Make. It. Stop.
October 3, 2012 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Lady-filter: ladies, have you experienced formication (not fornication, alas) possibly due to perimenopause? If so, how did you treat it? Itching is making me crazy!!

I have major formication on my head and neck, and sometimes on my arms, and it seems to be getting more frequent. (Am in my early 40s.) A year ago, I first high-tailed it to the dermatologist when I thought it might be lice, but she checked and found nothing, not even dandruff or a rash ("the only thing I see is a few red marks where you scratched," she said).

So she tested me for 29 allergens, and found nothing. (I had already switched to an anti-allergen shampoo; nothing). She then sent me to an allergy specialist, who tested me for 100 more allergens; nothing. They prescribed *peering at labels* Clobetasol, Betamethasone, and Triamcinolone; nada.

So doing some research, including here on Metafilter, I'm thinking that it could be due to perimenopause. Ok, fine. BUT HOW DO I GET RID OF IT?! It used to occur only every few days, but now barely a half-day goes by without scratching like crazy, and go I nuts at work meetings trying not to scratch.

I've just made an appointment with my gyno, and hopefully he'll have a solution. The two dermos, and my GP, all seemed to think that it was just an allergen that hadn't been discovered yet, especially since it's limited to my head and neck. But the research I've done, such as this article, seems to say "well the good news is, it'll eventually disappear." Aaaagh!! Anyway, before I see the doctor I was hoping that the hive mind would have some wisdom, or experience, on this subject. Was there a certain medication that helped? Did you try a different approach, such as acupuncture?

Oh, and one other data point: I'm on birth control pills, the same ones for 20+ years. The last time I went to the gyno I discussed other possible perimenopause symptoms I thought I was having (weird memory lapses, darker, stranger periods), he said that that was weird because the pills should mask all perimenopausal symptoms due to their hormone content, or something. So maybe the formication is something else, I don't know. I just want it to stop.

Thanks, Metafilter!
posted by Melismata to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure it's the same thing (and def. not peri menopausal-related) but I had a horrible itchy leg problem a few years ago. No apparent cause, probably just started with basic dryness, but I could not stop feeling like my legs were super itchy and scratched like crazy. So much so I was doing it in my sleep until they bled. The doc suggested I try antihistamines, that basically all of the scratching triggered greater histamine responses that were spiraling up over and over. So maybe that would help the response, if not the original thing, until it goes away?

Also if this is your head and neck, could it be something with your pillow?
posted by marylynn at 10:02 PM on October 3, 2012

Have you ever been seen by a neurologist?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:57 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: More data:

I take allegra for other allergies, doesn't seem to make a difference. I have tried different pillows. I have not been seen by a neurologist.
posted by Melismata at 5:31 AM on October 4, 2012

Are you on Allegra D? Been on any Zyrtec lately? Some people report itching as a withdrawal symptom from Zyrtec.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:53 AM on October 4, 2012

Best answer: If it makes you feel any better, I'm in my early 40s and I have this, too, almost exclusively in the evening. Some of it is nerve-related; my left hand has a burning, itching palm almost all the time, but that's because of bad technology habits. The unceasing all-body itch doesn't appear to be related to anything, as far as I can tell. Sometimes I'll itch and scratch for 30 minutes and then it's over.

FWIW, my GP thinks it's related to anxiety. I am being treated for anxiety, but I also think that any time a women goes to the doctor with symptoms that are hard to diagnose, they say it's anxiety.

On the other hand, I have a friend who went through the same thing at around our age, got tested and was found to be gluten intolerant. I don't know if your allergy testing looked at that in particular.
posted by looli at 7:10 AM on October 4, 2012

Yeah, I haven't had recurrent itching, specifically, but a lot of symptoms I was accruing that appeared to be perimenopausal went away when I started a paleo diet, so if this is as bad as you say and resistant to antihistamines, it might be worth a few weeks of that or some related variant "elimination"-style diet --- get rid of grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, then maintain (like paleo, adding more protein and good fats) or try adding back one thing at a time. An amazing number of body systems are affected by our diets and how our bodies react to them (e.g., inflammation), and I think that things we can get away with at 20 can start to be too much for our systems at 40-mumblety.

I hate to be an evangelist for the paleo lifestyle, but honestly, I made the switch to see if it would help with mid-day muffin cravings and/or some scalp issues, and so many things feel better that I'm never going back. (And I ate Cheerios for breakfast almost every day for 40 years.)
posted by acm at 7:31 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So true, looli!! All of the doctors have said "it could be stress related, why don't you try eliminating stress from your life." Uh huh.
posted by Melismata at 8:30 AM on October 4, 2012

Best answer: I get the itching sometimes, as well as other symptoms that could be perimenopausal and the doctor talking about stress. Sigh.
Anyways, all symptoms disappear when I lose weight. The specific diet doesn't make any difference, but I prefer going vegetarian for shorter or longer periods of time. If / when I gain weight again, for instance while traveling or in other situations where I can't completely control my food intake, the symptoms come back at a lesser weight than before. Deep sigh.
posted by mumimor at 1:06 PM on October 4, 2012

Along the lines of the antihistamine suggestion, I find that the 'newer' antihistamines (Allegra, Zyrtec, Claritin) don't work as well for as does old-fashioned Benadryl. Zyrtec is enough for me most days, for chronic hay fever and allergic itchiness, but sometimes Benadryl is required. Of course, that means drowsiness, but for me, it's totally worth it. Plus it might help you sleep at night.

I don't think this addresses your desire to find the cause; it's only a suggestion to treat the symptoms. Your doctor could prescribe other stronger antihistamines (hydroxyzine is one that comes to mind) if you get better, but incomplete, relief from benadryl.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:41 PM on October 4, 2012

Have you actually seen an internal medicine doctor? It sounds like you have only seen a dermatologist, and the problem with that is that dermatologists only think about dermatology, and allergists only think about allergies, but there are potential systemic illnesses that can cause symptoms like the ones you're having.

I don't mean to freak you out, but for example, here's an article on pruritus and systemic disease. (I think your Googling may have been led astray by using the term "formication", which is specifically the sensation that there are bugs crawling on you, whereas it sounds like you are aware there are no bugs crawling on you and only thought you had lice because you were trying to think of an explanation for why you were so itchy)

I'm not saying you actually have cancer or something, but I am saying that when you're having a problem for which multiple physiologic systems might be the cause, it makes a lot more sense to see a generalist first (and let them refer you to specialists using their broad knowledge base and training in general internal medicine) instead of hopping around from specialist to specialist (based on your best guess of what system is involved based on internet research).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:03 PM on October 4, 2012

Response by poster: No, it definitely feels like bugs crawling, in addition the regular itching. I went to the dermatologist because my GP was even more useless (see "stress" above). Thanks for the suggestions.
posted by Melismata at 5:44 AM on October 5, 2012

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