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Skin Care and Diseases

Itchy, sensitive skin. Photosensitivity?

06/15/2000

Question:

I`ve been having problems recently with *extremely* itchy skin all over my body. The "itchyness" rarely occurs in the same spot, seldome lasts for an extended period of time (in any one spot), and comes and goes in a heartbeat. Often, the itchyness is accompanied by several raised bumps that are grouped together and almost resemble small mosquito bites. If I scratch at these bumps, they get larger and merge together and form all sorts of irritating raises lines and patterns; the itching also increases substantially. If I don`t scratch them, they usually disappear within a few minutes.

Sometimes I notice these bumps even when the skin is not all that itchy (initially). I noticed this a few weeks back along the backside of my lower leg. I scratched at them out of curiosity (probably not the brightest of ideas) and soon had an itchy trail of bumps running down the length of my leg.

On the worst days, my skin is very sensitive. If I rub against something, that area will start itching and develop raised bumps and lines which disappear after a few minutes. Handling small items with sharp corners will even cause the palms of my hands to itch. Even my own clothing has turned against me - today I returned home from work (itching more than most days), took my jeans off, and noticed an almost tiger-striped pattern of raised lines along the side of my upper leg and buttocks. Within 15 minutes, they had disappeared. If I scratch my name on the inside of my arm with a fingernail (not using much pressure), my name will magically appear in the form of an itchy hive a minute later.

The final symptom that I`ve noticed is rather bizaare (to me, at least). My skin seems to be emitting a faint odor. It`s not very strong and not really unpleasant but I definitely notice it more on my "itchier" days. My friends don`t seem to notice and they look at me like I`ve lost my marbles when I scratch my arm and ask them to sniff. Maybe I`m just imagining the smell...

I`m using the same soaps, detergents, and shampoos that I`ve always used. No new pets in the last year. I`ve been in the same apartment for 2 years. My diet hasn`t changed in years. I DO have severe sinus allergies and have been using the nasal spray Rhinocort for the past year to keep my allergies in check. I`ve also been getting a lot more sun recently than I`ve had in many years. AHAH, you say! Photosensitivity! That`s kinda what I was thinking, but since that thought first occured to me about a month ago, I`ve gone back to my old regiment of staying (mostly) out of the sun. So after a month of limited sun exposure, the symptoms still continue. Also, the itching and hives often occur on areas where the sun will never shine. :)

Help.

Answer:

Your description is excellent and it sounds like you might have hives (medically called urticaria) associated with dermographism. The latter is a phenomenon in which the skin forms an itchy welt when scratched or rubbed. Usually it is a transient problem lasting some months. It can be treated by taking hydroxyzine or other antihistamines.

Rarely it is a manifestation of an underlying problem with the mast cells, for example urticaria pigmentosum. The latter is a concern if this problem persists for more than 6 months.

Sunlight might be helpful with your hives, provided that sun is not causing them. Hives have many causes, the more common causes are sun, cold, pressure, vibration, exercise and others.

Your best bet is to try some hydroxyzine, usually just 10 to 20 mg once or twice a day. You will need a prescription for this medication.

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Response by:

James J Nordlund, MD
Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati