You'll be itchin' like a hound, the minute you start to mess around...
November 19, 2007 5:36 AM   Subscribe

ItchFilter.

Over the past few weeks, I've developed a rather nasty itch. I haven't changed detergent or soap recently, and I haven't been anywhere near nature so it's not poison ivy or anything like that. So, I'm thinking it's something I picked up at work.

I unload and sort product at a large second hand bookstore. A large portion of the books brought in are old and covered in lots of dust, others are brought in often in garbage bags by homeless and other street people who aren't all that clean themselves. The boxes and garbage bags they bring the stuff in is often moldy, dusty, or even sticky. By the end of the day my arms, shoulders and lower legs are itchy as all hell. There's redness but that's probably from me scratching. I've also worked in dirty enviornments before and never got anything like this. I'm wondering what I picked up and what I can do about it.

(I recognize all the usual caveats; YANAD, no substitute for medical care etc. I'm just looking for ideas to maybe avoid all that if possible)
posted by jonmc to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
 
IAsoNAD.

Sounds like dermatitis. I think you need to a) see a doctor and b) try to keep the dust off your skin. Wear long sleeves, have a shower as soon as you're done work, and find out about some medicated cream to rub on.
posted by Dasein at 5:39 AM on November 19, 2007


I have no idea what itching disease is carried by dust, so I'm going to ask the super obvious question and inquire as to whether you've been lotioning up? Winter often brings on scaly skin that needs moisturization after every shower/bath.

Also, try hydrocortisone cream. It does - eventually - thin the skin, but as long as you aren't using whole tubes of it every week for years on end you're probably fine. One tube lasts forever, and Aveeno makes a super fancy calamine kind if you've got the dosh.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:43 AM on November 19, 2007


Response by poster: I have no idea what itching disease is carried by dust, so I'm going to ask the super obvious question and inquire as to whether you've been lotioning up?

No. I 've never used lotion. Aside from the itching my skins OK. I'm more worried I picked up something from one of the homeless guys.
posted by jonmc at 5:48 AM on November 19, 2007


Could the used books have dust mites, to which you are having a reaction?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:51 AM on November 19, 2007


Try the lotion, especially if you're touching paper all day. It wicks moisture out of your skin like you wouldn't believe.
posted by sugarfish at 6:08 AM on November 19, 2007


This isn't intended to sound all hygiene-hysterical, but do you wear gloves when you're touching all these dusty, musty, moldy books?
posted by bassjump at 6:32 AM on November 19, 2007


Response by poster: sugarfish, I worked in a regular chain bookstore for five years and never had anything like this, so I'm wondering if it's another X factor.
posted by jonmc at 6:33 AM on November 19, 2007


Do you have sores at all? Could it be impetigo?
posted by infinityjinx at 6:37 AM on November 19, 2007


jonmc, I spent 5 winters in my early 30s thinking I had weird winter allergies, dermatitis, and even early stage shingles, despite what various doctors and dermatologists I consulted told me: that my skin was dry, because it was winter and I was getting older. Eventually, out of sheer misery, and a complete failure to find a high priced, difficult to administer, and possibly toxic cure with terrible side effects, for my disease, I finally took the advice I'd been repeatedly given, and smeared on $0.10 worth of Vaseline Intensive Care lotion. Just to say, finally, that I had.

Problem solved. Or at least so greatly mitigated as to be unnoticeable thereafter, to the point that, every November, for the last 20 years, I just reach for the lotion, and keep smearing it around, every morning, until the following April. YMMV.
posted by paulsc at 6:51 AM on November 19, 2007


Yeah, try the lotion. Used books are a lot messier than new ones. If it doesn't work, see a doctor, but lotion is a lot cheaper.
posted by languagehat at 6:54 AM on November 19, 2007


Nthing "You're getting older and your skin is changing" and "You're in a different environment". Lube up and see what happens.
posted by maudlin at 6:58 AM on November 19, 2007


Response by poster: Lube up and see what happens.

If I only had a nickel for every time someone said that to me...

I'll give it a try. Thanks guys.
posted by jonmc at 7:09 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wash your hands a lot, too.
posted by tristeza at 7:26 AM on November 19, 2007


This is the time of year when I have to start putting lotion on at night because I get so dry/itchy and it keeps me awake. (This only started a couple years ago for me ... old age, I guess.) So yes, try moisturizing and see if that helps.
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:26 AM on November 19, 2007


1.Avoid the dust-skin contact where possible, wash the dust off when you can, and then lotion immediately after, since soap is drying and if dryness is the problem then washing a lot will make it worse. When you wash, use lukewarm water rather than scalding hot - scalding hot will make you itchier.

