Zorba Paster: Itchy Skin? You Have Options

No One In Health Care Has All The Answers

Sarah Reid (CC-BY)

Dear Dr. Zorba: First-time writer, longtime reader. My mom had poor skin, so do I. I can’t sit for long because my underwear bites into my skin. It doesn’t break it — it just itches. I eat well, exercise, am the right weight. No matter what I do, nothing works.

I’ve gone to a dermatologist who just wrote this off as old, thin skin. I could write him off as an old, thick-skinned doctor. I’m only 67. Am I that old?

I don’t hear about others having this problem. Why me? Any thoughts? Any cures? I’ll do just about anything. AZ

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Dear AZ: What an awful problem you’re having, certainly made worse by that dermatologist you saw. You might have older skin but, jeeze, 67 is not that old. It’s not that 67 is the new 47, but rather that 67-year-olds without bad medical problems should not have skin that acts like this.

So let’s start with your showering habits. Do so only twice a week. Yes, you can wash those parts of your body that need washing — under the arms and in the crotch — but not the rest of your body. OK, if you’re gardening, training for a marathon or that “Tough Mudder” endurance event you always wanted to do, but try to remember that less is best. Americans love to wash the oil off their skin every day, but it is oil that lots of us need.

The soap you use should be unscented, gentle soap. Cetaphil and Alpha Keri brand products are gentle cleansers that work well. Ask a cosmetician or a pharmacist for other brands that might be right for you and that you find aesthetically pleasing.

Next, ask your pharmacist if any medications you’re taking might be making you itch. Aspirin, opioids, some cough syrups and some antibiotics, among other drugs, can worsen the problem.

If this doesn’t work, try using high-dose antihistamines for a while. Two Zyrtec or two Allegra twice daily, morning and evening, can work wonders for itchers. Adding a ranitidine such as Zantac, 150 milligrams twice daily, might help. Yes, its antacid component is mainly for your stomach, but it also blocks histamine release in the skin, which might help you. Stay on this for one month or so to see if it gets things to settle down.

Now, if that fails I would try a round of acupuncture, as that has been found to be helpful. It’s a bit more expensive, so I always reserve that for later. After six to 10 visits, if it isn’t working, it’s not going to work.

And then if that fails, I would try dietary changes. I’m not going here first because I don’t think diet is first-up with this type of skin problem. I’d try lactose-free first and if that doesn’t work then go to gluten-free.

My spin: If the first doctor doesn’t give you an answer, try asking another. No one in health care has all the answers — no one. Stay well.