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What is an Antipruritic?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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An antipruritic agent or substance is by nature or design something that helps to relieve the discomfort associated with itching. There are home remedies that are antipruritic, and classes of drugs available by prescription or over the counter that may be sold specifically for anti-itch properties, or might feature this as a byproduct of other mechanisms of a drug. People may take or use these medicines for short periods of time or could be prescribed them for long-term use, depending on the conditions provoking skin itch.

Several types of home ingredients make for decent antipruritics, especially to treat the occasional or episodic itchy problem. For instance, baking soda can be made into a paste and placed on itchy spots caused by chicken pox, poison oak, or other identified uncomfortable skin rashes. Other people use things like oatmeal, cornstarch, and apple cider vinegar to calm itching. As with many forms of commercially made antipruritics, these treatments are all topical, placed directly on the itching parts to reduce irritation.

In the next level up are topical antipruritic over the counter products, and these might come in a variety of formulations. Things like creams, ointments, powders and even the occasional spray could assist. What makes these products different is the way they target itching.

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Some believe the best way to calm irritation is to provoke a different kind of irritation, with a counter irritant. When people use products like camphor, they are trying to get antipruritic effects based on this. A topical with antihistamines dulls histamine response, which may cause lowered skin reaction and less inflammation of the skin. Anti-itch corticosteroid creams work in a similar way, causing the skin to inflame less. Another approach are medications like benzocaine, which causes numbness and makes people feel less itchy.

There are antipruritics that are also taken orally, and some of these are over the counter medications. Most popular are antihistamines, like diphenhydramine, that work on a more systemic level to reduce histamine response. Most pain relievers that are over the counter have antipruritic effects too, because they do reduce itching through reduced discomfort.

It’s possible that over the counter solutions are not enough, and there are numbers of prescribed medicines that may target skin inflammation, such as prednisone or a variety of prescription only antihistamines. Extreme discomfort or chronic itching might also be addressed with pain relievers. Some medicines have been suggested as antipruritics, even though this is not their primary use. Selected serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), usually used in the treatment of depression, might be used to calm ongoing itching.

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StarJo
Post 6

Aloe vera is the most awesome antipruritic. I use it on everything from sunburn to bug bites, and it works equally well on all conditions.

Sunburned skin can be really itchy, especially when it starts to peel. I have found that aloe vera gel not only soothes the itching but also prevents the skin from peeling. It actually heals the skin.

In the summer, my legs and ankles often become covered with mosquito and ant bites. Aloe vera gel instantly cools the burning, and as it soaks in, it takes care of the itching. I can apply it as often as I need to, because I don’t have to worry about side effects that can occur with overuse prescription medications.

kylee07drg
Post 5

I’ve heard that oatmeal baths are great for helping eczema sufferers. My best friend’s two-year-old daughter had a severe case, and nothing else would help her.

When even prescription medication failed, my friend started looking into home remedies for eczema. She found instructions online for making an oatmeal bath.

You can use any kind of oats, and she used the quick-cooking kind. She put them in a blender and made them into a powder. She sprinkled it in the bath water and soaked her daughter in it for about twenty minutes.

She was amazed at how well it worked. Who would have thought that something as cheap as oatmeal would be such a good antipruritic?

OeKc05
Post 4

@jennythelib - I take an antihistamine if I get stung by a wasp. I have heard that people who have never had problems with allergies to wasp stings before can suddenly develop anaphalactic shock, so I take the antihistamine as a safeguard against this, as well as to alleviate itching.

The antihistamine helps keep the initial swelling to a minimum. If I take one every four hours for the first couple of days after getting stung, then the itching will not be nearly as intense as it would on its own.

Since it takes care of both of these issues, it’s the best treatment for a sting. I’m sure that other medications might help with the itching, but I doubt that they could prevent a major allergic reaction.

lighth0se33
Post 3

@dfoster85 - Steroid creams work really well to relieve the itching from poison ivy. My husband has a tube of steroid cream that he uses whenever he has a breakout, and it allows him to sleep at night because he gets a break from the constant itching and scratching.

He is stubborn about going to the doctor, but during the second night of constant scratching, I yelled at him for keeping me awake and forced him to go the next day. The doctor gave him a shot, along with a prescription for steroid cream with one refill.

He did need the refill months later. It didn’t help him get over the poison ivy as quickly as a shot would have, but it did control the itching, and the rash went away after several weeks.

jennythelib
Post 2

@dfoster85 - I've never used one myself, but a friend of mine developed PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, which is a fancy name for an itchy rash) during her first pregnancy. She was on a high-dose steroid cream that had to be applied several times a day. Once the itching wasn't quite as bad, they switched her to a lower dose.

A lot of people don't think of taking oral antihistamines for an itch, but they can be really effective for certain kinds of problems. I always take one if I think I've gotten a lot of bug bites, for instance, and I think it helps keep them from swelling up too much.

dfoster85
Post 1

Topical steroid creams are another prescription option for certain kinds of rashes. I came down with a bad case of mysterious contact dermatitis (no one seemed to know what caused it, but I changed my laundry and bath soap and it seemed to clear up with the cream).

My doctor prescribed a steroid cream. These have fewer side effects than a systemic steroid like prednisone, which I've also taken and found to have some pretty unpleasant side effects! The cream was really effective.

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