• Minnesota

    Relief from Persistent Itching and Scratching

ROCHESTER, Minn. — There's no one-size-fits-all treatment for persistent itching. But there are effective therapies for most types of severe or persistent itching, according to the July issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

Itching can have hundreds of possible causes. In general, there are skin problems that cause an itchy rash and internal problems that usually don't result in a rash. Itching with a rash could be the result of dry skin, allergic reactions, skin disorders, or infectious diseases such as chickenpox or shingles.

Treatments include:

Medications: Oral antihistamines ease itching due to allergies or hives. Corticosteroids help with itching caused by skin inflammation.

Wet dressings: Medicated cream is applied to the affected areas and covered by wet cotton cloths. This approach often is effective when other therapies fail.

Phototherapy: The skin is exposed to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light several times a week over the course of weeks or months.

Itching that occurs without a rash can be the result of diseases (liver disease, kidney failure, anemia, some cancers and many other conditions), medications (narcotic pain relievers and some cancer medications) and nerve dysfunction (pinched or irritated nerves).

Treating the underlying condition or adjusting medications can provide relief. Antidepressants may be helpful in select situations where other therapies haven't worked.

Most types of itching respond well to treatment, but the relief may not be immediate. A number of topical creams and ointments can help relieve the itch immediately. Options include topical anesthetics such as lidocaine or benzocaine and ointments and lotions such as peppermint, camphor or calamine.

When itching persists, it's a good idea to check with a physician for a diagnosis and treatment. Persistent itching can lead to insomnia, anxiety, depression and diminished quality of life. Prolonged itching and scratching may increase the intensity of the itch, leading to lichen simplex chronicus, a condition where the skin becomes thick and leathery and more difficult to treat.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news. To subscribe, please call 800-333-9037 (toll-free), extension 9771, or visit Mayo Clinic Health Letter Online.