September 26, 2022
How do you relieve the itchiness?
Tonya Naughton, MSN,BSN, RN, MACJ
Banner University Medical Center answers:
For temporary relief of itching you can try these self-care measures:
- Avoid items or situations that cause you to itch. Try to identify what’s causing your symptoms and avoid it. This might be wool clothing, an overly heated room, too many hot baths or exposure to a cleaning product.
- Moisturize daily. Apply hypoallergenic and fragrance-free moisturizer (Cetaphil, others) to affected skin at least once a day. For dry skin, thicker creams and ointments work better than lotions.
- Treat the scalp. For a dry, itchy scalp, try over-the-counter medicated shampoos containing zinc pyrithione (Head & Shoulders, others), ketoconazole (Nizoral, others), selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue, others) or coal tar (Neutrogena T/Gel, others). You might need to try several products before finding one that works for your hair and condition. Or you may find that alternating between products helps. Don’t use a medicated shampoo right after having a chemical relaxing process — rather, use a neutralizing shampoo.
- Reduce stress or anxiety. Stress or anxiety can worsen itching. Many people have found that techniques such as counseling, behavior modification therapy, acupuncture, meditation and yoga can help reduce stress or anxiety.
- Try over-the-counter oral allergy medicine. Some OTC allergy medicines (antihistamines), such as diphenhydramine, can make you drowsy. This type of pill might be helpful before bedtime if your itchy skin disrupts your sleep. Antihistamines do not help with the itch that follows a shingles infection.
- Use a humidifier. A humidifier may provide some relief if home heating causes the air in your home to be dry.
- Use creams, lotions or gels that soothe and cool the skin. Short-term use of nonprescription corticosteroid cream may temporarily relieve an itch accompanied by red, inflamed skin. Or try calamine lotion or creams with menthol (Sarna, others), camphor, capsaicin, or a topical anesthetic, such as pramoxine (adults only). Keeping these products in the refrigerator can enhance their soothing effect. Corticosteroid creams do not help with the itch that follows a shingles infection.
- Avoid scratching. Cover the itchy area if you can’t keep from scratching it. Trim your nails and, if it helps, wear gloves when you sleep.
- Take a bath. Use lukewarm water and sprinkle in about a half cup (100 grams) of Epsom salts, baking soda or an oatmeal-based bath product (Aveeno, others). Use a mild cleanser (Dove, Olay, Cetaphil), limiting its use to the underarms and groin. Don’t scrub too hard and limit your bathing time. Then rinse thoroughly, pat dry and moisturize.
- Stay well rested. Getting enough sleep might reduce the risk of itchy skin.
If home remedies don’t ease the itchy skin, your doctor may recommend prescription medications or other treatments. Controlling itchy skin symptoms can be challenging and may require long-term therapy. Options include:
- Corticosteroid creams and ointments. If your skin is itchy and red, your doctor may suggest applying a medicated cream or ointment to the affected areas. You might then cover the treated skin with damp cotton material. Moisture helps the skin absorb the medication and has a cooling effect.
- If you have severe itching or a chronic condition, your doctor might recommend this bedtime routine: Bathe in plain lukewarm water for 20 minutes, and then apply triamcinolone .025% to 0.1% ointment to the wet skin. This traps the moisture and helps the medication absorb. Then put on a pair of old pajamas. Repeat this routine at bedtime for several nights.
- Other creams and ointments. Other treatments that you apply to your skin include calcineurin inhibitors, such as tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel). Or you may find some relief with topical anesthetics, capsaicin or doxepin.
- Oral medications. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), and tricyclic antidepressants, such as doxepin, may be helpful in easing some types of chronic itch. You may not feel the full benefit of some of these drugs for 8 to 12 weeks after starting treatment.
Disclaimer: The response above contains general information for the topic from a medical professional. What works for one survivor may not work for another. This response is meant for informational purposes and should not be used as a substitute for advice from your doctor. You should discuss these suggestions with your healthcare provider to see if they may be right for you.