Body itching in certain places - WHY!
June 12, 2018 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I have been experiencing itching on certain areas of my body and I can't figure out "why".

For the last 2 years or so, my allergies have been ever-worsening, particularly in the winter.

At first, this took the form of coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, stuffy nose, etc. and I saw my family doctor and he suggested an over-the-counter steroid nasal spray (to be used sparingly as needed). I had also been taking "Cetirizine Hydrochloride" tablets (Reactine) which I continued to take very regularly (twice daily).

When I weaned off the spray/tablets in the spring, because my breathing was normal again, I noticed a sort of secondary allergic reaction, which is itchy patches in certain places on my body. I have created a little diagram here.

If I take the antihistamine, the itching will fade within 30 minutes.

If I give in to the itching, I end up with raised skin but only in the areas that i have scratched, kind of like this. There aren't any well-defined spots/blobs/circles/patches that I have seen when I search for "hives" - the raised/red skin is only where my nails have scratched.

I don't think it's related to detergent/shampoo/soap as I've not changed brands in ages and I obviously wash more bodily areas than those that itch. The symptoms have popped up in a variety of places: home, work, other people's homes, on vacation in another country. I really started noticing them in the spring, but it's possible they're present year-round but I keep them at bay in the winter by being more diligent with the antihistamines.

I know I can keep taking the antihistamines, and talk to my doctor again, but I wondered if this had happened to anyone else - particularly in the areas of the body that I've highlighted? Any clues would be helpful. (I can't figure out how to Google that particular collection of body parts as I'm not sure what they have in common - if you know an all-encompassing term, that would be great too.)
posted by cranberrymonger to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When this happened to me a couple of years ago, it was that I'd developed an allergy to my laundry detergent of record.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:20 AM on June 12, 2018

Try Seventh Generation free and clear if you want to try a fairly safe laundry detergent.

However, it looks like it might be your shampoo/conditioner - you've highlighted your head/scalp, and your back and thighs, which are places the shampoo/conditioner would be difficult to rinse completely off.

For less allergenic shampoo and conditioner, I recommend Stony Brook unscented or JASON unscented. They've become harder to get, but TOTALLY WORTH IT to order through the mail if you can do it.

I've seriously looked around for unscented shampoos and conditioners (I avoid fragrances and propylene glycol, which some people are allergic to) and they are not easy to find, even in Chicago and Chapel Hill NC. The one brand I found has a lot of aloe in it (Desert Essence), and it's fine, but not perfect for me. If you want to save time searching, just order them.
posted by amtho at 10:36 AM on June 12, 2018

My cousin developed an allergy to her shampoo mid-bottle. One day she was fine and when she used it the next day she got hives everywhere. So don't rule out detergent/shampoo/soap.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 10:40 AM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

The only all-encompassing term I can think of is, "reachable with hands."

First, use clean soaps for a while and see if that's it. Second (or at the same time), I would try lotion to rule out dry skin.

I get hives and take H2 antihistamines when they flare up, which works for the most part and doesn't make me sleepy. These H2 pills are sold as acid reducers and I've read recently that some of these are hard on the kidneys under frequent/daily use, but they may be worth a try (and they aren't going to burn out your kidneys on the first go).

Long story short, sometimes I think I'm getting hives that turn out to be dry skin after I use lotion, and when they don't, Zantac does a pretty good job. If the itching doesn't respond to either of these, I take two or three Benadryl at night and go to bed early.
posted by rhizome at 10:40 AM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh - for soap, I recommend an unscented glycerin soap.

For lotion, Aveeno unscented seems good.
posted by amtho at 11:08 AM on June 12, 2018

I have a skin reaction to Zyrtec, which is the most common Cetirizine brand stateside. So you may want to switch antihistimines.

If it isn't that: Eliminate laundry detergent, soap, and shampoo, (replacing them with hypo-allergenic dye-and-scent-free versions) in that order. After that I'd actually start with a food elimination diet - I have topical reactions to a couple food additives (flavorings derived from flowers) that can manifest this way.

