The itch brought on by eczema can be incredibly frustrating. Not only is it physically tiring, but it can be emotionally draining, too.
The question is…
WHY DO WE ITCH?
In the case of atopic dermatitis, the body is pushing out toxins through the skin, bringing the irritation to the outer most layer causing us to itch and scratch.
Henry Bieler, MD of “Food is Your Best Medicine” says that when the normal chemistry of digestion is upset because of unhealthy living habits, toxins are stagnated in the blood which can impair the filters and elimination organs, chief of which are the kidneys, liver, bowels and skin.
He explained that skin problems like eczema is a “terrific attempt” by the body to get rid of toxins since the normal channels of elimination such as the liver is no longer functioning normally.
If the bile poisons in the blood come out through the skin, we get the various irritation of the skin and itching is one of these irritations. The itching is necessary, so that the poisons can come out of the skin. “Thus, the skin is substituting for the liver, or a vicarious elimination is occurring through the skin” (Bieler, pg.43)
When the body feels an annoying element on the outer skin, the receptors in the skin become irritated and they automatically send a signal to the cerebral cortex in our brain, saying “There’s something irritating the skin!”
The brain receives the signal and tells our body to get rid of it, and the first instinctive response to immediately remove the irritation is to scratch. Once the irritation is gone, the signal to the brain is interrupted and you no longer feel the itchiness.
WHY DOES SCRATCHING FEEL SO GOOD?
Suppressing the itch by scratching, gives the body pleasure and can release endorphin’s that give you a natural high.
This itch signal is transmitted to your brain by the body’s smallest C-fiber nerves (basically the itching signal’s transportation method: destination, your brain). Next to these nerves are another set of C-fiber nerves, not carrying an itching signal, but carrying a pain signal.
Pain causes a response making us want to back away where as the itch causes a response making us want to be near it. The brain will only process one type of sensation from a location of your body at a time. So when your body feels intense pain, it will shut off the feeling of itching until the pain goes away (this also works vice-versa).
Scratching (temporarily) feels so good because it generates another sensation of pain and heat that suppresses the feelings of itchiness for a little while. Once the other sensation subsides, the itch can return and you feel the need to scratch again for relief.
WHY DOES THE SKIN ITCH MORE AT NIGHT?
The body regulates hormones and chemicals in part by using a circadian rhythm (the body’s natural 24-hour cycle) which causes a few different fluctuation or changes that can increase nighttime skin itchiness.
– Sleep is a form of detoxification for your whole body, including your filtering organs. Chinese Medicine believe that your body’s on an internal clock, and early in the morning is the best time for your liver to process waste, your gall bladder to squeeze bile, and your intestines to move bowels.
– Your body temperature and blood flow to your skin both increase in the evening, warming your skin. A rise in skin temperature can make you feel itchy.
– At night you release more cytokines, which increase inflammation. Meanwhile, production of corticosteroids (hormones that reduce inflammation) slows.
– Your skin loses more water at night. You might have noticed that during the dry winter months, parched skin itches.
– At night there are fewer distractions, which can make the itch feel even more intense (during the day we are distracted with work and other activities that distract us from the itch sensation).
TIPS TO COMBAT THE ITCH:
1 – The main solution to stop scratching is to work on healing from the inside out by getting to the root cause of the eczema, cleansing the detoxification organs. When these organs are working efficiently, the elimination burden won’t be left for the skin to deal with and the itch will lessen.
2 – Use eczema gloves to prevent itching and the damage caused by your nails (it can also help moisturize your hands).
3 – Snack on water-rich or cooling foods during the day to increase intracellular water levels before sleep. Foods like cucumbers, watermelon, apples and celery will hydrate the body from the inside out as well as help release powerful free-radical fighting antioxidants while you sleep. Having a green drink hours before you sleep can help as well and adding in turmeric will give you an extra dose of anti-inflammatory properties to help you rest at night!
4 – Taking a before-bed detox bath like the Calming Bath Treatment or an epsom salt bath to help replenish your body and muscles with essential minerals allowing you to sleep easier and detoxify more efficiently at night. You can also look at these 6 calming bath treatments for other options to calm your skin itching.
5 – Applying wet wraps can help to seal in the hydration allowing the moisture to penetrate the skin and calm the itch. After a lukewarm bath or shower, apply moisturizer of choice, wrap the skin in damp wraps then cover in dry cotton pajamas.
6 – Make sure to always keep the nails as short as possible to reduce the amount of damage inflicted on the skin when scratching at night.
7 – Since our skin naturally dehydrates during the sleep process, using moisture rich emollients such as shea butter or the Conqueror Soothing Dry Skin Balm. They can help to lock in hydration while we sleep.
8 – Our bodies naturally produce less melatonin (the sleep hormone) as we age which affect our skin’s ability to repair itself at night. Taking a supplement of melatonin about 30 minutes before going to bed can help to increase the depth and duration of deep sleep, which will in turn help to accelerate and optimize the skin’s repair cycle.
9 – Use a humidifier on cold weather nights to help keep the skin hydrated and make sure the room temperature is nice and cool on warmer nights. Keeping the windows closed can help combat allergy issues as the pollen count levels reach their highest around 5am – 10am.
10 – Using ice packs or cold wash cloths on the skin can help to quell the itch as it aids in numbing the tiny C-fibers from transmitting itchy signals to the brain. Place it on the concentrated area of the skin anywhere from 5-20 minutes until the area is numb. You can also shower in very cold water or take an ice bath.
11 – Blowing or patting the itchy area of the skin can make a sensation that will disrupt the itching signal.
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Jennifer Hall is a topical steroid withdrawal veteran and cancer conqueror who is on a mission to help other eczema sufferers take back their health and naturally heal from the inside out.
You can find more info about her detailed story here.