Neuropathic Itch: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis

What is Neuropathic Itch?

Neuropathic Itch is a condition that is different from the conventional itching sensation that is quite common. This condition is caused due to some problems with the nervous system rather than a dermatological cause. Another difference between a conventional itch and Neuropathic Itch is that people do not get relief after scratching the area. Neuropathic Itch can be caused due to damage to either the central or the peripheral nervous system.[1,2,3]

There are many physicians even today who are unaware that an itching sensation can be caused due to a neurological problem. In fact, Neuropathic Itch along with pain is an indicator of an underlying neurological issue meaning that the source of the problem may not be where the symptoms are felt. This is the reason why it is very difficult to diagnose the cause of a Neuropathic Itch.[1,2,3]

However, for effective treatment of Neuropathic Itch it is vital to identify the cause first. The treatments for this condition can be both conservative and sometimes neurosurgical. Another fact about Neuropathic Itch is that the symptoms do not go away with the standard treatment protocol of antihistamines, topical steroids, or medications given for conventional itch. In some cases, Neuropathic Itch can be a sign of a serious neurological issue that may need immediate medical intervention.[1,2,3]

What Causes Neuropathic Itch?

The exact mechanism behind Neuropathic Itch is not completely understood. However some researchers suggest that damage to the neurons related to itching sensations can be one of the causes for Neuropathic Itch. There are also certain medical conditions that may cause Neuropathic Itch. These include notalgia paresthetica. This is a condition that causes nerve pain and an itching sensation in the back.[3]

Peripheral neuropathy can also at times cause Neuropathic Itch affecting the upper and lower extremities. Other conditions that may cause Neuropathic Itch include nerve irritation, stroke, shingles, diabetes, exposure to certain toxins, tumor in the spine or brain, and multiple sclerosis.[3]

What are the Symptoms of Neuropathic Itch?

Neuropathic Itch can be best described as a sensation of pins and needles. This may be moderate to severe in intensity. Additionally, a person with Neuropathic Itch will also experience a sensation of burning and electric shock like sensation around the affected area. There will be accompanying pain as well.[3]

Some people also report a crawling sensation along with Neuropathic Itch. The skin becomes hypersensitive or hyposensitive. Scratching the affected area tends to make the symptoms worse.[3]

How is Neuropathic Itch Treated?

As stated, the conventional medications used to treat common itching do not work in cases of Neuropathic Itch. This makes treating the condition quite challenging.

Treatment basically involves local numbing medications to kill the sensation and use the barrier method to prevent scratching since it make the symptoms worse and there are significant chances of a self-injury due to vigorous scratching.[3]

In some cases physicians prescribe lidocaine patches or creams for treatment of Neuropathic Itch. Antiepileptic like gabapentin is also quite effective in treating the symptoms of Neuropathic Itch. Sometimes, Botox injections are given to treat Neuropathic Itch and are found to be beneficial. Alternative treatments in the form of acupuncture, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy are also some of the treatments that are given to people for Neuropathic Itch.[3]

It is also recommended for people with Neuropathic Itch to wear loose clothing to ease the sensation of itch and prevent any skin irritation. Applying moisturizer over the affected area also helps to an extent. It is advised to keep the fingernails short so that there are no injuries to the area while scratching.[3]

What Is The Prognosis Of Neuropathic Itch?

Dealing with Neuropathic Itch can be quite a challenge. It can significantly affect the quality of life of a person as he or she will not be able to find relief from this annoying itching sensation. Performing normal daily activities and even sleeping at night gets affected by Neuropathic Itch.[3]

A study done in 2011 about Neuropathic Itch stated that living with this condition is quite similar to living with a medical condition that causes chronic unrelenting pain. Joining a support group or working with a therapist may work towards improving quality of life and dealing with the symptom in a better way.[3]

What a person with Neuropathic Itch should be reminded about is to avoid scratching. In case if they fear that they may do it unknowingly when asleep it is recommended that they put bandage or some sort of protection to the area to prevent scratching.[3]

In conclusion, Neuropathic Itch is different from a conventional skin condition causing itching in that it is caused due to a neurological problem. The most probable cause put forward by researchers is damage to the neurons that control the itching sensation.[1,2,3]

Neuropathic Itch cannot be treated by medications used for treating itching caused due to dermatologic conditions and thus its treatment is quite challenging. However, there are certain medications that have been found to be quite effective in relieving Neuropathic Itch like antiepileptics and Botox injections. Alternative treatments like yoga and cognitive behavioral therapy can also help people deal with Neuropathic Itch.[1,2,3]

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