WHAT CAUSES ITCHY SKIN IN THE ELDERLY

Itching is always irritating. In medical terminology, it also referred to as Pruritus. For elderly people, it is alarming too. It indicates that through the years your skin has endured a lot. Now it’s time for you to take care of them and protect the skin from future threats. But if your skin is already showing the sign of constant itching and it stays for almost 6 weeks (1), then you should consult a dermatologist. Itching can trigger or can be a symptom of a lot of health complications in the elderly stage.

Causes Itchy Skin in Elderly

There can be a lot of reason behind itching in elderly people. Starting from unhealthy lifestyle, smoking, and addiction to psychological complication or unregulated diet. Everything could be related to itching. Let’s have look at the common causes of itching in elderly people.

1. Dry skin

Dr. Robert Butler from Everydayhealth.com (2) said, “As people get older, their skin can certainly become drier and more prone to itching.” According to an article published by the Department of Dermatology, the University of California, San Francisco (3), it is said that More than 50% of elderly patients have xerosis (dry skin), which is one of the main causes of itching.

2. Sun Exposer

Sun exposer can cause itching on the skin of elder people. Through the years the skin gets damaged from the sun, due to the Ultraviolet (UV) light. The UV light destroys the elastic tissue beneath the skin. It may cause the skin to stretch, sag and wrinkle. And as fast as the tissues get ineffective it starts to itch. (4)

3. Psychotic Imbalancement

Elderly people should stay in a calm and peaceful surrounding. At this stage of life, rest is all they need. But if they get any psychotic disorder or their lifestyle get affected by any kind of psychotic Imbalancement then it can cause itching. Stress, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and uncontrolled smoking habit can be one of the reasons. (5)

4. Internal Ailment

You can only see and feel the itching. But you can’t always be sure that what it may cause. Especially for elder people, this itchy condition is more than just irritation. It can be a symptom of a growing illness. According to Mayoclinic.org (6), these may include iron deficiency anemia, liver disease, kidney failure, thyroid problems, and certain cancers, including multiple myeloma and lymphoma.

5. Chronic Disease

As you grow older you can encounter some chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney or liver disease. Dry and itchy skin can be a sign of these chronic problems. When you become old the oil glands (which help to keep the skin soft and moist) start to lose its capability. So dysfunctional oil glands can be another cause of dry skin and itching. (7)

6. Skin Conditions

When the consequence is visible after scratching skin, if it turns red, swallow or rash comes out, then most of the cases it may turn out that you have skin condition, such as eczema, shingles, hives, or psoriasis, or it could be a sign of a contagious skin disease, like scabies or ringworm.

7. Hair can cause itching

Unwanted hair of the body can trigger itching in elderly people. Hair holds moisture over your skin and it creates sweat. When elderly people sweat a lot because of this body hair, it can cause itching. This itching may lead elderly people towards serious conditions, like skin inflammation and bacterial infection.

Prevent itchy elderly skin

Before taking further treatment or before the medication shows the magic, you should take some steps to prevent itching. So that the risk of getting a skin infection from aggressive scratching can be altered.

1. Bath less, with lukewarm water (not with hot water)

Dr. Robert Butler from Everydayhealth.com (2) suggested that “Elderly people should take fewer showers or baths throughout the week. They should prefer lukewarm or cold water for bathe, instead of hot water. Spend less time under the water.” Prolong exposure to hot water during shower or bath can take away the natural lipids and moisture from the skin. That is why bathing time must limit within 10 minutes or less. (8)

2. Applying Moisturizer and Oil

Dr. Butler (2) recommend that older people who do have itching problem should not wash their hair frequently. But whenever they do wash hair, they should use a moisturizing shampoo. The skins get drier when people get older. And it is one of the most common reasons for itching. So to avoid dry skin irritation people should use a body moisturizing oil, especially olive oil, right after getting out of the shower. Moisturizer should be applied on the skin while it is still wet to lock in moisture.

3. Use Fragrance-free products

When it comes to skincare for elderly people, Chemicals involved in body care products are a big No-no. Even if the product label is saying “Unscented”, it still might create irritation to the sensitive skin. So go for totally “Fragrance-Free” lotions, soaps and detergents to minimize skin irritation. (1)

4. Avoid stress

Stress won’t create irritation on the skin. So it won’t cause itching. But excessive stress can accelerate the urge of scratching. And that can make the itch worse (1). So next time when you find yourself in a stressful situation start practicing yoga, listen to soothing music or do deep-breathing exercises.

5. Frequent Shaving

Shaving can give you relief from itching. Though it is not a permanent solution. But if your skin gets habituated from shaving, then this relief can stay for a longer time being. And you can have hair-related irritation-free skin. But for elderly people shaving can be a little hectic. So they must use the easiest and safest way of shaving. Using an electric razor can solve this problem. There are some very good and safe electric razors available in the market for elderly people. So just pick one from them comparing the right features according to your skin.

Home Remedies

If you haven’t sought medical assistance yet for itching. Then you must take some necessary steps. Because of your growing age, this itching problem can take an alarming turn. Before you get to the dermatologist you can take these home remedies for itching.

1. Menthol can ease itching irritation

Menthol has cooling power, which can give you soothing feeling on the skin and ease the irritation created by itching. A 2012 study found that oil that contains Menthol can treat itchy skin faster than other oils that don’t contain menthol. But before applying menthol oil on the skin, make sure that you mix the essential oil with some carrier oil (vegetable oil, such as coconut oil, olive oil, or grape-seed oil) (9).

2. Use Wet Water Therapy

The American Academy of Dermatology suggested that applying cold, wet cloth or ice bag on the itchy area can ease the irritation. So most of the Dermatologists suggest Wet Water Therapy (WWT) as a home remedy for itching in elderly people. For WWT you should use wet fabric wraps, made of gauze or surgical net. Follow the given below instruction for WWT suggested by the National Eczema Association (NEA) (9).

    1. Damp a piece of gauze in warm water to make it moisten.
    2. Wrap the water-soaked gauze around the itchy area of skin.
    3. Then over the wet gauze wrap a dry piece of cloth/gauze/surgical net.
    4. During this therapy try to wear loose-fitting clothes. Soft, cotton pajamas are preferable. Remember your clothes must not disturb the bandages.
    5. Keep the bandages on for a few hours or overnight.

WWT wraps help rehydrate the skin. This treatment can be especially beneficial for children and older people.

3. Colloidal oatmeal bath

Colloidal oatmeal is a natural ingredient to heal dry, bacteria or germs infected skin. You can dissolve the colloidal oatmeal into the water and take bath with it. This ingredient is hugely known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It is a very effective antioxidant too.

Colloidal oatmeal creates a protective shield on the surface of your skin. It protects the moisture of your skin. A 2015 study shows that this element can reduce the problems of roughness and rashes from the skin, which usually develop through the years in older people (9).

4. Apple cider vinegar

It won’t cure your itch. But Apple cider vinegar is a very important natural antiseptic. It contains acetic acid. National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) has advised applying apple cider vinegar on the itchy scalp. Maybe it won’t solve the itching problem, but it may give relief from irritating sensation after aggressive scratching.

The NPF suggested diluting the vinegar in water. The ratio has to be 1: 1. Then apply this solution to the scratch affected area. After applying the vinegar, let it dry. And finally, rinse it gently with lukewarm water (9).

5. Moisturize your skin

As you grow older your skin loses its glow and moisture. So, to keep the skin healthy and itch-free, you must have to moisturize it.

Humectants and Emollients are the two important ingredients that help your skin to stay hydrated and lock moisture. A good moisturizer should have these two elements.

The NEA recommended some tips to maintain a healthy moisturizing routine (9):

    1. Choose your moisturizer which has a high oil content
    2. Whenever your hands come into contact with water, moisturize them after the contact.
    3. After a bath or shower, while the skin is a little damp apply moisturizer.
    4. Every night before going to bed apply moisturizer. It helps the skin to stay hydrated through the night.
    5. Keep the moisturizing creams and lotions in the refrigerator. You can use the benefit of cooling effect whenever you apply them on your skin.

Conclusion

Finally, we know aging is not always as pleasant as most people thing. It brings a lot of health complications. And itching is one of them. So, to make this stage of like comfortable, you should be more concerned about skin hygiene. If constant itchy sensation keeping you awake or making you uncomfortable, then you must share this with your Doctor, Paramedics or at least with a family member or friend. These might save you from a future dangerous and chronic ailment.

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