photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg

Personal Health

By Nancy Johnston Hall

scratching1

Itch. Scratch. Itch. Repeat.

I was the master of my own misery. When my neck, back, and scalp began itching like crazy this winter, I began scratching which led to more itching, which led to more scratching. I was trapped in the itch-scratch cycle. A dermatologist diagnosed the reason for my itch as boringly simple: dry skin, which occurs in cold climates where central heating makes the air “desert dry,” or in places like San Miguel where the air truly is desert dry. Also, our skin becomes thinner and dryer as we age. Medical experts who study and treat chronic itching say that the problem can mean a life-affecting suffering similar to the misery of chronic pain. Yes!

I learned that to get relief, I needed to break the itch-scratch cycle, which is not easy. Scratching leads to feelings of both pleasure and pain. Research suggests that scratching is an addictive behavior, causing a release of morphine-like chemicals. For me, the urge to scratch was overwhelming but I did find relief, thanks to the following self-care measures.

Trim fingernails and wear gloves to bed. Fingernails can become weapons of skin destruction, so the shorter the better. Itching is often worse at night; wearing light gloves can keep you from scratching in your sleep.

Put something cool or cold on the itchy area. Apply cool, wet compresses or an ice-pack. In desperation one sleepless night, I used a small bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a kitchen towel. The feeling of coldness replaced the itch and I finally slept. (I re-froze and re-used the bag several nights later, to the amusement of family members.)

Take warm, not hot, showers and keep them short—five minutes or less. Hot water removes the natural oils from your skin. Many experts suggest short showers instead of long baths. Use a gentle, unscented moisturizing cleanser. Harsh bar soaps and perfumed products can strip the normal oils from your skin.

Use thick tub moisturizers, ointments, or creams. Use something you scoop out of a jar; if you can pump it, it’s too thin. Apply the moisturizer right after showering and throughout the day. Try putting it on while your skin is still wet to lock in the moisture. Ointments are greasier than moisturizers, but they do the best job. Plain Vaseline is one recommended ointment. Eczema creams are also very moisturizing and can be helpful even if you don’t have eczema.

Try over-the-counter allergy medicine. Some of these drugs, such as diphenhydramine, (Benadryl), can make you drowsy so, in addition to dampening the itch, they can help if your itchy skin keeps you awake.

Apply an anti-itch cream or lotion. Short-term use of nonprescription hydrocortisone cream containing at least one percent hydrocortisone can temporarily relieve an itch accompanied by red, inflamed skin; so can calamine lotion.

See your doctor if the itching lasts more than two weeks and doesn’t improve with self-care measures or if the itching comes on suddenly or affects your whole body.

Nancy Johnston Hall is a retired health writer with 40 years of experience. She has a master’s degree in medical journalism. Two years ago, Nancy and her husband became part-time residents of San Miguel.

 

Comments are closed

 photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg
 photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg

Photo Gallery

 photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg
Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove