itching causes a lot of suffering to the people who are affected by it. It’s a common, but little-known, symptom of fibromyalgia. As such, there isn’t a lot of scientific study of what causes it and how it can be treated.
People with fibromyalgia itching often find that the chronic itch can be worse than the pain. They have trouble sleeping at night because the itch strikes at all hours of the day. And scratching doesn’t seem to make the itching any better while still breaking and damaging their skin. The constant itch and the inability to do anything about it makes living with fibromyalgia itching extremely difficult for most people.
This is especially true when most doctors don’t know what causes this itch and are dismissive. They focus on treating the pain of fibromyalgia and treat the itching as something that can easily be ignored after prescribing some ineffective anti-histamines.
That means that patients are usually on their own when it comes to finding an effective way to treat their fibromyalgia itching. And it turns out moisturizers might be an effective way to treat the symptom of fibromyalgia itching. So how do they work? And are they really a good treatment?
How Do Moisturizers Work?
It might surprise you to learn that something as simple as a moisturizer is actually not that simple. There are three different kinds of moisturizers and they all work in different ways. Basically, moisturizers work by keeping water closer to the cells in your skin. This prevents them from drying out and releasing some of the nerve reactions that make you feel itchy. But each kind of moisturizer does this in a different, and specific way.
Occlusives are a kind of moisturizer that works by trapping moisture against your skin so that it can’t escape. See, your skin naturally produces moisture that is released in sweat or just through evaporation.
But sometimes that moisture is released too quickly which causes your skin to dry out. Occlusive moisturizers keep all that moisture in your skin cells instead. They are usually made out of oils, waxes, or synthetic chemicals that are water-repellent and tend to be goopy and noticeable on the skin. They are very effective, though. In fact, occlusives are the most effective kind of moisturizer out there.
Emollients work by restoring the natural barrier between your skin and the environment. Typically, your skin forms a link between proteins and skin cells that keep water in and bacteria out. Sometimes this barrier breaks down, which results in your skin getting dried out.
Emollients include chemicals that bond with the skin and trap in moisture, which brings everything back into balance.
They aren’t as effective as occlusives, generally. But they are also less noticeable on the skin.
Humectants work in different ways than emollients and occlusives. Instead of locking water into the surface of the skin, they actually pull water out of the air. This is useful in normal environments, where there is plenty of available moisture in the air. But in drier environments, they are less effective. There is less water in the air to pull in, which of course means less is available for the skin.
The good news is that they are the least goopy of the different kinds of moisturizers. And you can often solve the problem of dry air by investing in a home humidifier. That has the added benefit of making your environment less likely to dry out your skin in the first place.
How Can They Treat Itching?
A lot of the time, dry skin leads directly to itching. This is because the natural balance of moisture in the skin breaks down and the skin begins to crack and get irritated, which triggers the sensation of itching. Itching itself is caused by aggravated skin cells triggering nerves that then move to your brain. Your brain interprets this as an itchy feeling in your skin. So itching actually starts in the brain, not on the skin itself.
This is especially true when it comes to itching as a symptom of fibromyalgia, since the source of the itching may not be the overly dry skin itself. There’s some evidence that fibromyalgia may be an immune disorder, and the itching is actually the result of inflammation. And some believe that the cause of the itching might actually be damaged nerve cells that trigger the itching cycle in your brain. Which means that your dry skin is actually not very involved in the symptoms of fibromyalgia itching.
But many people with fibromyalgia itching do find that keeping skin well-moisturized actually does help their symptoms. So while it might not work for everyone, keeping your skin healthy might easily help reduce your itchiness. This could be due to a number of reasons. The well-moisturized skin might help soothe those damaged nerves. Or not giving your skin a reason to trigger itching signals might reduce an unrelated, but still annoying, source of the itching.
And the first step in skin health is avoiding dehydration. Drink plenty of water, and choose a moisturizer that will help lock in that moisture. Occlusives are considered to be the most effective. Though, again, you might find that they are distracting or unpleasant due to their thickness and their oily quality.
Luckily, there are many different kinds of moisturizers, and it’s easy to find one that works for you.
Finally, avoid environmental factors that might be drying out your skin. Heavy use of central heating or hot showers can both dehydrate your skin. Heat and dryness are the natural enemies of healthy skin. Avoid things that can make it worse. Stick with lukewarm showers and consider investing in a room humidifier.
You may find that following these steps helps with your fibromyalgia itching. But if not, let us know.
And do you suffer from itching with your fibromyalgia? Do moisturizers help? Does anything else work for you? Let us know in the comments.