Since multiple sclerosis is a disease that acts on the myelin sheath that protects nerves and thus hampers the nerves’ function, it’s bound to cause dysesthesia i.e. abnormal sensations including numbness, burning or itching. It’s important to know about the itching in MS and to deal with it effectively.
In some MS patients, itching may start early on, even before they are diagnosed with MS. Itching is known as pruritus.
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MS itching can vary in intensity from minor to stinging to pricking with needles and pins. Moreover, the feeling doesn’t calm down with scratching unlike a regular itch because MS impairs the nerves in the area where the itch is and not the skin. Since the source of the itch is not any external allergen, over-the-counter itch remedies are ineffective. Instead some lifestyle changes and prescription medications may help the patient control itching.
How is Itching Caused in MS?
Itching in MS may come and go or may keep moving around the body and is unpredictable. Although it doesn’t cause any complications, it can be very annoying. It’s a neurological response. Since the nerve tissues in brain and spinal cord are attacked by the immune system, nerves in the entire body are affected and that causes itching rather than due to any changes in the skin. Hence scratching doesn’t help.
When the itching in MS is mild, any direct treatment may not be necessary. But if it’s recurring or persistent, there is a wide range of remedies available.
Applying cold compresses for 10-15 minutes can numb the area temporarily and relieve itching. You should only apply very cold objects like ice packs wrapped in a towel.
Keep Skin Healthy
MS itching can worsen if your skin is not healthy. If you scratch the skin often, it may be damaged and become prone to dryness and other problems. Avoid taking excessive hot showers and using soaps containing harsh chemicals. Consume plenty of water and use moisturizers to keep skin hydrated.
Sometimes practicing stress management methods like yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy and breathing techniques helps relieve MS itching.
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Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
A TENS or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation unit works by sending electric charges to the parts of body it’s attached to. This is usually used to relieve MS pain but can help in MS itch too. However, you should first consult your doctor.
Understand MS itch and control it with the above tips to make your life easier.