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 made no significant progress in curing it. 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 can ignore pain, but 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.
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 advances in treating itching skin conditions, and how aggravating people who itch find people acting so alarmed at those of us who do (itch, that is).
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. And annoying people will ask you about it.
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, but it turns everything — towels and wash clothes — black. Which is weird. I’ve also got several kinds of natural creams that include a lots of aloe and other vegetation — and more than a dozen other things including bee pollen. Generally, this works better than anything else, but sometimes, only the doctor’s stuff works. I use whatever works in no particular order and if it is bad enough, I’ll just smear on everything and hope that something works.
It gets better, it gets worse. Washing makes it better or worse and you have to be careful what soap you use — and how hot the water is. Hot water can make it worse. Ice can make it itch less. This is not just me, it’s general rule, but no one knows why it is true.
Essentially, no one knows anything much about this itching rash thing. Since it’s not lethal and non-contagious and the companies that make all the ointments make money making the ointments, I’m betting that there isn’t a vast army of doctors seeking cures for non-specific rashes of indeterminate origins. Meanwhile, the older I get, the more permanent the rash has become. It used to go away for years at a time, but these days, it retreats, but never completely disappears.
If it finally goes away for a while, I know that like General MacArthur, it will return.
The next time someone asks me “What’s that?” I plan to tell them: “Leprosy. Easily controlled by antibiotics.” That should end the conversation fast,