Itch attacks are taking over. Help me figure this out!
September 23, 2016 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out what's causing incessant itching and how to control it.

Several times a week, I experience intense itchiness on my body. Typically this occurs on my back, front, and legs.

Possible triggers: I notice that itching will often be triggered when I expose my skin to air; in the past, cold winter air would give me itchy welts on my cheeks, thighs, and bottom. This hasn't happened recently, but now the itch attacks occur when getting undressed in the evening, for example, when my skin is exposed for a minute or two.

Sometimes the itching will begin when I'm fully dressed, though. Usually my back is the first to start itching and then it spreads. My skin gets red with small bumps during this. It's almost a painful feeling. It feels like my body is on fire sometimes.

Photos of my skin during these attacks:





I'm allergic to dust, some types of mold, several trees, and furry pets. I have asthma. I'm on long term steroids for asthma, and temporarily on beta blockers for a thyroid issue. I haven't found an allergy pill that does a whole lot for these allergies.

This issue has typically been worse in winter (Minnesota winters, so very cold) but I've had countless itch attacks this past summer. Itching in general has been an on-and-off issue for many years. The only thing that brings relief is rubbing myself all over with one of those dry brushes meant for exfoliation. A derm once recommended a dry skin oil based body wash and a thick cream after. It helped some but he problem persists. Anyone have experience with this?
posted by sucre to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First thing that comes to mind is this:
posted by aecorwin at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2016

One of my body's reactions to gluten (or wheat or FODMAPs or whatever it is) is intense itching and skin bumps. If this has been happening regularly, a couple times a week, it wouldn't hurt anything to cut gluten-y things out of your diet for a week or so. I would expect any changes to take at least a few days.

Datapoint, out.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:55 PM on September 23, 2016

Congratulations! It's excema!
posted by bq at 2:15 PM on September 23, 2016

Have you tried combining an H2-antihistamine such as Zantac with an H1-antihistamine such as Zyrtec?
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 2:38 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have something similar and it is related to stress. It itches so bad! Dr gave me a prescription cream and prescription anti-histamine. Helps if I take the med as soon as it starts itching.

Alternately, I went through a period of time with a similar rash and it turned out to be something I was putting on my hair and then transferring it to other places with my hands. You might try going a week without using ANY hair or skin products.

It is possible to be allergic to cold as my daughter had this when she was younger. But it was usually contained to areas of exposed skin when outside in very cold weather. For example, if she had a gap between her gloves and her jacket while playing in the snow, the exposed skin would welp.
posted by tamitang at 2:40 PM on September 23, 2016

It looks like cold urticaria to me. My daughter had it last winter after a sore throat virus. The virus got better and a few days later she started to get these hives reactions to cold. We live in Scotland and it was November and antihistamines are generally not effective so you can imagine how fun it was.... Apparently you can get it more commonly after glandular fever, though I don't know if that was what the throat thing was (she was 9 and it passed in 10 days whatever it was). Warming up in the shower returned her to normal, does that work for you?

Another thought is that your forearms look like they are releasing a lot of histamines in response to your scratching - this is a separate but related thing I forget the name of but is more common in people who generally have allergies.

A trip to the doctor would probably be best bit cold urticaria anyway typically passes in a few weeks to months.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 2:49 PM on September 23, 2016

The thing you're thinking of, intergalacticvelvet, is dermatographism, and yeah, all four photos definitely look like they show evidence of that.

So 1. Really try to limit your scratching, however much you may itch. You have to find out the cause and address the symptoms.

2. To treat the symptoms, try artistic verisimilitude's advice above to combine H2 and H1 blockers, though I wouldn't suggest Zyrtec, which has been reported to lead to worse itching for many people when you withdraw from it (this happened to me). I'd recommend Zantac plus Allegra, personally, unless you really can't live without drinking orange juice or other citrus every morning.