2. Winter dryness - lotion after showering in the AM, lotion itchy areas at night, plus drink water. (Different lotions work for different people, so if you hate the first one you try, try a few different ones since they vary in greasiness a lot. Try an unscented one, to avoid introducing other possible things that could bother your skin. I like Alba Botanica Very Emollient; not too greasy, and unscented.)

3.It does sound like what I get with dust allergy sometimes; you could try taking an OTC allergy medicine like Claritin and see if that helps cut it down (in addition to lotioning).
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:38 AM on November 19, 2007


Anecdotal evidence filter: I developed a contact (skin) allergy to old dust-and-must after working for awhile unpacking/processing dusty, 30-year-old books. My supervisor said the same had happened to him after a few years on the job; he actually ended up needing a nasal inhaler as well. Use gloves, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and change clothes as soon as you get home!
posted by sock it to me monkey at 8:08 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, try hydrocortisone cream. It does - eventually - thin the skin, but as long as you aren't using whole tubes of it every week for years on end you're probably fine. One tube lasts forever, and Aveeno makes a super fancy calamine kind if you've got the dosh.

I've been told by more than one doctor that it would be just about impossible to thin skin with 1% hydrocortisone, even with very heavy usage. Otherwise, I'd second the advice above, I think you just need to lather up -

I will also recommend (as Lobstermitten does) you buy small or sample sizes of several brands to experiment with - As someone with incredibly dry skin, I know that one person's magic balm is another's don't-ever-allow-that-dispenser-near-me-again moment - I'd rub lacquer thinner on before Vaseline Intensive Care, but that's me, I'm a Curel guy.

Hydrocortisone can be a good "every now and then" treatment for flare ups - try the ointment rather than the cream - a bit greasier but it can be more soothing, especially in cold weather - Also, look for products with Lanolin, they can be gooey but very restorative.
posted by jalexei at 8:43 AM on November 19, 2007


jalexel and lobstermitten make a good point--I have eczema which developed suddenly about a year and a half ago. Lots of drugstore lotions just seemed to make it worse; my dermatologist suggested avoiding anything with vitamin E (a common irritant, she said!) or lanolin. And that's probably 95% of available lotions, so it took me a while. I wound up with Gloves in a Bottle, which is something called a "barrier lotion," and is popular with medical assistants, quilters, knitters, and other people who touch annoying stuff with their hands. So that might be worth a try if conventional moisturizing lotions don't help. Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 8:53 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised no one's really mentioned a great lotion, so here's my recommendation: Eucerin Calming Creme. Awesome stuff.
posted by infinityjinx at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2007


This stuff is more expensive than the drugstore stuff, so try those brands first to see if they work. I've given this to probably about a dozen friends who have eczema or just dry skin. I hate hate hate greasy cream and it's the only stuff I can use. The magic ingredient is apparently borage oil. It seriously makes the itch go away even when you skin is still scaly. I rarely think a particular brand or ingredient actually works, but this is one case where it's literally made a visible difference to people with major skin issues. I get mine at Whole Foods but it's available lots of places.
posted by barnone at 11:49 AM on November 19, 2007


If it starts up at night and started around the insides of your wrists, then spread, it could be scabies.

And if it is scabies, you can get a prescription for a topical lotion to use. When I got it/them, though, I didn't have health insurance. Turns out that the ingredient in the prescription ointment is the same active ingredient they use in OTC lice treatment, so I just bought some lice shampoo and used that as a lotion. Took two or three applications, but it finally got rid of the bastards.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:46 PM on November 19, 2007


I had a persistent itch on my hand for a while now, it would come and go with no seeming pattern, and I finally went to the doctor about it, turns out it was a fungal infection, like athlete's foot, but on my hands. I ended up with a prescription for antifungal hand cream, but maybe give one of the OTC anti-fungal creams a go.

My symptoms were similar; scaly skin, burning itching, raw, red skin from scratching.
posted by glip at 6:35 PM on November 19, 2007


I had the same thing as glip, a couple of years ago. I was trying to self-treat with hydrocortisone, but apparently that makes a fungal infection worse.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:16 PM on November 19, 2007


Response by poster: I used pips' regular skin lotion and it worked pretty well. Thanks for all the help.
posted by jonmc at 5:41 PM on November 20, 2007


« Older Where is the best shopping in downtown Boston?   |   Why can't you believe everything you read in a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.