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Imagine it. I know you probably can, maybe even from experience.
You are stuck in class. You are standing in line at the store. You are at work or in the presence of company when it happens – and you cannot stop thinking about it.
It is the itching that can happen to patients who are dealing with fibromyalgia. For a relatively small portion of the patient population, itching is a regular occurrence that can be difficult to treat.
What is worse is that treating it can take time – and when you are itching, you want instant relief. No one likes being stuck in public or busy with important tasks and feeling the constant urge to scratch, but what other option do you have?
Here, we will look at some of the reasons you might be experiencing fibromyalgia-related itching – and what to do about it.
What Causes Itching in Fibromyalgia Patients?
The first thing to note about itching of any kind is that it is a pain response. While you might not think of itching as painful, it is actually a very minor sensation of pain that the brain translates differently than larger injuries.
Because conditions like fibromyalgia involve problems with pain sensations being communicated improperly between the body and brain, major pain and discomfort is not the only thing a patient can experience.
Sometimes, widespread pain might be replaced or even joined by widespread itching. Ugh!
Not all people who deal with fibromyalgia also deal with itching. This symptom is regarded as relatively rare, although anecdotal evidence suggests it may be more common than currently documented.
One reason for this relative rarity is that itching that happens to fibromyalgia sufferers is not always due to fibromyalgia – and even when it is, ruling out other causes first can be difficult.
Ruling Out Other Causes
While it can be tricky to determine what is causing your itching, it is an important step in treatment. Why? Because itching – like any other type of discomfort – may be your body’s way of indicating that something more serious is happening.
Do you have dry skin? Try applying a gentle moisturizer to the areas that are itchy. Use a moisturizing soap or body wash to prevent drying out your skin and apply your moisturizer to clean skin promptly after showering or bathing.
Are you dealing with an ongoing skin condition? Things like eczema or psoriasis can cause horrible itching. If you are experiencing visible signs of skin irritation – including flaking, peeling, raised bumps or plaques, etc. – you should consult your doctor or dermatologist.
Do you deal with allergies? Many allergic reactions can cause itching – and some of these can lead to dangerous situations if left untreated. Try to identify any potential allergens that could be causing your irritation and eliminate them.
Are you encountering insects that could be causing your itching? Look for bites or bumps that might be caused by fleas, mosquitos, bed bugs, or other insects. If you identify them, eliminate the problem promptly, since insect bites can cause serious problems.
Is another illness or chronic condition to blame for your itching? Many conditions can cause itching, including everything from viral conditions like ringworm to skin cancer, so it is always a good idea to check with your medical provider to rule out any of these problems.
Itch Relief for Fibromyalgia Patients
If you are able to determine that your itching is likely being caused by your fibromyalgia and no other cause, it can be more discouraging than relieving. That is because treating fibromyalgia in general can be like throwing darts at a target and hoping something eventually hits.
Treating the itching that is sometimes caused by fibromyalgia is no different. After all, there is no “real” cause for the itching; it is simply a reaction by the body, brain, and nerves with no injury or illness to blame other than your chronic condition.
With that said, how the hell do you treat fibro-related itching? For many people, it comes down to soothing the itch and relieving the urge to scratch.
The following suggestions are recommended by both medical providers and patients from personal experience. Keep in mind, though, that not every treatment is right for every patient – and if you have questions, you should definitely consult your medical provider before using any of these.
Since fibromyalgia itching is usually a skin-deep problem, a topical treatment can be a quick and easy way to relieve that itching. Finding the one that works best for you can be an exercise in trial or error, but there are some general rules of thumb when shopping.
Look for products that are gentle, suitable for your skin type, and are not likely to cause any further reaction or interactions with your medications. Some other things to keep in mind include:
- Itch-relief creams, balms, and salves come in several varieties. You may choose something like hydrocortisone or a prescription ointment or cream, or a more natural treatment like aloe vera or calamine.
- Topical products containing either THC or CBD can help in calming the nerve response that causes fibromyalgia itching. Likewise, topical pain relievers like NSAID ointments or gels can do the same. These items can be found at any pharmacy, although THC products are still not legal for sale in some states.
- Moisturizers with itchy skin in mind are a great choice, too. These often work well in combination with other topical treatments and help ensure that those treatments do not dry out the skin and cause more itching.
- Soothing baths or showers are another option. I love bath melts with rich, soothing butters and oils in them, along with colloidal oatmeal soaks. Be sure not to choose anything with high salt concentrations in the formula, since this can ultimately cause more drying and itching.
