The only thing worse than having an itch is having an itch you can’t scratch. Irritated skin is annoying to say the least, but becomes exasperating when the cause is unknown and the cure is unfound. Most people blame dry skin for itchiness, but several other factors can cause an itch as well.
Allergies are often the cause of dry skin. Rashes occur in different part of our bodies but you may be able able to figure out what caused it just by considering the location. Think about what has come in contact with that area. For example, some people react to the nickel in a belt buckle and a rash appears right above the waist on their stomachs. Rashes from earrings also occur from metal allergies and are easily identified by an itchy ear. (See: RASHES)
Hard to Identify Causes
Of course, not all allergies are so easily determined. Rashes under the arms or on elbows signal clothing could be causing the reaction. It could be the clothing itself, laundry detergent, or a fragrance in the detergent just to name a few potential sources.
If any detergent lingers in the clothes due to lack of rinsing, a rash can occur from the detergent itself. If you’re sensitive to the fragrance in the detergent, these areas where clothes rub against the skin are the first to break out. Often, you will need to go through some trial and error in determining the cause of the itchiness.
How to Stop the Itch
We come in contact with elements every day that can make our skin red, itchy, irritated, and uncomfortable. Because some causes can be hard to identify, a dermatologist may need to help you determine the problem and find a way to relieve the discomfort.
For example, sometimes people come into the office with an itchy back so bad it wakes them up at night — but there is no visible rash. We go through some basic questions to help identify the possible causes. When we ask, “What about hot showers? Do you like really hot water in the shower?” and a patient says yes, we know that may be the cause.
When people stand in the shower and hot water hits them on the back for a long period of time, the water removes the oils and waxes that are in the skin and dries it out. Sometimes it dries out the skin so much that moisturizing is not enough and a dermatologist needs to find another solution. Most likely, the patient never even considered hot showers as the reason for the problem.
In some cases, we need to do more than ask questions. This is where Patch Testing comes in. Perhaps you know that you have an allergy to a metal but are not sure which type of metal. Or maybe you know something in your detergent causes a rash but you aren’t sure what. If chemicals are causing your problem, sometimes it’s helpful to do patch testing. This enables you to identify the types of chemicals that cause you problems and then avoid them.
Through your observations, our questions, and sometimes a test, we can find the reason for your irritated skin and recommend a treatment for relief. There’s no need to live with an itch you can’t scratch.
Dr. R. Todd Plott is a board-certified dermatologist in Coppell, Keller, and Saginaw, TX. His specialization and professional interests include treating patients suffering with acne, identifying and solving complex skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and identifying and treating all types of skin cancers. In his spare time, Dr. Plott enjoys cycling, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his children and new grandson.
Learn more about Dr. Plott.