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. I have found a couple of natural creams that help and corn starch powder with zinc oxide sometimes helps, too. But mostly, medical science has no significant 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 barely seems possible.

  1. Try not to look horrified.
  2. Don’t stare.
  3. Do not let your jaw drop and tongue loll. That is most unattractive.
  4. 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 advances 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. I’ve also got several kinds of complex natural creams that include a lot of aloe and more than a dozen other things including bee pollen and generally, this works better than anything else, but sometimes, only the doctor’s stuff works.

It gets better, it gets worse. Washing makes it better or worse and you have to be care what soap you use and how hot the water is. The older I’ve gotten, the more permanent the rash seems to have become. It used to go away for years at a time, but these days, it retreats, but not completely.

If it goes away, but, like General MacArthur, it will return.

The next time someone asks me “What’s that?” I’ll plan to tell them: “Leprosy. Easily controlled by antibiotics.” That should end the conversation pretty fast,

72 thoughts on “BEHAVING RASHLY

  1. lifelessons August 15, 2015 / 12:26 am

    I think itching is the worst pain there is. Well, perhaps childbirth, but…I think it is over sooner. Don’t know. I’ve never been through it. But itching? Argh!!!


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:42 am

      It’s very distracting. It also has a weird pattern, showing up usually in the spring, disappearing in the fall. Better in the morning, worse at night. It’s worse now than it was when I was younger, but it seems that whatever is wrong with you, it is worse when you are older. Getting older makes EVERYTHING worse, but the alternative is unattractive.


      • lifelessons August 15, 2015 / 1:18 am

        Have you considered the soap you are using? Could it be your sheets? Other thought in the spring is pollen. Sure you’ve gone over this again and again..Just can’t help hopping it.


        • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 1:25 am

          Yes, yes, yes. I use special soap, hypo-allergenic detergent. And it helps, but doesn’t cure it. At least it doesn’t get worse, which is almost as good as getting better. Actually, it is better. Just not gone.


          • lifelessons August 15, 2015 / 1:28 am

            I must admit I’m allergic to my dogs. Finally realized I can’t let them sleep in the same room as me. Makes a big difference. I also have to wash my hands every time I touch Frida. Don’t have as much problem with the other two, although there is something about Morrie that bothers me a lot…A very strange odor, almost chemical. It goes away when I bathe him but is back by the next day. I’m wondering if it has to do with his flea collar.


            • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 1:42 am

              Flea collars are serious allergens. Not only is it likely YOU are allergic to it, but don’t be surprised if Morrie is too. All my dogs are allergic to flea and tick collars.


                • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 1:52 am

                  For the dogs, right? Flea powder to kill fleas when they are itching. The heartworm meds also are flea and tick repellents. They get ticks sometimes, but I remove them.


  2. irenedesign2011 August 15, 2015 / 12:34 am

    I get this sometimes too and found out, if I avoid some soaps or food of different kind it will not bother me so much. Often it is either an allergy or nervousness, who starts it.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:39 am

      Mine has been coming and going without any discernible pattern for more than 40 years. I avoid everything that might make it worse. Stress makes it worse as do some kinds of soap, but none of these are the cause. It seems that LIFE is the problem. Life makes me itch.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Sue Vincent August 15, 2015 / 1:31 am

    My autoimmune system took a stress hit after Nick was stabbed. One of the bits of fallout was a rash.. great red weals that looked like scratches and itched like torttue. Stress brings it up… anything from lack of sleep onwards… the only thing I’ve found that helps is aloe vera and the strongest antihistamines I can get my hands on. Otherwise, it drives me up the wall.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 1:46 am

      I totally understand. The itching is fierce. Coal tar soap and salve helps some of us. Not a cure, but it knocks it back a notch or two.


        • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 1:59 am

          That sucks. I also have a pseudo cortisone cream which helps. I can’t use it a lot, but if it gets out of control, it’s the only thing left. Also zinc oxide helps sometimes, but not always. Washing may make it better or worse. I never know until I try.


