That Crazy Itch You Just Can't Satisfy
It’s the height of the summer and everybody in our household is feeling the heat. I tend to melt like a snowflake while Rob can’t get enough of the sun.
My kitties desperately want scratches
Even the kitty cats are getting in on the summer action by shedding their year round furry coats. Not only is fur flying, but these little guys are crazy itchy and desperately want to be scratched. If I could translate kitty behavior into the English language, here is what a typical grooming session might sound like:
Musette: “Mommy, I’m just going to rub my face against your hand a couple of times, okay? Oh, yes, please pet me; that’s nice. You are going to use the brush? Awesome. Oh wait, scratching is even better. Go ahead, scratch... oh, a little over here... no, there...go back. Ah, itchy, itchy, itchy… Thank you! Here’s a little love bite. Oh please don’t stop scratching, this fur is driving me crazy!”
Intense itching can be a symptom of MS
The poor cats can’t help it when they get itchy and neither can we. Did you know that intense itching can be a symptom of multiple sclerosis? It’s not the most common symptom associated with MS, but one which can be rather annoying, comes on suddenly, and is sometimes downright painful.
What is pruritus?
Pruritus, or itching, is defined as an unpleasant sensation of the skin that provokes the urge to scratch. The itch can be localized or widespread, acute or chronic, and range from mild to intractable (hard to control). Itching can occur anywhere on the body. Pruritus is associated with many skin disorders (e.g. eczema, psoriasis), histamine reactions (e.g. insect bites, poison ivy), and some systemic diseases (e.g. Sjögren's syndrome, hyperthyroidism, liver disease, diabetes), among other things.1
Itching with MS is often paroxysmal
When pruritus occurs as a symptom of multiple sclerosis, it is similar to other neurologic sensations - pins and needles, burning, stabbing, or tearing pain - known as dysesthesias. The itching with MS can be paroxysmal, coming on suddenly with great intensity, but temporary in nature and lasting anywhere from a couple of seconds to minutes. It can be the type of itch that seems to get worse the more you try to scratch it.1,2
Can be intense and occur anywhere
Itching can occur anywhere on the body (face, head, torso, arms, legs, hands, feet). Heat triggers pruritus for some people with MS and for others, it seems to be related to movement or tactile stimulation. For some reason, the itching can occur at night with an intensity that has the power to wake you up from sleep.1
Other causes of MS-related itching
There may be other causes of MS-related itching. Disease-modifying therapies that are administered by injection may cause temporary skin irritation and itching at the injection site. Allergic reaction to medications such as interferon beta-1a or natalizumab may cause itchiness.
Treatment for MS itching
If the itching is mild, the symptom may just go away on its own. If the itching is severe, prolonged, or disrupts your daily life, you should talk to your doctor about possible treatments.
Pruritus (itching) associated with MS is neurologic in origin, so cortisone cream and other topical treatments may not be very helpful. There are, however, some medications which may be useful in diminishing the itch, including anticonvulsants (e.g. gabapentin, carbamazepine, phenytoin), antidepressants (e.g. amitriptyline, paroxetine, mirtazapine), and the antihistamine hydroxyzine (Atarax).1,4
Resisting the urge
It is tempting to scratch the itch, but doing so may actually increase the feeling of itchiness. Scratching too hard can also cause problems such as broken or damaged skin that bleeds or becomes infected. Try to resist the urge to scratch.
Ice or cold packs
One may want to experiment with applying ice or cold packs to temporarily relieve the itching.3
If your itching is accompanied by an external rash, bumps, or visible irritation (not caused by scratching), see your doctor. This may be a sign of an allergic reaction or infection and may not be related to MS.
Keeping your skin in good condition
Keep in mind that having MS does not exempt you from developing more common causes of crazy itchiness, such as dry skin in the winter. It is a good idea to try to keep your skin in good condition year-round. Avoid hot showers and harsh soaps. Gently exfoliate on occasion and keep your skin moisturized.
Please call your doctor when you experience crazy itchiness, caused by MS or otherwise, so that you can find some relief.
Were you misdiagnosed with something else before receiving a MS diagnosis?