In some people, multiple sclerosis (MS) may cause itching early on, even before they have received a diagnosis. Pruritus is the technical term for itching.
MS itching can range from a minor bother to a stinging itch or a feeling of having pins and needles. Unlike a regular itch, the feeling does not go away with scratching. This is because MS affects the nerves that control the area where the itch is, rather than the skin itself.
The feeling is generally brief. Some people find short-term relief by avoiding scratching and applying a cold compress to the area.
Over-the-counter remedies tend to be ineffective, as the source of the itch is not an external allergen. There are some prescription medications and lifestyle changes that may help a person control MS itching.
Why does MS cause itching?
In people with certain conditions, such as eczema, allergies, or MS, itching may be long-term and challenging to treat.
In people with MS, the itching sensation may come and go, or it may move around the body, causing itchiness in different areas. It can be unpredictable.
It does not usually lead to long-term complications, but it can be very bothersome and annoying.
Itchiness from MS is a neurological response, meaning that it does not come as a response to something on the skin itself. In MS, the immune system attacks the nerve tissues in the brain and spinal cord. This can cause changes in the nerves elsewhere in the body.
People describe MS itching as:
- sharp pins and needles
Scratching does not relieve the itch, and it may even make the sensation worse.
Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific areas on the feet, hands, and ears.
Some claim that putting pressure on these points can affect different systems in the body.
The American Academy of Neurology note that there is weak evidence that reflexology may help with irregular nerve pain.
Reflexology is a nonconventional treatment that doctors do not prescribe.
While there is little evidence for its effectiveness, some people find that it relaxes them and relieves nerve pain.
It is crucial to avoid scratching an MS itch. Scratching does not relieve these itches, and doing so may make them feel worse. Scratching too hard may also irritate the skin.
Wearing cotton gloves or socks over the hands at night may reduce the chances of scratching the skin while sleeping.
Regular itching treatments, such as cortisone creams or sprays, will usually have no effect on MS itching.
However, there are some medications that may help.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society list several drugs that may help reduce MS itching:
- some antidepressants, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors and amitriptyline (Elavil)
- anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin (Dilantin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and gabapentin (Neurotonin)
- hydroxyzine (Atarax), which is an antihistamine
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit sends charges of electricity to the parts of the body that it is attached to.
People commonly use TENS units to relieve MS pain, but they may also help with an itch. The electrical impulse may confuse the nerves in the area, which relieves the itchiness.
Anyone with access to a TENS unit should talk to their doctor before using it to treat an itch.
While itching can be irritating, many people with MS can control mild itching with cold compresses and good skin health habits.
Avoiding triggers, changing habits in the home, and finding ways to relieve stress may help some people control their symptoms. For others, medications can help.
Anyone experiencing MS itching should discuss their options with a doctor, who may have additional tips.
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