Itching is yet another common symptom that people who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis end up experiencing. It’s an abnormal sensation with a neurological origin. It may be one of the first MS symptoms to appear, one that indicates that a person might suffer from MS even before their diagnosis. Also known as pruritus, this sensation can manifest itself through different means, ranging from stings to the “pins and needles” type of discomfort.
MS and itching
A person who suffers from MS may experiences short or longer episodes of itching, as this is generally a sensation that comes and goes. However, when the MS patient already has a skin-related condition (such as eczema, for instance), the sensation is typically longer-lasting and more difficult to treat.
While itching does not affect a person’s health directly, it’s a very uncomfortable sensation that could lead to some psychological discomfort as well. People that often find themselves with itchy skin are more likely to become irritated, as the symptom is stressful and distracting. MS is already infamous for the cognitive challenges it brings upon its patients, so itching is yet another brick in the wall.
MS patients that experience itching should know that this is a neurological response to this medical condition, and not necessarily a sign of a skin-related problem. Because the body’s nerves are under constant attack, these changes can lead to different forms of sensory discomfort, itching being just one of them.
What causes pruritus?
As with most other MS symptoms, itching can occur in just about any phase of this condition. The pain can be symmetrical, but can also be focused on a single area of the body. There are a lot of different factors that can trigger this sensory discomfort. Heat is one of the most likely causes of itching in patients that have been diagnosed with MS.
While a lot of people only experience short episodes of itching, the sensation can be very intense. The frequency of duration of a pruritus episode will vary from one MS patient to another. There are people that experience this discomfort on a regular basis, while luckier patients don’t experience it at all.
In some cases, itching can be caused by different types of disease-modifying therapies that require an injection. This can cause skin irritation, especially where the injection was administered. Pruritus can also be a consequence of allergies to certain types of medication.It can also be triggered as a side effect to one of your prescription drugs.
Medical treatment for itching
There are different kinds of home remedies, as well as medical treatments that might alleviate this symptom. It’s important to note that the remedies that treat a normal type of itching, might not work when pruritus is caused by MS.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has listed a couple of drugs that are typically prescribed to MS patients that are suffering from itching:
- Antidepressants (amitriptyline)
- Anticonvulsants (gabapentin, carbamazepine, phenytoin)
- Antihistamines (hydroxyzine)
Another form of medical treatment is TENS, also known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It’s a process that involves sending electrical charges throughout the body, in order to relieve MS pain. However, the process has also shown that it may improve symptoms of itching in some cases. However, TENS unit should only be used when the patient has full approval from their doctor.
Alternative remedies for itching
When an MS patient suffers from a mild form of itching, medication might not even be required. There are ways in which these symptoms can be relieved by simply trying a couple of home remedies.
- Cold compresses are known to help with a lot of different skin-related issues. Patients that suffer itching can apply a cold compress on the affected area, and leave it there for about 10 to 15 minutes. The low temperature of the compress can numb the itching area, and make the sensory discomfort go away. Important note: avoid applying cold objects directly on the skin. Wrap them in a towel or a T-shirt. When your skin comes in contact with something as cold as an ice-pack, it can cause significant ice burns.
- Skin health is a crucial part of avoiding a symptom such as itching. For example, the most common reaction to itchy skin is scratching. When the skin is scratched, it becomes further irritated, increasing the sense of discomfort on the long run.
- A common mistake is to take long hot showers or baths. Hot water will typically increase the itching sensation, especially when combined with shower gels and cream that have a lot of chemicals or fragrances. Moisturizer can help a long way in keeping your skin healthy, and relieving some of that dryness sensation.
- Stress leads to itching. In such cases, stress management techniques can help with this problem. The techniques vary from yoga, practicing breathing patterns, or undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Reflexology is a form of treatment which involves applying pressure on a patient’s hands and feet. While there is not enough evidence to support the actual improvement of itching sensations as a consequence of reflexology, there are people that believe pressure in these key points leads to soothing nerve pain. Since this is not a conventional form of treatment and is not backed by scientific evidence, doctors don’t recommend it as a solution to MS-related pruritus. However, the technique does seem to induce a state of relaxation. While it might not help with itching, it can provide means to destress, which is very important for MS patients.
MS patients that experience mild forms of skin itching can turn to alternative home remedies instead or trying to turn to medical forms of treatment. Something as simple as a cold compress can alleviate the itching sensation. Keep in mind that the goal is to try and avoid scratching as much as possible, as this leads to further discomfort, dry skin, damage, and irritation. When these home remedies fail, consult your doctor to determine which medical treatment is best suited for your situation.