Chronic itch

By Ann Griswold • Published: January 14th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For millions of people around the globe, the seven-year itch is a prickling, burning, skin-crawling sensation that has nothing to do with relationship restlessness. Chronic itch is more common than you might think, but experts say relief from the affliction is hard to come by.

Pruritus [PROO-rye-tuss] is the medical term for itchy skin and it affects millions of people worldwide. The condition is sometimes a symptom of liver disorders, scabies, eczema and H-I-V. But drug interactions can also cause the skin to flare up.

The quest to quell the itch has prompted people to scratch ’til they’re sore. But the resulting pain just confuses the brain and fuels the itchy sensation. Other painful stimuli, like heat and electricity, are also notorious for tricking the brain into thinking there’s an itch that needs to be scratched.

There aren’t any cure-all treatments for pruritis, but experts say you can ease symptoms by avoiding heat and humidity, wearing loose-fitting clothes and keeping your fingernails short to minimize damage to your skin. Experts also recommend applying cold compresses to the itchy area and taking lukewarm baths filled with skin-soothing products like oatmeal or cornstarch. Be sure to apply an unscented lotion after the bath to prevent dry skin.

If those remedies don’t work, over-the-counter oral antihistamines and hydrocortisone creams might take the edge off. But if all else fails and a persistent itch leaves you scratching for answers, it’s time to visit your physician.