Anyone with eczema will know how impossibly draining living with constant itching can be. Just recently I’ve had a mini flare-up and some pretty insane itching. It happens around this time of year, without fail, but I think also I tried to go cold turkey with the steroids.
I refused to give in, but as soon as I applied some my skin was instantly relieved and improved drastically over the next few days. It even improves on areas where I have not applied the steroids which worries me greatly and is the topic of a future blog about addiction to steroids.
If you have eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis you are not alone – over six million people in the UK are living with this life challenging condition.
The one thing we would all love to find the answer to…
How do you stop the itch, scratch, cycle?
I’ve written about this many times before. If you scratch the itch you continue the cycle of damage and when skin is healing it itches again and so we scratch. There is a very useful book called the Eczema Solution which examines our habit to scratch and looks at how we challenge this and actually reduce the times we scratch by using different techniques, avoiding triggers and being aware of where and when we itch and scratch most.
One of my recent diaries on the Food Matters website discussed this very subject. Don’t tell me to stop scratching…
It’s the most annoying thing anyone can say to someone with eczema. Because to be brutally honest, no, we can’t. Unless you’ve experienced it, the eczema itch is like nothing else and no one will ever get quite how brutal it is. It’s inside, it’s deep, deep in your skin and no amount of itching can ever get rid of it. Often the pain of damaged skin is preferable to that itch.
And no, it is nothing like an insect or mosquito bite! Alright!
Why does our skin itch?
There is a built in itch mechanism that is actually natural and impossible to ignore. Centuries ago the initial itch of a fly or insect on our skin would trigger an itch – resulting in the displacement of the offending insect, so the itch served a purpose and rid us of the annoying bug or plant that was touching us. It helps prevent us being stung without our knowledge.
The other form of itching is caused by a reaction in the body when histamine is released. The hives and bumps that can be so itchy are begging to be scratched and itching is actually a good thing because it helped to disperse the thing the body was trying to dispel or fight. So when you have this kind of allergic reaction instead of cursing, remember that your body cannot help it. It is built this way to keep you safe… still annoying though isn’t it?
But how do you cope with the constant itch? A recent consultation with a group of experts, scientists and doctors as a patient expert really got me thinking. They asked me how often I itched, where I itched, how painful was it and how hard was it avoid itching. I realised as I was describing to them what eczema was like to live with that on some level I am always experiencing some kind of itch. The lower levels or itching can be ignored, or rather I have developed ways of avoiding scratching and causing too much damage.
Sometimes I don’t, at all, but there are a few things that work for me. I will be compiling a list in a soon to be published blog post but it’s growing and growing so deserves its own blog.
For now, don’t beat yourself up about itching but instead examine when it happens, why and how you can limit any damage. It’s not something you can just do. Just stop. You can’t and you’ll never be truly free from eczema or itching if you are prone to it, but you CAN take charge, you absolutely can find out what triggers yours and you can manage it so that your life is not limited to any great extent.
But when you are itching, scratch it. Try to fight it, but if it’s altogether too impossible to just stop. If something is causing the itch it will never stop.
So in preparation for my next blog, how to fight the itch, keep your nails short and filed smooth, don’t wash too often, wear tight fitting clothes that don’t allow easy entry of questing fingers that want to scratch, moisturise, take salt baths, use natural cosmetics and skin care products, eat healthily and keep a food and mood diary. If a particular food is causing your itching you need to discover what it is. I will expand on all this a future blog…
You may find this book, The Eczema Solution helpful as it explores itching and how we can break the cycle.
I’m convinced that my itches are always triggered, externally by dust, chemicals or animals or internally by foods. I now recognise that wheat, milk, sulphites, amines and salicylates are factors in my diet. But with a careful diet I think all itching can dissappear.
Hi Nathanael. Yep I think you’re right. If you can identify all your triggers you should be able to reduce your itching considerably. You may still have itching or reactions – it’s impossible to eradicate or avoid triggers all the time. Dust is everywhere – we create it all the time. I find a processed food free diet, avoiding alcohol and my trigger/allergen foods helps greatly. The dust continues to be a problem though. If only we could just get desensitised. Dust mainly give me asthma though. Any busy room with lots of fabric, carpets, dog hair, dust and I’m wheezing until I leave again. Very annoying.
I was told by a skin specialist that anything that dries the skin will trigger eczema, including sea water so I would avoid bath salts & mineral powder makeup too
Hi Maree. Well this is very interesting. I think table salt and normal salt might not be a good thing and have an opposite effect but I have honestly had such amazing relief from salt baths. I really do urge you to investigate and maybe see if you can borrow one bath sample worth. Works wonders for me. My specialist told me that normal salt should never be used but that mineral salts or Epsom salts are the thing I should try and he was right. Brilliant! I think it’s the minerals that are so healing and restorative. Who knows. And for me, mineral makeup also is so much kinder on my skin. I am happier with no makeup really but had no problems when I had a full face of mineral makeup on my wedding day. I think because it’s so natural and doesn’t have all the preservatives and chemicals and unnatural ingredients found in normal makeup it can suit sensitive skin. But don’t just take my word for it. I’ve added some links here. I must blog about this I think… http://www.progressivehealth.com/learn-how-to-treat-eczema-with-epsom-salt.htm
and possibly also this one: http://www.primephysiquenutrition.com/how-epsom-salts-can-heal-your-eczema-and-bring-you-relief/
Thanks Ruth, I’ll give them a try. I found Egoderm from the chemist very good too for sooth inflammation, it’s a non steroid cream. I just found a face wash Prue by Nature sold at Coles for $5, I am using it as a body wash & shampoo because I have a problem with most shampoos & soap I think I am allergic to coconut
ann westbrook says
hi my name is ann and i have suffered now for 10 years with an auto-immune disease called nodular prurigo,, at the moment it is possibly at it ,s worse as i have lumps all over my body with intense itching,, i have damaged my skin so badly that the pain from these lumps are sometimes unbearable, at times i feel almost suicidal.. i have had every medication and steroid known to man plus auto-immune drugs intensive light treatment and at the moment my dermatologist is trying to get funding for me for thalidomide as this is the only drug that i haven,t tried.i have also tried every natural product with no luck,,if there is anyone out there that could maybe give me some hope i would be so,so grateful
I have NP too so I know how awful it can be. Not sure what advice I can give. Only thing helps me is Epsom salt baths. I also think cutting out processed foods helped me enormously.
I am very sorry to hear this Ann, have you tried Calamine lotion ? it works for Chicken Pox. Ego have a range at the chemist for Eczema, a non steroid cream. I recently had Tinea the cream from the chemist I put on blistered me so I stopped using it and just used Savlon antiseptic cream that took away the itch and cured the Tinea.
Thank you for posting this. Close people in my life have a hard time understanding illnesses be it mental or physical which inflict me. The disappointment in one’s self is real and probably the worst judgement one can receive. What we need from our family and friends is understanding love and encouragement.
I feel for each and everyone of you here because we all have battles no one knows anything about.
Oh Ann I feel so bad for you. My NP is nowhere near as bad as yours. This was a drastic measure for me but I cut out all processed food, refined sugar etc. and cut down on alcohol and mine is so much better. No science behind why this should work and we are all so different but it’s worth a try before you resort to thalidamide. Thinking of you. I know how horrid and painful the lumps can be.