25 August 2019
We find it hard to resist scratching our skin when it is itchy, but this only worsens the skin condition. Photo: Internet
We find it hard to resist scratching our skin when it is itchy, but this only worsens the skin condition. Photo: Internet

Why we shouldn’t scratch our skin when it’s itchy

We often tell people, especially children, to keep our promises. This, however, is easier said than done.

Take scratching as an example. We tell ourselves and others that we should not scratch our skin when it is itchy because the more we scratch it, the more itchy it becomes, and scratching leads to raised, reddish and scaly patches. But most of the time we still do it because we can’t help it.

I want to call it “self-karma”.  Scratching is the result of poor self-control.

It’s a vicious circle. Once we feel itchy, we start scratching the part of the skin that is itchy.

The rubbing of the epidermis leads to the thickening of the skin layer and promotes the growth of keratin. It results in itchy, red, swollen, and cracked skin with flakes.

Scratching worsens the symptoms, enlarging and thickening the affected area.

Commonly affected areas are the ears, the neck, the back, the anus, the vulva and the back of hands, which are all reachable by our hands.

We often use our non-dominant hand, i.e., the left hand for right-handed people, to do the scratching.

Reasons for scratching include psychological factors such as anxiety, stress and emotional swings, as well as external causes of irritation such as insect bites, sunlight, chemicals, ultraviolet radiation, allergies and eczema.

It is not difficult for the doctors to diagnose the skin condition that is attributed to scratching, but patients often find it hard to admit this because they don’t realize they have been scratching a lot.

As a doctor, I give my patients the following tips:

1. Consciously remind yourself not to scratch or to distract yourself from scratching during daytime.

2. Take antihistamines, or anti-allergy medicines, to reduce the itchy feeling.

3. Apply corticosteroid cream in the affected areas. Since the affected area is already thickened, a medical cream of a strong strength is required to penetrate the skin and soothe it.

4. An injection might be considered for some severe cases.

5. After taking antihistamines, we feel drowsy. The affected area of the skin could be covered by a gauze or fabric for protection.

It usually takes two weeks to see improvements in the skin condition. The condition could come back but it would be under control if treated promptly.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 6

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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FHKAM (Paediatrics)

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