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Causes and Treatment of Itching in Multiple Sclerosis

Sometimes a person feels an itch that doesn’t go away. In fact, it itches more as a person scratches it. Itching cannot be a psychological problem but can be an issue in people with multiple sclerosis.

In multiple sclerosis, a person experiences strange sensations including tingling, pricking, burnings, stabbing, and tearing. Itching is also one of the strange symptoms of multiple sclerosis(1, 2).

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What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that occurs when the immune system of the body attacks the body’s central nervous system. What causes it is unknown but it is believed to be due to a reaction to the environmental factors.

In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the myelin, a protective coating that surrounds the nerves. This disrupts the functioning of the nerves and thereby the signal between the brain and the rest of the body. The symptoms and disability depend on the location of the damage. Sometimes the destruction of myelin can lead to an electrical impulse that can lead to strange sensations.

Causes of Itching in Multiple Sclerosis

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Itching is one of the common sensory disturbances of multiple sclerosis. It may come suddenly and occur in waves and may last for a few minutes. It is different from allergic itching as it is not accompanied by rash or skin irritation.

Itching in multiple sclerosis is a neurological response as it does not come due to a response of something on the skin. This itching can have different triggers including heat.

In multiple sclerosis, some disease-modifying medications are given by injection. This may cause temporary skin irritation and itching at the site of injection.

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Sometimes an allergic reaction to the medication may also cause itching.

How is Itching in Multiple Sclerosis Treated?

Over-the-counter medications are not useful for this type of itching. Therefore, if the itching is mild no treatment is needed. A doctor should be consulted in case of severe itching. The medications that are used for treating such itching include anti-convulsants, antihistamine hydroxyzine, and antidepressants.

Alternative Remedies

Mindfulness can be helpful in reducing stress.

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Stress worsens neurological conditions and since in multiple sclerosis itching is one of those symptoms, mindfulness may be helpful in reducing symptoms and such sensations.

According to the American Academy of Neurology, reflexology can be helpful in treating strange sensations, numbness, and tingling. It involves applying pressure to the points that can affect the different systems in the body.

Magnetic therapy should be avoided for those with multiple sclerosis as it may lead to a burning sensation on the skin.

Lifestyle Changes

No lifestyle changes can be helpful in treating itching in multiple sclerosis. However, a healthy diet, exercise, and massage can be helpful with the overall symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Looking After Skin Health

Keeping the skin healthy and taking care of it can prevent additional problems that can worsen itching in multiple sclerosis. The skin can be kept healthy in the following ways:

  • Avoiding hot showers
  • Avoiding harsh soaps, chemicals, and fragrances
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Applying moisturizer to dry skin
  • Treating any type of skin problem that may increase the risk of itching

Avoid Scratching

Scratching does not relieve the itch of multiple sclerosis. In fact, it worsens it. Excess scratching may irritate the skin. This may worsen the condition.

It is important that a person with itching due to multiple sclerosis to wear cotton gloves at night to prevent scratching the skin while sleeping. 

Itching due to multiple sclerosis can be irritating and distracting but does not pose any long-term risk. If an external rash is seen along with itching, a doctor should be consulted to know whether it is due to an allergic reaction or any infection.

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