What is an itch?
It’s the irritation of skin cells or nerve cells associated with the skin that cause the feeling of an Itch (also known as pruritus). Itches are often highly annoying and agitating however, they serve as an important sensory and self-protective mechanism, as do many other skin sensations such as touch, pain, cold and heat. It can alert us to harmful external agents. That said an itch can become unbearable if not managed!
Pruritus is a dominant symptom of many skin conditions and also occurs in some diseases that affect the entire body. An itching sensation of the skin arises due to stimulation of—itch-sensing nerve endings called proprioceptors.
What are the Most Causes of Itching?
- Allergies to food, environment, skin care products, and medications
- Bug bites
- Dry skin & Eczema
- Poison ivy, poison oak or sumac
- Scabies, Fungal infections, Bedbugs & Shingles
Why does scratching feel so good?
Scratching and rubbing the area of an itch interferes with the sensations arising from proprioceptors by stimulating various pain and touch receptors in the same areas. Though it is helpful in relieving the itch, scratching offers only temporary relief and may cause the skin to become further irritated and possibly tear, which could result in an infection. It is most important to find out the cause of your itchy skin, for example eczema or stress, are all common causes of skin irritation.
Before starting with medications, there are natural ways to relieve itching!
Thankfully many skin itches can often be treated at home with natural ingredients that can help provide relief from common irritants that cause itchiness. Here are some of the best natural ones that are known to provide fast relief.
Cool the itch – Cooling itchy skin can help reduce inflammation. This can be done by applying a cold pack, baggie of ice or simply a cold wet cloth to the affected area for about 5 minutes. This can be done as often as needed. As much as possible, avoid applying hot water to itchy skin as it can further irritate and increase the itch.
Moisturize – To help your skin feel less dry and itchy, and more hydrated, apply a thick layer of a good quality moisturizer. It is important to keep the outer most layers of your skin hydrated. To help manage skin conditions that cause itching and dryness, apply your moisturizer cream or lotion after a bath or shower.
Take an oatmeal bath – Colloidal oatmeal is finely ground oatmeal often added into a luke-warm or cool bath to help stop itching and protect the skin. When dissolved in water, oatmeal is known to provide a protective barrier on the skins surface and can help relieve dryness. That is why it is found in many soaps and lotions.
You can make your own colloidal oatmeal by grinding pure oats into a fine powder.
Use Tea Tree oil - The anti-inflammatory properties in tea tree oil make it helpful in relieving the discomfort of itchy skin. Made from the Australian tea tree, it has several health-related benefits including being antimicrobial and antiseptic. Tea tree oil can be found in a variety of skincare products such as insect repellent and after bite creams, shampoos, and deodorants.
When using essential oils, it is always wise to do a patch test on your skin to test sensitivity. Tea tree oil is generally well tolerated but can be diluted in a carrier oil if necessary.
Apply menthol – Menthol oil, which is derived from the mint plant, acts as a counter-irritant and provides a light cooling then warm sensation that helps take your mind off the pain and irritation. Peppermint oil (which contains menthol), has been shown to have the same effect.
It is important to always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil such as coconut oil or pure vegetable oil before applying them to the skin.
When to see a Doctor
There are a number of diseases, disorders and conditions that can cause itchy skin reactions such as psoriasis or severe allergic reactions. Therefore, seeking medical attention when necessary is important, especially for unknown causes of itching, persistent itching, itching without any symptoms, or signs of infection or unusual rashes or swelling.
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