Because itching is technically a type of pain, pain medications can sometimes help to relieve itching caused by fibromyalgia. If you do not have access to prescription medications for pain – or are not comfortable using them – you can easily use over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen to treat the irritation of itching.
Allergy and antihistamine medications such as diphenhydramine – also known as Benadryl – have been shown in some instances to relieve widespread itching caused by fibromyalgia. I would know; this is what my mother and I both use when our itching gets too severe to manage topically.
Benadryl and other medications like it are also used under other brand labels and strengths to help people sleep and decrease instances of nausea, so be sure that you will not be operating machinery if you use this drug. This is especially important if you do not usually take this kind of medication, since determining its impact on your body beforehand can be nearly impossible.
Because anxiety can both cause itching and result from it, introducing anxiety medication can be a good approach to treating widespread itching. Be sure to mention any other medications you are taking to your provider, though, since these medications can have severe side effects if they interact with other drugs or conditions.
Always consult a medical professional before combining any drug with your current medications, as well. This is important, since many people with fibromyalgia are on a host of medications that can be dangerous when combined with others.
Using medication rather than topical treatments can be much more convenient and far less messy. Remember, though, that some medications can cause or worsen itching. Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before using any of these medications to treat your itching, regardless of cause.
You do not necessarily have to commit to medications to treat your fibromyalgia itching. Rather than using medication that you have to consume or apply to your skin, you may consider an all-natural, holistic approach to relieving the discomfort that itching causes.
The most popular and easiest of these approaches is icing. Use ice or cold packs to relieve the uncomfortable itching and bring soothing numbness to the skin. These products can be purchased very cheaply at dollar or big box stores, and you can also make your own for free with plastic bags and water stored in your freezer.
Stress is another major source of nervous responses like itching. This is not to say that your itching is “all in your head”; it simply means that the stress you are under is triggering the response that causes your itching, making stress reduction an important part of treating it.
Reducing stress is much easier said than done. However, there are some approaches that can really help you chip away at the amount of stress that you are coping with regularly.
Some ways to reduce stress include:
- Acupuncture or acupressure.Acupuncture is not a treatment that you can do on your own, but it is one that is more widely available than ever before. Acupressure is actually a technique that you may be able to perform on your own, since many holistic providers now offer at-home products like mats or cushions that provide acupressure-style relief from the comfort of home!
- Massage therapy. Everybody loves a massage. Well, maybe everybody other than fibromyalgia patients. Massage can be uncomfortable for people with fibro, but if you can work with a therapist who understands the concerns relevant to your condition, they can provide relief for both pain and widespread itching through their services.
- Meditation and relaxation. It can be easy for someone who is not chronically ill to advise someone to just “take their mind off of” the symptoms they are dealing with. However, meditation and other forms of relaxation can actually help you do this in the case of itching.
- Yoga or Tai Chi. These fluid movement practices combine breathing techniques with gentle exercise to help you calm your body, mind, and spirit – and possibly overcome problems like minor discomfort and itching.
- Therapy for anxiety and other issues. Just like medication for anxiety can help you manage responses like itching, so too can therapeutic approaches to relieving anxiety. Reducing your anxiety symptoms can help with plenty of other things, too, so if you are dealing with anxiety or other mental health issues, be sure to speak to a medical provider.
The Problem with Scratching
Itching usually leads to scratching. It’s just a normal human response to this irritation. However, scratching skin that itches can cause even more problems.
Scratching – both with your fingernails or with other objects – can cause damage to the skin. In minor instances, this can further irritate your skin. In more severe cases, it can cause small cuts and lacerations that can become infected.
Ensuring that your skin is gently moisturized and protected can help it heal and keep you from scratching as much. Personally, I tend to slather my itchy skin in either CeraVe or Aquaphor ointment, leaving it hydrated and smooth as well as protected.
If you are dealing with itching and cannot seem to stop yourself from scratching, consider covering either the skin – with longer sleeves, pants, etc. – or by covering your fingers. When I was younger, I would literally wear gloves to keep myself from scratching. Eventually, my brain got sick of hot, sweaty hands and learned to stop scratching for the most part!
Itching is never a pleasant experience. There are plenty of ways to deal with the problem, though – and your doctor or medical provider can help you determine which ones might be the right one for you.
If you are experiencing widespread itching as part of your fibromyalgia symptoms, be sure to mention it at your next appointment. Your doctor may have a simple solution that I did not mention here.
Be sure, too, to let me know if this is something you or your loved one experiences, because it definitely helps to hear that we are not so alone in this! If you do experience fibromyalgia-related itching, how do you personally approach it and find relief? I would love to know!