There are two ways to deal with itchy skin — you can try to relieve the symptoms, or you can work to treat the underlying causes. Both strategies accomplish the same end goal — stopping frequent, oh-no-there-it-is-again! itch suffering. But itchy skin treatment options that target the source can provide longer-lasting relief.
This article will discuss treatment options and what you can expect. As always, consult with your doctor for further clarification. We know how convenient Dr. Internet is, but not all treatment protocols are appropriate for every cause, so a proper diagnosis is essential.
Treating Dry, Itchy Skin
Dry skin is a frequent, easily treatable itch-generator. Any number of external and internal factors can cause rough, bumpy patches of dry skin to appear, including environmental temperature and humidity variations, hot, extended showers, harsh detergents, soaps, and skincare products, and conditions like eczema. Frequent handwashing and heavy use of hand sanitizer can also cause chronic dry skin (keratosis pilaris.) We’re looking at you, COVID-19.
Short, lukewarm showers or baths will help keep your skin healthy. Use an itch relief shampoo and body wash that’s free of fragrances, dyes, and other harsh chemicals like parabens and phthalates. After toweling off, protect your skin with a hypoallergenic, moisturizing itch relief cream to relieve itchy skin symptoms and help hold moisture in the skin.
Your doctor may suggest a topical corticosteroid preparation to ease the underlying causes of your red, itchy skin. This can range from mild, over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams to a more aggressive, prescription itchy skin treatment. Prescription steroid creams come in many strengths and are typically prescribed in cream or ointment form. Your doctor will tailor the strength of the steroid to the severity of your skin condition These medications work to meter the body’s inflammatory response, lessening redness, swelling, and allergic reactions.
Topical corticosteroids work from the outside in. Oral antihistamines work from the inside out. Your doctor might recommend a non-drowsy medication like fexofenadine (Allegra) or loratadine (Claritin). Or they may prescribe an oral sedating antihistamine like diphenhydramine or hydroxyzine. Whereas topical treatments only affect the skin they’re applied to, oral medications effect the desired response throughout the body.
Additional Itchy Skin Treatment Medications
Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor might suggest a calcineurin inhibitor like pimecrolimus (Elidel) or tacrolimus (Protopic), or a new class of prescription steroid free cream called crisaborole (Eucrisa). These reduce inappropriate immune responses that can lead to itchy, uncomfortable skin.
In some instances, a physician might recommend topical medications like doxepin or capsaicin (the molecule that lends the spice to foods like jalapenos). These relieve symptoms more than they treat the cause of the itch.
When looking for itchy skin treatment for sudden onset itching from something like poison ivy, oak or sumac for example, sometimes an oral steroid may be advised depending on the severity of the reaction.
Other Ways to Treat Itchy Skin
People with severe chronic itchy skin caused by eczema that are not improving with topical medications have long yearned for a new way to treat itchy skin. A new prescription injectable medication called dupilumab (Dupixent) has had very promising results and really improved patients’ quality of life by decreasing itch and improving sleep.
Research has shown that certain antidepressants, like fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft) can treat chronic itchy skin symptoms in patients that don’t respond to topical preparations or oral antihistamines. The precise mechanisms aren’t entirely understood yet, but it’s possible that antidepressants help reduce stress, a condition that can cause itchy skin and exacerbate existing issues. This brings us to our last suggestion.
When you’re stressed out, do you bite your nails, pick your skin, bite your cheeks, crack your knuckles, or…scratch your skin? These body-focused repetitive behaviors can be symptoms of ADHD, but they’re also common stress responses. Stress can heighten your sensitivity to external factors and drive damaging behaviors. Reducing stress is an itchy skin treatment that doesn’t involve medications but can be very effective.
Try a hobby that relaxes you, exercise regularly, visit with friends and family (virtually if necessary), or adopt a yoga or meditation practice. Treatments for stress are just as varied as potential causes. Find something that works for you, and you may discover a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of your itchy skin symptoms. You’ll also increase your happiness quotient, and that’s worth any amount of effort.
When treating itchy skin with a prescription or non-prescription medication, many physicians will reiterate the importance of avoiding skin irritants like fragrance and dyes in commonly used household items that come in contact with your skin. Some of the most common offenders that contain irritating ingredients are detergents, dryer sheets, shampoo, body wash, and moisturizing creams.