Allergies are weird.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:22 AM on June 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is very familiar to me. One of the worst parts about developing frozen shoulder was not being able to scratch my back easily. I use everything as unscented and hypoallergenic as possible, and I still get itchng in most of the same places as you do. My doctor says it's classic allergy symptoms. I had a big whopping set of scratch tests done, and the worst culprits were pollen, dust, and trees.

"Trees?" I asked? "Just... trees, in general?"

"Oh, no," the doctor replied. "Not all trees. Just the ones that grow in this part of the country."

I tried getting allergy shots, but I just couldn't keep up with the appointment schedule. Singulair during allergy season helps a lot, and Gold Bond spray with lidocaine and benzethonium chloride is also good.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:18 PM on June 12, 2018

When something like this happened to me, it was good ol' eczema, kicked off by a very bad reaction to a brand-new duvet cover that I slept under before washing it. Until that point, I'd only rarely experienced dyshidrotic eczema on my hands (not that I knew what it was). I know eczema usually occurs at the "corners" of the body, but my outbreaks always start on the softest parts of my legs and stomach, not in areas that are normally dry like my knees and elbows. Anyway, are you regularly moisturizing your body with a fragrance-free lotion like Cerave? Do you use bar soap? (If so, switch to a gentle shower gel.) Are you using fragrance-free laundry detergent? Watch out for dryer sheets, too. And launder all new clothes before you wear them.
posted by neushoorn at 12:22 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, itching from antihistamine withdrawal, I think cetirizine especially, is a real and terribly cruel thing.
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:36 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ok this may be off base, but your description of your hives remind me of dermatographia, specifically that you say the skin is red only where your nails have scratched. I have generally bad allergies but also dermatographia when I don’t take a daily antihistamine. Friction from clothes can cause it and cold or warmth make it worse, and of course if I itch I just get itchier. When I was a teenager and not taking Zyrtec every day, I could write my name on myself. This could also fit with the areas that itch being the areas you can reach with your hands.
posted by MadamM at 7:24 PM on June 12, 2018

I also have a bunch of allergies and dermatographia, generally the same situation as MadamM. I am not sure whether this is your issue, but to deal with itchy patches like you are describing (mine are mainly on my back) I use daily antihistimines and Aveeno's unscented lotion with colloidal oatmeal, occasionally mixed with some coconut oil when the flare ups are extra bad.

You might also want to consider food allergies or sensitivities. I have not conclusively figured this out for myself but steering clear of milk and tomatoes seems to really help my itchy skin...

Good luck!
posted by DTMFA at 10:21 PM on June 12, 2018

I get hives mostly on the right side of my body if I eat wheat. Why the right side of my body and not the left? Why my skin? I ate the cake, I didn't bathe in it!

Bodies are weird. Allergies are super weird. Consider all the suggestions about hypoallergenic body products and laundry cleaners, but don't rule out foods or pollens or even the ever present and cursed dust mite. If your antihistimines eliminate the symptoms, then consider yourself lucky. If you continue to have breathing problems despite the antihistimines, see your doctor again.

(And look up the symptoms for anaphylaxis so that if your allergies ever get that bad, you'll recognise it and know to ask for an Epi-pen.)
posted by happyturtle at 11:21 AM on June 13, 2018

Thanks to everyone for your input. It was really helpful to read the anecdotes and the consensus that ALLERGIES ARE WEIRD.

I'm particularly thankful to learn from Mefites about itching from antihistamine withdrawal (yealikethat), that allergic triggers can include cold/warmth/friction (MadamM), that symptoms can appear quite spontaneously (Constance Mirabella) and in an illogical pattern that has no apparent connection to the suspected cause (happyturtle).

I was driving myself crazy trying to determine "a cause" for this, but it sounds like there's not a magic bullet and I just need to continue the trial-and-error / attack it from all angles method.

I was already using unscented detergent - but had not considered the concept of "hypoallergenic" on top of that. There are a lot of natural product shops near where I work, so I will be checking out the product/brand recommendations mentioned here. I have never had a dietary allergy that I'm aware of, but that's another set of data to track.

Looks like I have some homework! Thanks again Mefi. At least I have some concrete suggestions now.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:20 PM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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