Help for common summertime itching

Avoid the heat if you're feeling itchy.
Avoid the heat if you’re feeling itchy.

The question:
Why does this rash itch so much and what can I do about it?

Summer is a season of itching. Poison plants, allergies, sunburn, insect bites, scabies and mysterious rashes are all potential sources of pruritus, the medical term for the sensation of an itch that needs scratching.

The skin releases inflammatory chemicals, including histamine, in response to contact or exposure to substances that cause allergic reactions or injury to the skin. This stimulates the dilation of blood vessels and resulting localized redness and swelling associated with rashes and itching. People who have baseline high circulating levels of histamine often get rashes merely from scratching their skin or being exposed to heat.

The general symptomatic treatment for all itching includes over-the-counter antihistamines (like Benadryl), topical creams containing hydrocortisone and avoiding exposure to heat. Prescription steroids may be administered by your physician for worsening or severe allergic reactions. Hot showers will make itching worse if you are already feeling prickly.

Some of the most common summertime causes of itching for which there are specific remedies include:

Poison plants
Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are found locally in parks, wooded areas and backyards. When the skin comes in contact with resin from the leaves of these plants, collectively called toxicodendrons, the skin erupts in a red-based rash of small blister-like bumps that are very itchy. Prevention is the best medicine, so if you are going to be outdoors gardening, hiking, or camping, take care to identify these plants beforehand, and wear clothing that keeps your arms and legs covered. Wear gloves if you are pulling out weeds. If you become exposed, wash all skin surfaces and under your fingernails thoroughly with soap and water, as the toxin is not contagious, but may spread between body parts. Treatment involves washing, antihistamines and possibly steroid creams or oral systemic steroid pills prescribed by your doctor. Also, make sure to wash your pets, clothing and shoes, as you can be re-exposed after you leave the great outdoors.

Insect bites
Mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, bedbugs, lice and scabies are common itchy nuisances. The general treatment of the itching itself is largely the same — antihistamines, and topical hydrocortisone cream. If there is any doubt about the source of the itching, or if after treatment of the symptoms things get worse, visit to your primary care doctor or dermatologist. He or she can best identify a potentially contagious parasite (scabies or lice), bedbugs or an infected bite that requires a prescription for antibiotics.

Ticks
Ticks are the vectors for transmission of a number of infectious illnesses, including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Erlichiosis, to name a few. A small itch on your leg or neck after being outdoors in a suburban backyard or golf course may reveal a tick embedded in your skin. If the tick doesn’t come off easily when grasped with a tweezers, cover it with Vaseline and try again in an hour. This smothers the tick and may release its grip. If this doesn’t work see a health care professional, as identification of the tick, as well as preventive treatment for Lyme Disease, may be indicated.


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