          • Sue Vincent August 15, 2015 / 3:16 am

            Ice helps.. doesn’t do the Reynauds much good though 😉


                • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 5:18 pm

                  I’ve had potentially lethal conditions that gave me less grief than this stupid rash.


                  • Sue Vincent August 15, 2015 / 5:19 pm

                    You really do have all my sympathies, Marilyn.


                    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 6:16 pm

                      And you mine. The worst part of these things is that because they aren’t going to kill you — just make you miserable — no one takes you seriously, including the doctors who ought to help. So we might as well commiserate with each other! Sympathy is thin on the ground.


                    • Sue Vincent August 15, 2015 / 6:18 pm

                      To be fair, my doc has been very good… still itches like hell though! x

                      Liked by 1 person

  4. bobmielke August 15, 2015 / 2:53 am

    When I read your quote from General Douglas MacArthur I instantly thought of another, “Run away”! by Monty Python in “The quest for the holy grail”. It’s good to know when overwhelming odds dictate a prudent retreat. 🙂


  5. Soul n Spirit August 15, 2015 / 6:36 am

    My younger son is allergic to sun but he still plays a lot out in the sun and keeps on scratching his arms, neck and face till it all turns red. He has sensitive skin. Thankfully rest no one in family has allergy to food or other things. It is very important to know the allergens to cure it fully.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 4:01 pm

      It’s good they’ve developed such effective sun block, although to be fair, sun block makes me itch too. I wear big hats and loose, light cotton shirts, most of which are made in your country. India makes the finest lightweight cotton fabrics. I was able to wear the blouses made of this fabric in mid-summer in August in the Arizona desert … and that was VERY VERY VERY hot. It was a life saver.


  6. Judy @ NewEnglandGardenAndThread August 15, 2015 / 6:59 am

    Yes, leprosy, will end the conversation before it really gets started. I like that. 🙂 And, I guess we should always remember it is the ‘practice of medicine’ and I’ll leave it at that or I’d be here all day. 🙂 Here’s to a lesser itchy day for you.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:16 pm

      Morning’s are always better. And I’ve upped the benedryl to twice a day. I have to be careful, though. It doesn’t go well with my heart stuff.


  7. susurrus August 15, 2015 / 10:40 am

    You have my heartfelt sympathy. I have a few allergies but the one that causes me most trouble is shampoo and conditioner. I find something that works for a few years then the formula is changed or the product vanishes from the shelves. The only thing that helps a little when I’m most itchy is to remember to lightly touch or tap or stroke the place but never scratch. Needless to say it takes a day or so of itching for me to wise up enough to remember the importance of this.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:15 pm

      When it has been gone for a while, you forget about it. Then it comes back and it always takes me a while to realize “Oh. It’s back” and go into “no scratching” “ointment” “special soap” “anti-histimine” mode. My arm wouldn’t have gotten so bad if I’d recognized it for a new piece of the old rash. I let it go too long because I didn’t recognize it in its new format.


      • susurrus August 15, 2015 / 12:20 pm

        Yes, that’s perceptive. It depends on your state of alertness which can work either way. I’ve seen a small red blotch and feared the worst when it was nothing to worry about.


        • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:24 pm

          I know. Overreaction and under-reaction … equally common. But I probably should have NOT waited until my arm looked like chopped meat from layers of break out and scratching. That was a serious error of judgment. It’s gradually going away with cortisone (not the real stuff, the chemical lab-made version — and not the strongest stuff either because cortisone doesn’t blend well with a replaced mitral valve and other heart issues) … and coal tar,which usually is for psoriasis, but I figured “why not?” I’ll take any help I can get!


          • susurrus August 15, 2015 / 12:42 pm

            Hindsight is a great thing!

            For skin, I use Simple soap and bath stuff. I would not dare venture to advise you in your current position – you’ll know much better than me what helps in the long run, but I use good quality lavender and camomile essential oil for minor irritations.


            • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 3:56 pm

              I’m not sure if I’ve tried everything yet, but ultimately, I’m sure I will 🙂


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:19 pm

      Have you tried WEN? It’s a cleansing conditioner. It completely calmed down my scalp, smells good, and my hair hasn’t look this good in years. It also stopped most of the fallout. But it is expensive. Check Amazon. I don’t think you can get it from stores, though WEN has its own website, too. But they want you to sign up for regular deliveries and I prefer to order it when I need it. It REALLY helped. A LOT.


      • susurrus August 15, 2015 / 12:24 pm

        I haven’t. I’ve been using Aveda shampoo – also expensive but it lasts a long time. I’ve tried a few conditioners and also going without conditioner (not a great idea), but I think that’s the problem. I’ll look at your recommendation – thanks! I hope you soon feel better.


        • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:41 pm

          WEN is a whole different concept. It takes a couple of rounds before your hair settles down, but once it starts working properly, it is amazing. If you buy it, let me know and I’ll tell you how to get started. There’s a slightly different “start up” thing than for maintenance. My friend uses it and she explained it to me … and it has made a world of difference. AND it doesn’t itch.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. nonsmokingladybug August 15, 2015 / 10:41 am

    Oh man, now you have me itching all over. (Just kidding). I had the weirdest rush on my arms for years, only on top of my arms – under the t-shirt – and sometimes on my back. Little bumps that drove me crazy, I was itching all the time. Then it disappeared and came back a few weeks later. One day, while at a Vet’s office with a rescue puppy, the vet asked me if I am itching too. I laughed and told him about it. Many of our little puppies are diagnosed with mange, mostly the highly contagions one, the Sarcoptic mange. He told me it could be transferred to humans as well. Little mites that you can’t see. I didn’t like the idea at all. While our dogs are always on medications like heart worm pills, frontline and other’s stuff, we the humans aren’t. The eggs of the mites are on the dog beds, even our clothes and when they hatch they bite us.

    I never got the skin test done, but bought the cream and used rubbing alcohol on my arms. Sure enough, it disappeared. Once in a while, when I work with dogs, it comes back, but the cream works like a charm.

    Interesting read for every dog owner


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:13 pm

      That happened to me, too, way back when I had a big Afghan hound rescue. He had everything. That’s how I diagnosed the mange, when both of us were up late scratching. It’s call Scabies in people, but it’s the same mite.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. dcmontreal August 15, 2015 / 11:04 am

    As The Coasters said about poison ivy:”You’re gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion. You’ll be scratchin’ like a hound”. Have you ever tried the light treatment. I know it works for psoriasis


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 12:11 pm

      Yes, yesterday. It doesn’t seem to have done anything, but it’s hard to tell. It didn’t do any harm, anyway. That’s something.


  10. swo8 August 15, 2015 / 1:01 pm

    I like the diagnosis of Leprosy. That will definitely shut them up. It might even make them go away.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 3:50 pm

      I have trouble with people who first look horrified … and THEN ask if it bothers me. What do they think? It doesn’t bother me? Dumb and dumber. Leprosy and mention that my arm might fall off at any time. Ignorance is bliss 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  11. wscottling August 15, 2015 / 1:30 pm

    I have a few friends with that problem, and you’d think they had leprosy the way people treat them. Those stupid medicine commercials don’t help, the shame they make people feel for having something they can’t control. Pisses me off whenever I see one… “I wish I could explain my moderate to severe [insert whatever here]… ” Blah.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 3:54 pm

      It’s really dumb because literally tens of millions of people have rashes like this, of varying severity, cause unknown. Not curable, but hopefully controllable. No one looks horrified that I’ve had two types of cancer, but a non-infectious skin rash freaks them out? Really? Leprosy. Especially since Leprosy is actually curable these days with antibiotics. People are so dumb.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. angloswiss August 15, 2015 / 1:35 pm

