When nerves (called C fibers) just below the skin’s surface are stimulated, they cause itching. This can be triggered by chemicals, including histamines that are released during an allergic reaction. Although an itch may not seem like a big deal, it can develop into one.
Scratching actually makes things worse by stimulating the itch fibers and introducing bacteria into the skin, making you prone to infections. Below are specific reasons for your itchy skin and their simple remedies.
Dry skin is the most common cause of itchy skin. It diminishes the natural barrier between the skin and environment. The skin cells separate and dry out, leaving the body feeling itchy. Add moisture to the air – and, as a result, your skin – by using a humidifier in your home or office. Or use a thick cream, which is more hydrating than a lotion, and apply it while skin is still damp after showering.
Bars of soap may get you clean, but all those suds are also one of the most common causes of itchy skin. Soap strips skin of its natural oils. Without these oils, skin is dry, and as a result, itchy. Harsh soaps can also inflame skin, which will make you want to scratch. Look for soap-free cleansers. They remove dirt as well as soap does but are gentler on skin.
Common spots for this inflammatory skin condition include the eyelids, elbows, back of the arms, knees and hands. Eczema’s skin inflammation and the resultant release of histamine trigger the itch. It results in red, itchy skin. Keep your hands off. People with chronic eczema suffer from the itch-scratch cycle, which just makes the itching worse, and are particularly prone to skin infections. Also, pop an over-the-counter antihistamine.
You slather on sunscreen and steer clear of UV rays, but there are still times when your skin looks like a lobster and gets prickly too. The body sees sunburn as an injury to the skin, so it releases an inflammatory cascade of molecules, each of which causes the skin to become more inflamed and itchy. The sun’s rays also break down the skin’s natural barrier, which dries it out. Apply an over-the-counter topical steroid like hydrocortisone 2-3 times a day to soothe the itch.
Fragrances are added to many products – lotions, deodorants, fabric softeners and detergents – to give them an enticing smell. If you have a genetic allergic reaction to these chemicals, it could be one of the causes of itchy, inflamed skin. Fragrance can directly irritate skin or stimulate an immune response, releasing substances that [fire up] the nerves for itching. Find the cause of your pain and steer clear. For example, if your laundry detergent is the culprit, look for one that’s free of perfume and dye. Choose products marked "unscented," not "fragrance free."
Sometimes itchiness lasts a long time and can be intense. As you rub or scratch the area, it gets itchier. And the more it itches, the more you scratch. Breaking this itch-scratch cycle can be difficult, but continued scratching can damage your skin or cause infection.
See your doctor or a skin disease specialist (dermatologist) if the itching lasts more than two weeks and doesn't improve with self-care measures. Or it is severe and distracts you from your daily routines or prevents you from sleeping.
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