Many people attribute poor sleep, depression, agitation, difficulty concentrating, and reduced sexual desire and function to itch. We are talking about winter itch, or its real name Xerotic Eczema. This condition gets worse as winter drags on – weeks of air that is cold and heat that is too dry take their toll. The vulnerable develop itchy arms, thighs, knees, elbows and trunk. It gets worse in bed at night and after a hot shower – for most it is just an annoyance but for some the itch can be so severe that it can drive them mad. It can even get to the point where the continuous rubbing and scratching can create an “itch-scratch-itch” cycle that makes things worse. Some people gouge and scratch until they bleed. Infections and chronic eczema can follow.
Perhaps 25% of the population get winter itch. Every winter doctors see patients with itch but often there is not a lot to see on the skin.
This condition is caused by excessive water loss from the top layers of the skin causing dehydration and drying of the upper layer skin cells called corneocytes. The outer top layers of the epidermis need 10-20% of water concentration to maintain their integrity. Normally there are fats in the top layers of the skin that act as water balances and skin loss of these lipids can cause an increased loss of water up to 75 times that of healthy skin. When water is lost, skin cells shrink, elasticity reduces and splits and the can form.
Other symptoms of winter itch can include the skin feeling tight after bathing or swimming, the skin feeling and looking rough, and the skin looking sunken and dehydrated.
The situations that cause an increased risk of this condition are:
An important point here is that this dry skin condition is actually caused by a lack of oil in the skin, not water.
Apart from treating any medical problems like thyroid disease and chemical exposure, etc., it is important to do the following:
The prognosis of this condition is that it will improve in most people in less than two weeks. In severe cases, you may even have to place a humidifier in your house or bedroom.
More tips that can help include the following:
Winter Itch PDF (56KB)
All PDF articles on this site can be opened with Adobe Reader.
Are you looking for a professional speaker for your next conference or workshop? Book Dr Frances.
This section has a complete list of useful medical and general sites.