It is common for people to suffer from itching at one point of time or the other. That is, under the watch strap, shirt cuff, tight ring, tight belt, areas where we sweat more, overgrown hairy area or while wearing unclean socks / under garments or when exposed to dust / chemical or from creeping insects or insect bites. These external factors will go off immediately if one eases the situation by giving a gentle scratch or rub. But the feeling of itchy caused due to the presence of internal diseases or allergic tendencies will not go off so easily. Here the itch makes one scratch more, which in turn leads to more itching and it becomes a cycle. Ultimately, one feels like there is a monster inside the body.
The ultimate reason for itching is to throw away the irritant (either internal or external) that annoys the part. The action may be a violent scratch or gentle rub of the part with or without nails. Since itching causes a very uncomfortable condition, the brain gives an impulse in a fraction of a second to the respective authority (hand or leg or the parts involved) to take necessary action to ease the affected part from the irritants. As all these mechanisms work to expel the disease force or foreign substance and prevent the disease from entering the body, itching can also be considered one of nature’s defence mechanism. In case of disease, itching will occur as one of the major symptoms. Itching can occur both in the initial stages and in the healing stages of the disease. In the initial stages, it occurs as a symptom and in healing stage, itching acts as a defence mechanism to root out the healed part of skin, since the falling healed swab will be identified as a foreign substance by the brain due to its loss of blood supply, dryness and peeling nature.
Incidences – Itching can occur anywhere in the body for anyone at any time. Depending upon the intensity of suffering and circumstances, adults can control itching without scratching, whereas children scratch immediately as it requires. Usually, itching tends to be worse in hot temperate climates, at night, after sweating, after undressing, after bath, etc. The commonest sites for itching are the scalp (dandruff, lice), beard (barbers itch), anus (pruritus ani), vagina (pruritus vulvae), groin (jock itch), body itch after bath (swimmer’s itch), in farmers ‘rice paddy itch’, etc.
Causes – The causes are innumerable i.e. from using soap, using unclean socks, to life- threating disease like cancer – all can cause itching. The most common causes are dryness and irritants (either chemicals or insects). The causes may be internal or external, likewise, localised or generalised.
- External causes – insect bites, parasites (lice, mite, worms, etc.), infections (bacterial or viral or fungal), dust / chemical allergy, topical drug application, water pollution or contamination, photosensitivity with exposure to hot sun, UV rays, infra red rays, etc.
- Internal causes –
Dryness (either due to disease or ageing), urticaria, eczema, psoriasis, allergic tendencies, lichen planus, prickly heat, acne, etc.
Systemic diseases which reflect itching as one of the symptoms are – liver disorders (jaundice), diabetes , thyroid problems, kidney problems (where urea remains high), blood disorders (increased as well as decreased values), blood vessels disorders (varicose veins), cancer, AIDS can cause itching and skin disorders. Likewise, allergic tendencies with diet or drugs can also cause itching.
- Physiological – hormonal changes occurring during pregnancy, menopause and ageing process
- Psychological – delusions
- Pathological – due to diseases
- The chemical cause for the itching in our body is mainly due to the histamine release in that area.
- Unpleasant feeling – tickling, pricking, creeping, annoying
- Uncontrollabe scratching
- Burning pain after scratching
- Restlessness and irritability, causing disturbances in work and sleep
- Control scracthing
- Wash / clean the part
- Use moisturiser to avoid dryness of skin
- Keep nails short and trimmed
- Maintain personal hygeine / cleanliness
- Dry the sweat fast
- Have a good shower twice a day
- Wear loose cotton underclothes / dresses
- A lot of water to keep good body hydration
- Fresh fruits and vegetables for healthy skin especially carrot, apple, pineapple, papaya, orange, lime, cherry, ginger, beet root, spinach, etc.
- Vitamins A, C and zinc supplements for healthy skin
- Long time exposure to direct sunlight and hot places
- Tight fitting / synthetic clothes
- Undue sweating
- Allergic substances – food / soaps / pollen / chemicals / drugs
- Strong soaps, powders, perfumes
- Hot bath
- Stimulants – coffee, alcohol, smoking and chewing tobacco
- Preservative added tin packed foods / drinks
- Unnecessary medications
Itching as such won’t produce any complication i.e. if one resists the temptation to scratch or manages temporarily with just simple and slight rub, to stop the itching temporarily. But when itching gets suppressed with ointments or is scratched with nails or gets infected in the scratched area, then complications begin. The first and foremost one is burning pain as if the injured skin is rubbed against chillies. Also, since it arises mostly as a subjective feeling with uncontrollable character, it won’t let one concentrate on any other activity. It can also develop into sleep disorder. Itching can also lead to eczema or other skin disorders. Even though it is bothersome, unless otherwise suppressed, it won’t lead to serious illnesses.
Saying is easy and following is tough. This is wholly true about itching. Everyone who advises to stop itching does not realise the actual discomfort of the sufferer. Likewise, the pleasure of scratching (?) cannot be understood by others as it is felt by the sufferers. The sufferer will be led to great frustration if one attempts to suppress the temptation to scratch.