczema.
Dr Wong says: “Over years, unfortunately, the hand eczema wasn’t fully contained and Neil continued to get more and more eczema in other parts of the body.
“Your skin, head totoe, is one organ, so if you’ve got an inflammatory process like eczema happening on your leg and you don’t contain it, just like a wildfire will do, it will continue to spread.”
Given his diagnosis, and the treatment he needed, Neil has now managed to return to work.