3. To get at the cause, go to a dermatologist and get an allergic contact dermatitis test, e.g. the TRUE test. The test can be a little bit of a pain, because they stick it on your back and you can't take it off (so really can't shower much and can't take antihistamines) for a couple days. But it's totally worth it, as it checks different allergens than allergists' prick tests do. If you haven't had a prick test, though, that would also be worth it to check for food and plant allergies. (I couldn't tell whether you knew you were allergic to the things you listed because you'd been tested or because you had a reaction previously.) The other thing to have them test: Have them scrape your feet for fungus. They should be able to tell you there in the office whether you have athlete's foot. You could potentially be having an id reaction (short for dermatophytid, meaning you're reacting to dermatophytes, or fungus).

4. Figure out a course of action from there. Once you have the results of the above tests, then you can act accordingly. If it's an id reaction, then A. you treat the fungus with a prescription cream and B. you apply a topical prescription corticosteroid to the spots on the rest of your body that have the rash if it's gotten bad enough. (If it's bad enough for the latter, you really want to be sparing with the cream, as it can cause major weight gain.) But if you find out you're simply allergic to certain foods, plants, or chemicals, then you'll want to read the labels on every single product you use and find substitutes for the ones that contain something to which you react. In my case, I had no food allergies, but I had to find replacements for everything I owned that contained formaldehyde resin or formaldehyde-releasing products.

Those steps, plus a prescription for a heavy antihistamine, Atarax, for nighttime use as needed, helped stop my rashes for the most part for a couple years. Then they came back last summer in an uncontrollable fashion. That time, it turned out I had an id reaction to athlete's foot. I got athlete's foot because it was my first summer working from home and I spent it walking around the house barefoot. So from there, the steps were to treat the athlete's foot; always wear socks and sandals or shoes around the house; and clean all the floors and shower or tub surfaces with vinegar to kill fungus. This worked, and I am again fairly itch-free.

But yeah, you could be reacting to your clothing rubbing against your skin (since it does look like you have dermatographism). You could be reacting to taking off your clothing, which releases pressure on your skin (that makes me itch sometimes, too, even though it may seem paradoxical). You could be reacting to the cold, as others have mentioned. You could be reacting to something you're using on your clothing. You could be reacting to a product you're washing with or putting on your skin after your shower, or something you use to wash your towels. You could be experiencing severe dry skin and be in need of lotion; part of my issue was that 1. my skin was dry and 2. the Lubriderm lotion I was using initially to deal with that, per my doctor's recommendation, turned out to include something I was allergic to. So I would hydrate and hydrate my skin, and that would make the condition worse and worse. Now I do still put lotion all over my body after I shower, but it's all-natural and doesn't contain the FRPs to which I'm allergic.

I would list some of the natural products I now use, but as someone who tried changing the products I was using first, before getting allergy tested, I would now strongly recommend doing it the other way around. Find out what you're actually sensitive to first, then change the products you're using or the clothes you're wearing or whatever else accordingly. If you do get tested while this question is still open, please report back, and maybe we can help you source some products that might work!
posted by limeonaire at 6:04 PM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

From those pictures, I'd say you have dermatographic urticaria; my partner had it for years, but lately it's subsided. Two things I hadn't seen before and mentioned in the linked article are that it can be triggered by sucralose and:
Dermographism may occur in Mastocytosis (systemic mast cell proliferation).
posted by jamjam at 6:08 PM on September 23, 2016

Dryer sheets suddenly started doing that to me a couple years ago.
posted by heyho at 6:23 PM on September 23, 2016

A family member had massive hives and itching, it turned out to be she had started drinking a coffee that had chicory in it.

I use laundry soap with no fragrance, use less of it than recommended, so it rinses out of my clothes well. Some laundry machines can give you a second rinse. I use "lotion" that is just 1/2 coconut oil and grapeseed oil, with some tangerine oil for vague fragrance. I put this on when I am still wet. I would not dream of using dryer sheets. Good luck and keep a foods journal, and an itching journal, don't pay too much attention, to it. After a month see what you ate the day before and during your worst days.
posted by Oyéah at 7:48 PM on September 23, 2016

Thank you so much, everyone! Just as an experiment, I've been taking 2 generic Claritin every morning (I've always tried this in the past, but it's been for pet allergies and itchy eyes; I've never tried it specifically for the full-body itching). I started this on Saturday and now it's Wednesday; no intense itching at all! So, I still don't know the cause, but it's wonderful to be able to control the itching for now. Thanks again!
posted by sucre at 4:57 PM on September 28, 2016

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