Are you losing your mind from scratching an itch that just won’t go away? It could be your scalp, the back of your neck or behind your ears, legs or feet, and even a finger. And let’s not forget the unmentionables as well! It’s that itch or feeling of bugs crawling on you, sometimes tingling, and often leading to pain. It is one of the stranger symptoms of fibromyalgia. So strange, in fact, that some patients complain that their fibro doctors had never heard of it. Yet, forums are filled with the same message: “Thanks so much for posting this! I thought I was losing my mind. I wake up in the middle of the night scratching and when I get out of bed, there are dried blood spots all over my sheets.” Some fibro patients post what their doctor (including rheumatologists) offer as explanations. And do you know what’s funny? All of the answers are different.
What causes fibro itching?
One explanation is called formication which is a sensation that feels like bugs crawling on or under the skin. Formication is actually a paresthesia which is a sensation like numbness, tingling, or burning that “happens when sustained pressure is placed on a nerve. The feeling quickly goes away once the pressure is relieved. Some individuals may experience chronic paresthesia. This is usually a symptom of severe underlying conditions.”
Another explanation is metal toxicities that accumulate in the body and are a large contributor to fibromyalgia symptoms, including rashes and itching. The best and most non-invasive way to examine toxicity levels in the body is through hair analysis. Learn more about how this specifically pertains to fibromyalgia.
Further explanations include irritated or damaged neurotransmitters that manifest in a number of ways, such as burning or itching. One patient even discovered that large amounts of salt contributed to her itching. Adding to the confusion, it seems that every fibromyalgia patient’s experience is different when it comes to the symptom of itching. So it makes sense that explanations would run the gamut. Nevertheless, it is a very real symptom that fibro patients often encounter.
Is there any way to treat it?
Given the random nature of the itching, let us then look at various options to relieve it. Remember, this is a trial and error process because while one person may swear by a medication or treatment, others will say that particular item did nothing for their itching. In random order, here are some examples from many forums where this exact topic was discussed:
- Antihistamines such as Loratadine (Zyrtec) and Benadryl taken daily, usually at night since many experience drowsiness. The added bonus is that it can help you sleep through the itching. Although some people have to take it twice a day. A 24-hour time-released pill may resolve that issue. Note: topical antihistamines do not appear to be effective for itching associated with fibromyalgia. Additionally, the prescription antihistamine Atarax has been reported as highly effective as well.
- Topamax is actually a prescribed medication for migraines, but some fibromyalgia patients found that it took the itching away.
- Covering up with clothes, including long songs, comfortable cotton pants, and sweaters.
- For the scalp, many use treatments that are often recommended for dandruff, such as Scalpicin, Head and Shoulders, or Neutrogena T/Gel.
- Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula with Vitamin E Skin Therapy Oil. Patients report that it absorbs into the skin very well and does not leave a greasy feeling behind. Also, Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Moisturizing Body Oil used after a bath is very helpful, although it briefly leaves the skin greasy or slick feeling.
- Pressing as hard as one can on the spot that is itching. This leads to the relaxing of the muscle which lessens the itching.
- Limiting caffeine.
- Hypoallergenic soaps, such as Cetaphil liquid soap and Aveeno.
- Gold Bond Medicated lotion after a bath or shower with hypoallergenic soap.
- Ativan is an anti-anxiety prescription that is commonly reported to relieving itching, although it can cause grogginess.
- Eliminating aspirin.
- Eliminating ibuprofen.
- Gabapentin is a prescription medication to treat seizures and pain caused by shingles.
- Marijuana by smoking, vaporizing, or eating has been widely reported as a “very effective” treatment for fibromyalgia symptoms, including itching.
First note of caution: Many fibro patients take Lyrica as it is one of the most common medications used to treat fibromyalgia symptoms. However, a common side effect of Lyrica is that it actually causes itching. Thus, if you already deal with that symptom, you may want to try a different medication that does not include a side effect which exacerbates a severe problem.
Second note of caution: If you take opiates to relieve pain and symptoms related to fibromyalgia or another issues, be aware that opiates make itching drastically worse because they release histamines.
Remember that the itching problem seems to effect fibro patients differently so you may have to try a number of things before you hit the right one that works for you. Just make sure to only try one or two things at a time so that you know what’s actually working. Tell us what has actually worked for you!
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- Tey, H. L., Wallengren, J., & Yosipovitch, G. (2013, January – February). Psychosomatic factors in pruritus. Clinics in Dermatology, 31(1), 31-40.