Itchy skin

Itching is such a universal symptom in skin trouble that it deserves closer investigation. Itching is thought by neurologists to be a type of very low intensity pain produced by a minimal type of stimulus. In other words, something irritates you and you tend to get rid of it by a quick scratch. But there is another component to itching. Somewhere in the brain there is a centre which seems to prime the skin (itself a projection of the nervous system) to become over excitable – to over-react. If you watch closely the fingers of many people who appear on television, you will be surprised by how frequently they scratch themselves, betraying an often unsuspected degree of tension.

Looking at itching as a stress-related symptom is highly relevant for it occurs in the same ways and situations as do other stress symptoms. It is frequently time-related or situation-related. Suppressed anger or irritation can often be partially released by having a good scratch. Patients have been known to complain that whenever they feel angry and cannot express it normally, they get itchy all over. Even the expression ‘irritating moments’ tells us a lot about the relationship between itching and tension. A man who suffered greatly from eczema got better when his elderly mother was admitted to hospital, for she subconsciously irritated him. Some people will get urticaria (hives) when faced with a stress problem, an examination, a social event, an interview or even a holiday. Two well-known orthopaedic surgeons were so antagonistic to one another that if they met one would immediately break out in the itchy hand rash called pomphlyx and subsequently could not operate for several days. Needless to say, he went to elaborate means to avoid a chance encounter with his colleague!

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