Life is an Itch and Then You Cry

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“Dear Pharmacist,

Sometimes I get itchy spots. I’ve stopped wearing perfume, I use dye-free detergent and soap. I only take three medications and I’ve taken those for years, birth control, ibuprofen and Synthroid. What are the best products for itchy skin? What else can I do?”

–B.V. Gainesville, Florida

Answer: Itching is a symptom, not a disease itself. Your dermatologist can help you get to the bottom of this. Chronic itching could mean that your immune system is unhappy with something you’re exposed to such as detergent, cosmetics, sunscreen, latex, nickel (found in jewelry), medication, pet dander or a particular food. Food allergies can cause of long-term inexplicable itching. For many it is a sensitivity to soy, wheat, dairy, corn or nuts.

You need to see your doctor to help you determine what is causing the prickles. Even if you take medicine for years, you can suddenly become allergic to it. Your doctor may suggest a ‘drug holiday’ where you wean off all medications and go without them for a few weeks, then begin taking one drug at a time to see if a particular drug is causing your problem. Drug holidays should never be attempted without your doctor’s agreement and supervision.

You could easily do the same with food. Cut out all the common food allergens (mentioned above) for a month and eat only natural nutritious foods and see what happens. If you get better, you can bring back one new food group at time, such as dairy. If the itch comes back then you will have connected the dots.

In the meantime, let’s take a walk down the aisle of my pharmacy and see what’s inside the most popular anti-itch remedies. These are not recommended for indefinite use:

Hydrocortisone- There are dozens of creams, ointments, sprays and roll-on products containing this steroid, which helps control itching, redness and inflammation associated with skin rashes, eczema, psoriasis, bug bites, poison ivy and seborrheic dermatitis.

Domeboro- This is powdered aluminum that you mix with water to make a compress, dressing or soak. It acts as an astringent on the skin and comforts skin rashes, bug bites, athlete’s foot or poison ivy/oak or sumac.

Aveeno bath- Imagine soaking in oatmeal, except you can’t add blueberries and cream. The packets of natural colloidal oatmeal are intended to be sprinkled into your bath water so you can soak your irritations away. Helps itchy skin, rashes, eczema, insect bites and poison ivy/oak or sumac.

Sarna Sensitive- This lotion contains “pramoxine” which basically numbs irritations and relieves itching for minor skin irritations. Sarna’s “original” version is very cooling because it contains menthol and camphor.

Calamine- The pink lotion traditionally used for chicken pox and poison ivy lesions. It’s a skin protectant that dries oozing and weeping while relieving minor pain and itching. The Calamine Plus version is stronger because it contains “pramoxine” along with the calamine.

Did you know?
The skin is the largest organ of the body!