What is Neurodermatitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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Neurodermatitis is a skin condition characterized by a chronic itch-scratch cycle in which the patient experiences itching, scratches, and irritates the skin, which triggers more itching. It can be difficult to treat, because behavior modification on the part of the patient is often required to resolve the issue. Treatment for neurodermatitis can be provided by a dermatologist who can handle the skin irritation, and a psychologist who can help the patient address behavioral issues.

In some cases, neurodermatitis appears to be caused by self injury, commonly as a result of stress. People may compulsively scratch or fret at the skin and scalp, causing scaly lesions to appear, and these lesions will in turn itch, leading the patient to scratch and setting up a cyclical skin problem. Other causes of neurodermatitis include situations which irritate the nerve endings, such as chemical exposure, tight clothing, prolonged pressure, and so forth. In these cases, the irritated nerve endings start sending out a signal that they are itching even when nothing which could cause irritation or an itch is present.


This condition is also known as lichen simplex chronicus. The patient usually develops reddened, scaly skin which can include hard nodules of irritated skin. If patients scratch enough, they can create open ulcerations which may seep and provide an opening for bacteria to enter the body. The skin is also commonly dry and flaky. Neurodermatitis can occur anywhere on the body. Arms are a common site, as is the scalp. In people with a history of skin problems, the neurodermatitis often occurs in old problem spots. Someone who has a history of developing hives and irritation on the hands, for example, will develop lesions on the hands.

Treatments for neurodermatitis include the topical use of antibiotics and steroids to manage the inflammation and potential infection. Skin soothing creams can also be used to calm the itching so that the patient experiences less irritation. Finally, the patient must scratch less. Some patients are able to control the scratching on their own, while others use techniques like cutting their nails short and wearing gloves so that they are less likely to injure their skin. Seeing a psychologist can also help a patient who wants to learn not to scratch.

In patients who have developed neurodermatitis because they are feeling edgy or nervous, tranquilizers can sometimes be beneficial. These medications help the patient stay calm, and may reduce the feelings of stress and upset which contribute to the development of scratching behavior. Ideally, patients who require sedatives should also see a psychologist to learn stress coping techniques and address the problems which are causing stress.


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