...Man­age itchy skin

Ir­ri­ta­tion of the skin can be caused by all sorts of things, but it is par­tic­u­larly preva­lent in sum­mer. Here’s how to treat a range of ail­ments, says

Friday - - HEALTH - Ann Robin­son

1. IS IT MY SUN­SCREEN?

Any chem­i­cal that comes into con­tact with your skin can cause ir­ri­ta­tion, es­pe­cially if you al­ready have skin dam­age or eczema. Sun­screen could be a prime of­fender. Sun­screens con­tain com­po­nents - such as zinc ox­ide or ti­ta­nium diox­ide - that block UV rays or chem­i­cals ben­zophe­none, for ex­am­ple - that re­duce the harm­ful ef­fects of UV. You can be al­ler­gic to either type, but ben­zophe­none al­lergy is more com­mon. The clue is in the tim­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion; if you come up in an itchy rash in ar­eas where you ap­ply the most cream, then stop us­ing it, take an an­ti­his­tamine and try other meth­ods of pro­tec­tion against sun dam­age. Once the rash calms down, try a sun­screen de­signed for ba­bies; they tend to be the most hy­poal­ler­genic.

2 OR NEW MED­I­CA­TION?

Itchy skin can be part of a gen­er­alised al­ler­gic re­ac­tion; and pre­scribed, herbal or over-the­counter medicines are a com­mon cause. The rash will be itchy, red and look blotchy or like raised hives. It can start up to sev­eral weeks after be­gin­ning a new drug, gets bet­ter when you stop the drug and flares up again (of­ten worse) if you restart. Any drug can cause an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion - even if you have taken it be­fore with im­punity. An­ti­his­tamines (eg ce­t­i­rizine), steroid creams and mois­turis­ers may help, but there’s no sub­sti­tute for iden­ti­fy­ing the likely cul­prit and stop­ping it, with med­i­cal ad­vice.

3 AN EX­OTIC FOOD?

A food al­lergy can cause a raised, itchy rash (hives). You may get an itchy sen­sa­tion in the mouth, swelling of lips and roof of mouth, may feel or be sick and then come out in a rash. Hairy fruits such as kiwi are a com­mon al­ler­gen. Al­ler­gic re­ac­tions of­ten get worse with re­peated ex­po­sure, but if it’s a food that you don’t eat of­ten, it can be hard to iden­tify it. Take an an­ti­his­tamine as soon as pos­si­ble. A se­vere al­ler­gic re­ac­tion ( ana­phy­laxis ) is rare but po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing; any­one who has dif­fi­culty breath­ing or tight­en­ing of the throat as­so­ci­ated with an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion should see a doc­tor and con­sider car­ry­ing adren­a­line at all times.

4 RASHES THAT ONLY COME OUT WITH THE SUN

Some drugs make the skin par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to the ef­fects of sun­light or other sources of ul­travi­o­let light ( pho­to­sen­si­tiv­ity ). These drugs in­clude tetra­cy­clines pre­scribed for acne, chloroth­iazide for high blood pres­sure and some ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers. You don’t get the rash when you first take the drug but it ap­pears when you go out in the sun. It can look like sun­burn or an al­ler­gic rash. Pho­to­sen­si­tiv­ity is also a hall­mark of some med­i­cal con­di­tions; lu­pus is a long-term con­di­tion that af­fects many sys­tems of the body and can cause red patches and spots on sun-ex­posed skin. Poly­mor­phous light erup­tion causes an itchy rash on sun ex­po­sure, which tends to get bet­ter the longer you’re ex­posed to UV.

5 AM I JUST HOT?

Prickly heat causes an itchy rash when you over­heat. It is more com­mon in places where cloth­ing rubs (tight waist­bands or un­der san­dal straps). The trick is to re­move the fric­tion, cool down the skin and take an an­ti­his­tamine if the itch is driv­ing you mad. Fun­gal skin in­fec­tions can gain hold in damp, hot crevices, ie un­der the breasts and in the groin area. It’s more com­mon if you have di­a­betes. Keep such ar­eas cool and dry, don’t over­wash (wa­ter gets rid of “good” skin bac­te­ria that help to keep fun­gus at bay) and try an an­ti­fun­gal cream such as Canesten. Best to see your GP if that doesn’t do the trick.

6 ARE PLANTS TO BLAME?

Itchy rashes on the arms or legs alone are of­ten caused by con­tact with grasses, net­tles or other ir­ri­tant plants (con­tact dermatitis). En­thu­si­as­tic gar­den­ers, hik­ers, golfers and kids rolling down grassy hills may all no­tice a rash in ex­posed parts of the skin that calms down with­out treat­ment. You don’t have to be al­ler­gic to come up in a rash; some plants are ir­ri­tants to ev­ery­one.

7 IS IT A FLARE-UP OF MY USUAL SKIN CON­DI­TION?

Eczema can flare up in the heat; stay­ing cool, nat­u­ral fi­bres, ex­tra mois­turis­ers and an­ti­his­tamines may help. Pso­ri­a­sis of­ten im­proves in the sun be­cause the UV rays are ben­e­fi­cial, but be­ing too hot can cause a prickly heat rash and make ex­ist­ing plaques (thick­ened skin) itch.

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