ABOUT THAT ITCHY RASH

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


  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, 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.

MacArthur-Quote-1

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,

43 thoughts on “ABOUT THAT ITCHY RASH

  1. My sympathies, Marilyn. I seldom get anything visible, but when I do, I come out in weals as I I’ve been attacked by a sabre-tooth. On the other hand, I get driven up the wall by the unknown itchies regularly. They stop you sleeping altogether and make you feel like you are going insane. I find taking daily antihistamines helps keep them at bay and double the dose if I have a bad flare up (doc’s advice.) I can’t miss taking them for more than a day though…

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  2. I have itches here and there, but nothing chronic.. It seems to be a hereditary thing with you. I am sure it is annoying especially as it remains a mystery. On the other hand, make the most of it. You can become the center of attention at a party. I remember when I broke my arm for the second time, I had such an interesting scar, kept the conversation lively.

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    • I look like mince meat sometimes. Right now, not too bad except for parts of my arms and I’m wearing a long sleeved dress to cover it. It’s frustrating that a rash I got when I was 25 is still driving me crazy at age 70!

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  3. i get two kinds of itches, one is from too much iron in the system (think nutmeg grater itch) which also includes molasses, iron pills (hel-LO anemia), or just any food that is ‘enriched” with it.
    The other kind is psoriasis, and both kinds can be calmed with liquid Vitamin E oil. almost immediately. I like the kind that pours like maple syrup rather than the kind that is thick-sticky. But it does work. It might help yours, too. Not a bad idea to put it on and then cover it with a cloth or bandage to keep it from mucking up your clothes. Talcum powder over it helps, too.

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    • Are you surprised that I have the pure Vit. E and a variety of Vit E creams too? I have EVERYTHING. It isn’t psoriasis, but exactly what it IS? Eczema? Dermatitis? Both? Neither? It doesn’t fit into any particular category and I don’t think it’s iron because I have to avoid iron … I overdose on it for some reason. Just builds up in my system. It could BE some kind of food related thing. Or it could be something that has nothing to do with anything and I will never know. I’ve been tested and retested and at this point, I refuse to go to another dermatologist. They never have anything useful to tell me except to do what I’m already doing. It is frustrating. AND IT ITCHES.

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  4. My daughter has eczema and it’s horrific. It used to cover her hands, but over the years has migrated and since the birth of her last child covered her entire face, arms, hands. She’s tried everything possible. Her skin is cracked and huge cavernous areas are scabbed over. She’s constantly humiliated since nothing works. Every few months she has to go to the doc and get a penicillan or the like and it seems to clear up her face for a bit. Her hands, constantly in water become deformed as do her nails because it wreaks havoc. They still don’t know the cause but it’s related, in her case, to infection somewhere. Hence the penicillan, well derivitive we’re all allergic to penecillan. So I completely understand your pain.

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    • Mine used to get really horrendous and then, like magic, it would disappear and sometimes stay gone for years at a time. This time, it popped up a couple of years ago and never got as bad as it did before, but also lingers on. If I use the organic stuff on it, it stays pretty minimal, but sometimes it pops up on a new part of me … in this case my arms … and I look like chopped meat. Diligence and it goes away. Sometimes powder works best, sometimes the cream works best. Occasionally, the doctor/medicated stuff will stop a new outbreak … but nothing kills it. I often think it’s a systemic issue and it isn’t even a skin problem, but its really something else and the skin is a symptom.

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      • I know, I’ve often wondered that. Although, when I was breastfeeding my daughter, I nearly died, they put me on medication I shouldn’t have had at the time, and I took her in because her whole body was a mess of bubbles and blisters etc. Then the doc realized he’d forgotten I was breastfeeding. It didn’t show up on her until she was a teenager and we found out about all the deadly allergies she had. Now the allergies are worse. She’s allergic to cucumber of all things. eggs, milk, fish shellfish…and there isn’t much that doesn’t have something in it whether it be salad or not…so she goes through horrific bouts of twisted looking fingers and loosing fingernails and the last straw that has absolutely horrified her was her entire face breaking out…she finds it beyond horrible…she says “it’s in your face” you cant get away from it. Its true.

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      • It’s seriously worsened with time and I’d hoped it would be under control, somehow, someway. Everyone that sees her offers her something to try, she’s done trying, nothing works, perhaps for 24 hours if that, and it starts back up again. so I’m with you in that it might be systemic….

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  5. Hello, since you’ve had this most of your life I guess that you’ve tried many things, and have been told pretty much every crazy remedy under the sun, correct? My thoughts on this are, changing your soaps and laundry detergents to those organic type products, like Method, or 7th Generation, there is a company that delivers, with free shipping as well, and you can schedule deliveries every few months, they have soaps, laundry detergent, shampoos, lotions, and beauty products…..you may be allergic to the chemicals in the products you use to wash your clothes? Or, you may be allergic to certain soaps for bathing, dish detergent, cleaning products. If your washing your sheets and clothing in these irritating items, your body will be affected,as you sweat while in bed, the items are rubbing against your skin. I really enjoy the items I’ve received from this company Grove Collaborative, and they work very well, smell good too. I have sensitive skin, and it’s dry, especially my legs and arms, so I do become itchy in winter, I try to use coconut oil, and shea butter, or olive oil lotions. Try Grove Collaborative, on-line site for these organic products, it’s a lovely company, based in California, new members get 4 full size products free if they spend 20.00 dollars, items are cheaper than if brought in retail stores too. This is just my own opinion, and “liking” of this company, not a sales pitch, check it out, it might help, right? I wish you good luck with whatever you decide.

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    • Did all of that long ago. It helped. Didn’t cure it, but it helped. Ditto with all soaps, shampoos, body creams, etc. Sometimes, I think I’m just allergic to LIFE. It also could be something food related.

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  6. Those skin issues are hard to pin down. I used to think it might be the dye they use in the clothes we wear. Maybe it’s all that GMO in our food. Who knows? All I do know is, doctors seldom can figure it out and they are quick to cover up the symptoms with cortisone, which of course, is only a temporary solution.
    Leslie

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    • I don’t think it’s GMO because it started before that became a problem. But dye in the clothing? I’ve wondered about that. Also wondered about the stuff they use in clothing to keep it from getting moldy during the transit from the far east where almost all of it is made. I wash everything before I wear it, too. The stuff from India is the worst. Cortisone works initially, but stops working very fast. Two doses and the reaction to the cortisone is worse that the original problem. I only use the cortisone on a new outbreak in the hope it will stop it before it gets going.

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      • There was a time when you could sit down with a skin specialist and they would try to figure out what was new in your life (shampoo, nail polish, laundry soap whatever) that might be causing it.

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  7. yes, it could be medications, and allergies, and so many things….I’d think the best you can do is try natural, and organics as much as you can, and use coconut oil/lotions, as it is supposed to help with a bunch of problems, eat and drink, and cook with it. I presume you know about the coconut oil craze? Cortisone doesn’t really help me, I like Gold Bond cream and powder, awesome and great stuff for me…cooling effect too, and works within a day, I always have it around now.

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    • I was using Gold Bond, but I switched to the same medicated powder but using cornstarch rather than talc. Sometimes, it helps a lot. Other times, not at all. As I said, I’ll try anything at this point. Literally anything.

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