I have a rash. It itches. Occasionally it hurts, but mostly it itches so much I’m ready to tear my skin off. Cortisone (or chemical equivalents) help, but nothing cures it. What is it?
I don’t know. I’ve had it for my whole life as did my mother before me. More than 20 million people suffer from itching skin rashes of unknown origins. Most, like mine, come and go with no obvious cause. Medical science has made not an iota of progress in curing the problem. Whatever it is.
Until a couple of weeks ago, it only attacked areas of my body that are normally covered by clothing. At least I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of answering the time-worn question: “Oh my God, what’s wrong with you?” Or, the ever-popular: “What the hell is THAT?”
Thank you for sharing your horror at my condition. Recently, my eczema or dermatitis (take your pick, it’s been called both) spread to my right forearm. I admit it’s not pretty, but it isn’t contagious and it won’t kill me. It may, however, drive me insane with the itching.
If it hurt, I could ignore the pain, but itching? Itching blocks all other sensations. All you can think about is how much you’d like to scratch. You know if you start scratching, it will get worse, though sometimes that doesn’t seem possible.
DEALING WITH FRIENDS who have A RASH
- Try not to look horrified.
- Don’t stare.
- Do not let your jaw drop and tongue loll. That is most unattractive.
- Do not ask “Doesn’t that bother you?” Of course it bothers him/her/me.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the concern, but if you look sufficiently awestruck at the rash on my arm, I will feel obliged to give you my entire spiel on rashes, the history of how dermatology has made no significant advance in treating itching skin conditions.
Eczema or dermatitis of unknown origin, also called “contact dermatitis” (contact with what?) is really common. There is a very good chance that you will — at some point in your life — have a rash that itches. It will be red and ugly.
You will have no idea what caused it. Your doctor will have no better idea than you. Over-the-counter cortisone cream won’t help much. The slightly stronger prescription goop from your doctor will help slightly (but not much) more.
Coal tar soap and ointments may also help to lessen the itching while making your skin soft and smooth.
Eventually, your rash will go away. For a while. But, like General MacArthur, it will always return. And the next time someone asks me “What’s that?” I’ll tell them: “It’s leprosy. Easily controlled by antibiotics.” That’ll end the conversation in a hurry.