Some specific factors that may relieve itching are the following:
- Moisturizing creams and lotions. These water-containing products form films over the skin surface and encourage the production of moisture beneath the film. This prevents dryness, which can cause itching. These products should be carefully chosen for each person's needs. Some ingredients, such as petrolatum, lanolin, and mineral oil can cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Powders, bubble baths, and cornstarch. These products should be used with caution because they can irritate the skin and cause itching. Cornstarch is an effective treatment for itching that is associated with dry skin due to radiation therapy but should not be applied to moist surfaces, to areas with hair, sweat glands, skin folds, or to areas close to mucosal surfaces, such as the vagina or rectum. When cornstarch becomes moist, it can promote fungal growth. Some powders, such as those that contain talcum and aluminum, can cause skin irritation during radiation therapy and should be avoided when you are receiving radiation treatment. Alcohol or menthol, which are found in some creams and over-the-counter lotions, may also produce skin reactions. Topical steroid creams may reduce itching but may cause thinning of the skin and can make it more prone to injury.
- Tepid baths. Baths that are moderately warm and last no longer than one half hour every day or every two days can help relieve itching. Frequent bathing can aggravate dry skin, and hot baths can promote itching.
- Mild soaps. Mild soaps contain less soap or detergent that can irritate skin. Oil can be added to the water at the end of a bath or applied to the skin before drying.
- A cool humid environment. Heat can cause itching. Your skin loses moisture when the humidity is low. A cool, humid environment may prevent your skin from itching.
- Removal of detergent residue. Residue left on clothing by detergent and fabric softeners may aggravate pruritus. The irritation can be reduced by adding vinegar (one teaspoon per quart of water) to the laundry rinse cycle or by using a mild laundry soap that is sold for washing baby clothes.
- Cotton clothing and bed sheets. Body heat, wool, and some synthetic fabrics can aggravate itching. It may be helpful to wear loose-fitting, lightweight cotton clothing and to use cotton bed sheets.
In addition to the skin-care factors, medications applied to the skin or taken by mouth may be necessary to treat pruritus. Antibiotics may relieve itching caused by infection. Antihistamines may be useful in some cases of pruritus. Sedatives, tranquilizers, and antidepressants may be useful treatments. Aspirin seems to have reduced itching in some patients but increases it for others. Aspirin combined with cimetidine may be effective for patients with Hodgkin lymphoma or polycythemia vera.
Interrupting the itch-scratch-itch cycle, an increase in itching that can result from the process of scratching, may also help to alleviate pruritus. The cycle may be broken by applying a cool washcloth or ice over the affected area. Rubbing the skin and applying pressure or vibration to the skin may also help. Other methods that may be useful in relieving symptoms include distraction, music therapy, relaxation, and imagery techniques.