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A shop worker has revealed how she developed a severe outbreak of psoriasis after gaining an infection triggered by a cotton bud.
Emma Lawson, 22, was left with a polka dot-style coating of red spots all over her torso, back, bottom, arms and face after an outbreak of the skin condition.
She claims the patches, which shattered her confidence, were caused by using cotton buds in her left ear, triggering an infection, which spread through her skin from her ear canal and across her face.
As it took hold, the infection developed all over her body and caused her to become hospitalised for a week.
Lawson of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, said: "I had a really bad flare up and it was all over my body and inside my ear canal.
"One night I cleaned my ears and went to bed, but a few hours later I woke up with so much pain in my face. It was red, hot and tight and so painful.
"I went to Prince Alexandria Hospital in Brisbane and they admitted me straight away.
"When I cleaned my ear the psoriasis had got inside and spread – I had facial cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the skin in the face.
"I was in hospital for a week and had two drips of antibiotics to flush my system out.
"I spent my 21st birthday in hospital – it was so miserable."
Lawson was first diagnosed with psoriasis when she was three, after her 63-year-old mum noticed red sores on her scalp.
Her condition worsened into her teens and playground bullies cruelly taunted her, believing her flaky skin on her shoulders to be dandruff.
After she turned 11 small red spots appeared on her legs and back but never more than three at a time.
It was not until she was 19 that her condition deteriorated and the sores spread across her back, stomach, arms and face.
She often leaves a trail of white skin on her floor and clothes, because she sheds so frequently.
According to the NHS, many people's psoriasis symptoms start or become worse because of a certain event, known as a trigger.
Triggers can include an injury to the skin, such as a cut, scrape, insect bite, sunburn or other infection.
When Lawson's sores were at their worst, she covered her skin with long sleeves and trousers, even in the height of Australian summer, when temperatures reached a scorching 30C.
And in her darkest days, she shunned mirrors and refused to go outside.
"I hated what I saw in the mirror. It was just hideous – red and ugly and flaky," she said.
"I felt terrible about myself 24/7 and there was no way of turning it off.
"I would see other girls wearing shorts and dresses and backless tops and it would make me sad because they could wear whatever they wanted.
"I would just cover myself and sweat through the summer."
Her first flare-up lasted for ten months, before the patches faded into white marks and disappeared.
Lawson thought the worst was behind her, but two weeks ago, during a trip to Japan, her psoriasis returned with full force.
But, rather than battling with self-hatred, she has now decided to live her life to the fullest.
"I make a decision to love myself every day," Lawson said.
"It can be difficult because I'll look at my skin and there are these horrible red, flaky marks everywhere.
"And there is no cure for psoriasis – the only thing I can do is cut out gluten, dairy and processed foods to make my condition more manageable.
"I just have to take one day at a time and love myself, because my skin is something I cannot change."