The Condition of Persistent Itchy Skin
An itch, also known by the medical term pruritis, is a sensation that makes you want to scratch,. Almost everyone experiences itchiness at some point. For most, it is a simple matter of scratching once or twice and feeling relief. For some, however, the condition of persistent itchy skin can lead to extreme discomfort, frustration, anxiety, depression and loss of sleep.
The Anatomy of an Itch
The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library explains that chemicals or mechanisms within the body cause itchiness. Histamine, a chemical stored in the mast cells of the skin, is one of the primary mediators. Other chemicals, such as neuropeptides, can cause the release of histamine or act as the agent themselves. Mechanisms that cause itchiness include systemic diseases, central or peripheral nervous system disorders and dermatological conditions. The sensation to itch can also be purely psychological.
Medical Causes of Persistent Itch
Aside from skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and chronic dry skin, a number of systemic conditions can cause persistent itchy skin. The New Zealand Dermatological Society explains that chronic itch may accompany diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, Hodgkin's disease and iron deficiency anemia. If you are experiencing persistent itchiness, see your doctor to rule out any serious underlying conditions.
MayoClinic.com explains that persistent itchiness and the subsequent scratching that goes along with it can increase the intensity of the itch and possibly result in a condition called neurodermatitis. Neurodermatitis causes the area of itchy skin to become raw, thick and leathery. This area may be darker than the rest of your skin. Constant scratching can also cause skin infections and permanent scarring, especially if the skin is frequently scratched open to the point of bleeding.
Treating persistent itchiness may include topical treatments, oral medications or a combination of the two, depending on the severity. Topical treatments include calamine lotion, short-term use of steroid creams and menthol products to create a cooling sensation, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society. Oral medications include both sedating and non-sedating antihistamines, antidepressants and opiod antagonists such as naltrexone. Anti-epileptic medications may help those with itchiness caused by renal failure. Aspirin may be effective against certain types of itchiness, but can aggravate others.
For those suffering from chronic itchiness, the AAD recommends several lifestyle changes to accompany other treatments. Wear loose-fitting clothing made of a light material and spend as much time in a cool environment as possible. Bathe or shower in lukewarm water using a mild cleanser and rinse completely. After your shower or bath, pat skin dry and apply a moisturizer right away.
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