The Scratch Itch Cycle

by Mel on May 31, 2011

Itching and eczema. They seem to go hand in hand, but it’s not just an itch.  It’s an unbearable itch that you just have to scratch…and scratch…and scratch.

The problem is that the more you scratch the itchier it becomes, leading to a vicious cycle known as the scratch itch cycle.

The cause of the scratch itch cycle may be anything ranging from an insect bite, an allergic reaction, tight clothing or dry skin.  Stress and tension will increase the itch.

The nerves at the site of the itch tell the brain that there is an irritation or itch and so you rub or scratch the skin.  This causes small bumps to form on the skin, which are even itchier.  The nerves tell the brain that you have a bigger itch so you scratch more.  And so it goes on until you have unbearable itching and constant scratching.

The end result is thickened skin that is red, sore and broken, leaving it open to potential infection.  The scratching often becomes a habit that may continue after the cause has been removed.

To control the itching, the habit must be ceased for the cycle to be broken.  In very severe cases an oral antihistamine may be required to ease the cycle.  However, often just a conscious effort not to scratch and the application of emollients will ease the itch and sooth the skin sufficiently to allow it to heal.

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