I have a rash and it itches. Occasionally, if I scratch it a lot — which I often do in my sleep — it hurts, but mostly it itches so much I’m ready to tear my skin off. Cortisone (or some chemical equivalent) helps, but nothing cures it.
What is it?
I don’t know. I’ve had it for most of my adult life as did my mother. More than 20 million people suffer from itching 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.
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.
- 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 (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.
I’ve also got several kinds of natural creams that include aloe and other natural “stuff” and more than a dozen other things including bee pollen and some strange variety of honey. Generally, this works better than most of the commercial cures, but not always. Sometimes, the doctor’s stuff is the only thing that works. I use it when it’s really bad enough.
It gets better, it gets worse. Washing makes it better or worse. You have to be careful what soap you use and how hot the water is. Hot water makes it much worse. Ice helps, though. This is not just me, it’s a general rule, but no one knows why. My theory as to why there has been no research done on these rashes is that companies make fortunes selling cures. It isn’t lethal, so why spend money on cures when you can have lifetime clients buying everything in the hope that it will work?
Essentially, no one knows anything much about this itching rash thing. Not lethal and non-contagious, there no 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 diminishes but never 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 quickly,