Life with psoriasis: Managing itch

Managing itch

The itch of psoriasis may have a bigger impact on quality of life than the visible effect of the disease. However, treating psoriasis also can profoundly improve these symptoms and your ability to cope with psoriasis on a day-to-day basis.

Read below for tips on how to handle the itch of psoriasis.

Psoriasis itch is unique

Psoriatic itch is different than that of other skin disorders. Some people have described it as a burning, biting sensation. Others compare it to the feeling of being bitten by fire ants. Doctors were once taught that psoriatic patients couldn’t have both itch and pain, but scientists now know that itch and pain signals travel along different pathways in the spinal cord, said Dr. Gil Yosipovitch of Wake Forest University Health Sciences and a recognized itch expert.

Studies show that stress aggravates psoriasis and itch. Biologic drugs, such as Enbrel (etanercept), Humira (adalimumab), Remicade (infliximab) and Stelara (ustekinumab) help relieve itch even before skin lesions begin to disappear.

People with psoriasis can have itch even in places without lesions, Yosipovitch said. “There is no correlation between itch severity to the (Psoriasis Area and Severity Index) score,” Yosipovitch said.

At-home remedies

The following are ways people with psoriasis help relieve itch and pain:

  • Keep skin moisturized. This is the first step in controlling itch because it reduces redness and itching and helps the skin heal. Dermatologists recommend heavy creams and ointments to lock water into the skin. Cooking oils and even shortening can be economical substitutes for commercial moisturizers.
  • Minimize scale and flaking. Apply a scale softening (keratolytic) product to reduce excess skin and prevent psoriasis plaques from cracking and flaking.
  • Cold showers and cold packs also can offer relief. Avoid bathing in very warm water and try to limit showers to 10 minutes or less. Hot water can exacerbate skin irritation and dryness. Apply lotion after washing to lock in moisture. Cooling lotions in the refrigerator prior to use can help increase relief from itch.

Treatments requiring prescription

Other treatments for psoriatic itch include antihistamines, phototherapy, steroids, capsaicin, topical anesthetics like Pramoxine and medications that help calm the overactive immune response that causes psoriasis lesions, antidepressants and aspirin. Yosipovitch has prescribed drugs more commonly used to treat neurological pain like Gabapentin and certain anti-depressants called noradrenergic and specific serotonergic (NaSSA) antidepressants to relieve psoriasis itch. Find out more about topical treatments for psoriasis that can help alleviate pain and itch, or consult our treatment guide for a comprehensive list of treatment options.

Scalp psoriasis can be particularly itchy and uncomfortable. Treatment usually involves a topical ointment or a special shampoo. Read more about scalp psoriasis treatments »

Get ideas on how to treat psoriasis pain and itch from people living with the disease from our It Works For Me blog »