    The most interesting on my body are the scars from various occasions. Each one has a memory. At the moment no rashes, although I did once contact ringworm which the doc diagnosed as probably catching it from my feline, but it only happened once. I once had a very bad outbreak on my hands which needed cortison – coming apparently from antibiotics in food (probably smoked salmon). I think the best comment would be “that’s interesting”. Then you feel special, something unique – a purpose in having a rash. It is no good saying get well soon, because you probably will not, but a shifting rash, you must admit, is something completely different. You know I think when you reach a certain age, things appear in places which you did not even know existed before you got them.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 3:52 pm

      It is probably the least dangerous condition I’ve got. I’ve got arthritis, heart disease, and had cancer twice. I have had massive ulcers. But of all of these, this stupid rash is the MOST annoying.

      I got ringworm from my dogs. Also mange. But they were curable. This, sadly, is only (at best) controllable.


  13. DaVida Nature Photography August 15, 2015 / 4:45 pm

    Do I know this story only too well! I am often scolded about going to the dermatologist, but haven’t because others in my family have, tried the shots and creams, and nothing chances. It is part of the come and go pattern. My own doctor recently scolded me for using over-the- counter products which doesn’t clear the skin, but greatly relieves the itching (finally!) In the four years I have had it, his advice – learn to live with it. Kind of pissed me off when he thought to order me up a prescription instead.

    One of the funniest outbreaks I had, when it slowly crept up both of my arms to my elbows, and became really hard to keep completely covered, was when my preschool class noticed. I became our science project for several weeks as they took out the magnifying glasses to inspect and keep track of my peeling skin. On the other hand, it was a good lesson in empathy! Lots of love those few weeks.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 4:49 pm

      Your experience absolutely parallels mine, including having it climb up your arms. It has climbed up my right arm and is trying to make inroads on the left one. The doctor gave me some imitation cortisone goop — not the strong stuff that really works. The weak version that almost works because gee, we wouldn’t want to give me any actual RELIEF, right?

      I don’t even know how many dermatologists have just shrugged. Not their problem. I share your itchiness.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Raewyn's Photos August 15, 2015 / 8:42 pm

    I am allergic to silicon of all things – I can’t wear any clothing with silicon ( bra straps etc) and gloves are a big no-no. Then there is the nickel allergy – even from studs on jeans are a problem. I was also allergic to dish washing detergent at one stage – got me out of dishes as a child. The heat and humidity is not a help at all. All the best and the leprosy diagnosis is a great one. Shuts up the nosy people fast


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 8:53 pm

      For everyone, apparently heat and humidity are bad. I can’t even take a hot shower at this point. Warm, but not hot. What I’m allergic to — like you — varies. My skin turns silver and other metals black, too. It’s acidity i’m told.


  15. evilsquirrel13 August 15, 2015 / 10:13 pm

    If this keeps up, rashes may become the new hipster trend. You’re nobody if you aren’t sporting at least a couple of these red, itchy looking blotches on your body somewhere where they can be easily seen…


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 15, 2015 / 11:04 pm

      If I wore sexier clothing, I’d have been the talk of the town (s) for decades. I don’t know why I never thought of a red, itching rash as a fashion accessory. Clearly, I just don’t have a head for fashion! Leprosy could be the next big thing!!


  16. pujakins August 16, 2015 / 9:10 pm

    One of the things that helped my dreadful poison ivy was cornstarch. It was the only thing that seemed to stop the itch. You can just rub it on wherever it tiches and see if it helps. It’s cheap too! Wishing you well, Tasha


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 16, 2015 / 10:50 pm

      It does help, but so does talc. Anything that dries it out helps a little bit, for a little while. Nothing works very long. Thanks, Tasha


  17. Bette A. Stevens August 17, 2015 / 8:31 pm

    For some reason, any of the crazy itchy rashes I’ve ever had always seem to get worse when I’m extra stressed or the weather is terribly humid.. Drs. (including dermatologists) are nearly useless when it comes to helping. I use Yardley Oatmeal & Almond soap for bathing and Aveeno Daily Moisturizer after bath. This helps abate the itching some. ❤


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 17, 2015 / 8:45 pm

      Anything oatmeal helps. Oatmeal bath stuff helps, too. Dermatologists are worse than useless. They throw out meaningless diagnoses when they really don’t have a clue. I don’t know how many of them I’ve been too … and only one of them had the grace to admit I had “one of those dermatitis itchy rashes of unknown cause.” Everyone else felt that had to tell me something blatantly wrong. Then send me home with a bill to pay, knowing no more than I’d know when I got there.

