Pruritus, a Latin word for Â“itchingÂ”, is a medical term used for that undesirable feeling or sensation that excites the person to scratch. It is the most common dermatologic symptom which can be generalized or localized itching, crawling, burning or stinging sensations. It can cause so much discomfort and frustrations.
Pruritus, a Latin word for “itching”, is a medical term used for that undesirable feeling or sensation that excites the person to scratch. It is the most common dermatologic symptom which can be generalized or localized itching, crawling, burning or stinging sensations. It can cause so much discomfort and frustrations. Severe itching can affect the person’s activity of daily living causing anxiety, depression and sleep disturbance.
Itching is said to be a modified form of pain. It is believed that itching involves a complex process between the reaction of the nerves to the chemicals released in the skin such as the histamine and the delivery of signals to the brain. Pruritus can be due to skin problems; a secondary symptom of a disease; or may be unknown.
Generalized pruritus refers to the overall itching of the body and specific location may not be pointed directly. The most common cause of generalized pruritus is the xerosis or the excessive dryness of the skin, as in overbathing especially in the elderly, senile degeneration complicated by irritation with soaps, lotion and low humidity. This can also be due to the underlying serious disease such as lymphomas, neoplasms, Hodgkin’billiary disease and diabetes mellitus; stress and emotional factors; and chemical irritants such as medications including aspirin, opiates, codeine and morphine sulfate.
Localized pruritus refers to a specific area of the body where itching is focused and it can be easily diagnosed as compared to the generalized type. Causes include scab healing or scar growth; insect bites; althlete’s foot; sunburn; rashes due to chicken pox, contact dermatitis and hives; irritation of skin due to shaving, clothing texture and dust; chemicals from cosmetic products; and parasitic infection including lice in the scalp and pubic area.
Treatment and Preventive Measures
• External irritants such as occupational contactants, chemical products and rough-textured clothing must be avoided.
• Soaps and detergents should not be used by persons with dry or irritated skin. Use mild soap or hypoallergenic soaps such as Oilatum bar.
• Baths containing a small amount of bath oil may be used.
• Nails should be kept trimmed and clean
• Avoid scratching, if possible.
• Apply Calamine lotion to the itchy area to prevent scratching
• Unnecessary medications should be discontinued since medication itself often causes pruritus. Consult and ask advice from your doctor regarding this matter.
• Use lukewarm water when bathing 15 minutes, 2-3 times daily but for elderly with dry skin, bath should be infrequently as possible.
• When drying your skin, don’t rub it with the towel. Only pat dry the skin lightly.
• If the skin is too dry, wet the skin and apply petroleum jelly or petrolatum to the wet itchy area to trap the moisture.
• Useful bath formulations are as follows:
- Tar bath: Dissolve 50-100 of coal tar solution in 1 tubful (50 gallons) of warm water
- Bath Oils such as Nivea skin oil, Alpha Keri & Domol: 5-25 ml in 1 tubful (50 gallons of warm water)
• Bubble baths should be avoided if with pruritic symptoms.
Elimination of external factors and irritating agents is often successful in giving complete relief of pruritus. Pruritus accompanying specific skin disease will subside when the disease is brought under control.
American Academy of Dermatology
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