Itch is the unpleasant sensation in the skin that causes the desire to rub or scratch the affected area for relief, but scratching often causes worsening of itch after temporary relief. Itching can cause discomfort and frustration and can be severe enough to cause anxiety, depression, and loss of sleep. It can be caused by many different underlying issues, the most common being dry skin. It can be associated with other skin conditions, with a medication, with a systemic illness, or with abnormal nerve signals. It is important to see a dermatologist if you have severe or persistent itching. Repeated scratching of itchy skin can cause thickening of the skin and the formation of hard bumps that might become fairly permanent, so scratching should be avoided.
Managing itch relies on determining an underlying cause, removing the cause, and providing symptom treatment. Systemic treatments for itching might include antihistamines or other prescription medications based on the cause of the itch. Topical treatments may include:
- Lotion with camphor and menthol – provides a cooling sensation
- Wet dressings or lukewarm shower
- Cream or lotion with pramoxine, a topical anesthetic medicine used for itch
- Frequent use of bland moisturizers
- Topical corticosteroids
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors
Behavioral therapy to reduce the itch-scratch cycle is an important part of treatment in addition to any systemic or topical treatments. The management of chronic severe itching is difficult and often requires combination treatment over a long period of time. As dermatologists, we will work closely with you to provide you with as much itch relief as possible.