      Humidity and heat make it worse. I can’t even take a hot shower. At least it usually gets better in the winter. This is such a common thing, you’d thing there’s be some progress in figuring it out, but in 50 years, nothing.


  18. D.G.Kaye August 17, 2015 / 9:36 pm

    I get the same weird eczema? rash on my left palm and them only, seriously. It gets redder and itchier when I’m stressed, and humidity aggravates as well. When I’m in my happy place, the desert, it’s gone. I’ve also tried every remedy, pharma and natural and it won’t go away. The end.


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 17, 2015 / 10:28 pm

      More the 20 million people in this country alone have something like it and no one knows what it is or how to get rid of it. It won’t make it itch less, but you have a lot of company.

      Liked by 1 person

      • D.G.Kaye August 17, 2015 / 10:43 pm

        It seems so. I was blown away when I read about your ‘mysterious’ rash. 🙂


        • Marilyn Armstrong August 17, 2015 / 11:16 pm

          I did a lot of research and realized that this affects almost everyone, at least sometime in their lives. But everyone things it is only them. I figured I’d pass the news that it isn’t rare, it isn’t going to kill you, but it definitely will make you crazy.

          Liked by 1 person

  19. Mir Fleur August 27, 2015 / 4:39 pm

    I suffer with a whole range of skin conditions – I feel my skin and I are in a very stormy relationship, with the occasional truce! People who don’t suffer will never understand the sheer agony of that itch!! Mir xx


    • Marilyn Armstrong August 27, 2015 / 5:08 pm

      Mine is going into remission — for the moment. It has been in siege mode for almost a year and this is the first time I haven’t felt like tearing my skin off. It’s awful. Agony is as good a description as any I could give. I wish I had a clue as to what triggers it … or what makes it recede. It has a mind of its own.


      • Mir Fleur August 27, 2015 / 5:35 pm

        Glad to hear you’re getting some respite from it. I know what triggers a lot of mine (I suffer with delayed pressure urticaria) but as for the rest of it… no idea! ‘Mind of its own’ is exactly the phrase I used in my own blog about it recently :), funny way to think of skin 🙂


        • Marilyn Armstrong August 27, 2015 / 6:05 pm

          Mine seems to be to some degree seasonal. Shows up in the spring, usually disappears in the winter. But not always and not THIS year. Also, it has decided to appear in a variety of new and exciting formats, one of which I didn’t even recognize as “The Rash.” Until suddenly, it began to really ITCH and I said “OH, hello there.” It attacks scar tissue, but not ONLY scar tissue. It has taken some new and interesting turns recently. And the medical profession seems to have nothing new to offer. Swell.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Mir Fleur August 27, 2015 / 6:52 pm

            You highlight another thing that makes it really infuriating – as soon as you get some understanding of how it affects you, it changes it’s mind and does something completely different!


            • Marilyn Armstrong August 27, 2015 / 7:39 pm

              Yes, it is a moving target, able to leap tall building at a single bound. These days, anything that rubs my skin can trigger a reaction, though in one place, it’s a bloody looking rash. In another site, it’s raised welts, things that look just like bug bites, or flat eruptions that look something like severe acne. The number of things that my skin doesn’t like are too numerous to name and I don’t even know what all of them are, since I seem to be able to develop a new reaction for no reason. One develops a very different relationship with elastic when ones skin erupts without warning.

              Liked by 1 person

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