Does Itching Cause Anxiety Or Does Anxiety Cause Itching?

Several months ago, I had the displeasure of going to see an immunologist, after my rheumatologist was unable to provide an answer for some severe itching attacks I was having.

Because there was no clear food or medication trigger, my rheumatologist felt it would be best for me to see someone else.

At the time, these attacks were causing me great distress and anxiety because they would come on, and I would take two over-the-counter allergy pills, and the attacks would last for hours.  To the point where all I could do was sit and scratch.

The itching seemed to happen quite a lot after I showered, so I also became somewhat fearful of showering.

I used to have itching on and off since I’ve been sick, but the most recent attacks got precipitously worse after my dad died.

But there were no clear patterns for why they were happening.

I have sensitive skin, so I am very picky about the products I use, and tend to use things that I know won’t make me itch.  So that wasn’t it.

To be honest, these attacks were so random that I thought maybe I had developed an allergy to the air.

I know enough, though, to know that my crazy, overactive immune system was reacting to something, but what that was, I couldn’t figure out.

Neither could my rheumatologist…

And neither could the immunologist…

There was never a visible rash that precipitated the itching, although sometimes I would get little red, pimple-like bumps that would sort of blister after I started scratching.

I had told the immunologist that the reason I had decided to see someone about this issue is because the attacks were really starting to impact my life and were making me very anxious.

She threw it back at me and said something like Does the itching cause you anxiety or does your anxiety cause itching?

Oh, haha, I know what she was trying to do there.  She was trying to tell me that it’s all in my head.

It’s not in my head

Which I’m telling you, it’s not.

Ultimately, the immunologist didn’t really help me that much.

She didn’t order any lab work, she didn’t do any skin tests, and she didn’t really even examine me.

She suggested I take an allergy pill every day for a month to see if that helped.  While it did, it still doesn’t get me any closer to knowing what, if anything, I can do to prevent future attacks.

And I have to say, that was one of the most demoralizing doctors’ appointments I’ve ever been to in all my years of being sick.

I haven’t had a doctor question the validity of my symptoms in a long time, and quite frankly, I don’t really appreciate it.

I won’t be back to see this doctor, and I hope that the itching attacks are kept at bay.

If they are, I don’t know what will make them stop.  And if they aren’t, I won’t know what to do to make them stop.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (23)
  • lanikai13
    7 months ago

    I get this also, random and awful. I swear its my meds. Anyway, if it happens again maybe you should hit up a dermatologist!

    Whatever you do, don’t go back to that awful immunoligist. I had a Ortho doc tell me (4 years b/f my actual diagnosis) “nothing wrong with you. go to a gym and get in shape” i was MAYBE 3-4 lbs overweight”! I was so mortified, that I allowed my disease to continue to errode my body for 4 more years. I’m sorry that you had a similar experience. Don’t allow bad doctors to errode your confidence. Arg!

    Feel better!

  • becky
    4 years ago

    Thank you for your article on itching. I identified with your comment of ” being somewhat fearful of showering ” because my itching seems to be exacerbated by baths, especially with Epson salts. Lotion with oatmeal while the body is still “damp, seems to help somewhat, along with fewer baths.( as suggested by dermatologist) This year my itching seems to be concentrated on my left leg and both ankles with coin sized red marks. One are subsides and then another area will start. It is very frustrating to try and find any answer as to what and why this is happening.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Becky, you’re welcome! I am sorry to hear about your itching issues. I have taken baths out of my routine, unfortunately. Leslie

  • Janet
    4 years ago

    I am so grateful you all have posted on the subject of itchy skin. I have been having the same thing. It usually happens when a joint is flaring. It is not on the joint itself, but is near the joint. After itching, it forms a blister and takes a while to heal. I have my cortisone cream by the bed for the next time around. I’ve only used it once and did get relief from it. I get a lot of itching on my thighs and hands.Thanks for sharing, Janet

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Janet, sorry to hear about your itching, but glad you have found a way to deal with it. I will have to give the cortisone cream a try. Leslie

  • Sue
    4 years ago

    I have had severe itching bouts also. I had it so bad that it has woken me up in the middle of the night. My legs from knee to ankle on left leg and just ankle on right leg. Middle of back is included sometimes. No rash and lasts a few days,then nothing for a couple of weeks, then right back. Dr asked if I was walking in grass and to check for chiggers or fleas. It is difficult to walk in grass so no! to the bugs, and why would they just be in certain areas? Then came”dry skin” but I use lotions, a lot of lotion. So now my RA dr just says that it is a mystery and must learn to live with it.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Sue, sorry to hear you’ve been suffering with this, too!

  • paula
    4 years ago

    I too suffer from severe itching. I could not figure out what the cause could be and tried creams, prescription lotions, and OTC allergy medications. I had joined a Lupus group on FB and read about Neuropathy and wondered if it was it. Later when I saw my dermatologist for another issue that she related to Lupus I asked about the itching and described the areas it was at. We discussed Neurotin, Gabapentin is the generic, as the medication that would be necessary for the Neuropathy.

    Since I started taking the Gabapentin I have been calmer in regards to the itching.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Paula, Hmm…I have both lupus and RA. Maybe this is something I should look into. Glad to hear you’ve found relief!

  • Terrie Spradley
    4 years ago

    Thank you for the post. Just recently I have started facing this horrid itching. I first tried lotion and coated my body but that seemed to make it worse. Then I had my hubby try and help me by coating me with Caladryl. It barely helped. This week it was unbearable. I found out that Opioids can cause it so I tried not to take any pain meds. I came home so miserable.

    I took a Benadryl and Zofran because the pain was causing me to be so nauseated and faint. I was finally able to get my Neurotin filled and took that. Then I took some pain med. I started feeling better then I have all week.

    Having to decide between the severe pain or severe itching is a tough one. I pray they have a better option!

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Terrie, sorry to hear about your itching. I would just warn – I used to use anti-itch creams over large parts of my body – and was chastised by my doctor that those type of thing are only meant for small areas on the body. And you shouldn’t have to chose between pain and itching.

  • Kim Williams
    4 years ago

    I have had bouts of horrible itching on my arms for years that can last weeks. No rash. I have been given many topical analgesics but nothing really works. I put ice packs on my arms which was suggested by the office mgr in my dermatologist office. My dermatologist told me there is a study he read about lower back issues causing itching in arms. I have had back surgery so, it is plausible. Have you heard of this?

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Kim, I have not heard that before, but I don’t really have significant issues with my back that are being treated by my doctor. I do have a fair amount of pain in my back though. I will definitely look into this. Thanks for the comment!

  • teva
    4 years ago

    I have itching episodes that are intense at times. I have found 100% organic coconut oil found in the grocery isle to help soothe my skin and give me relief.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thank you for the comment, Teva! I will look into that.

  • Kellie
    4 years ago

    I also get hive like bumps nd itching. Mine is in my hair and the back of my neck. Fortunately mine only happen a few times a year. That being said, of course it is never going on when I have a Rheumatologist appointment. Wish I could help you. I take three allergy medicines daily, every day for regular allergies, I add an antihistamine when I get them. It helps some. Good luck to you and if they ever figure it out please post an update.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Kellie, I know the feeling of having a problem, and then the minute you go to the doctor, the problem goes away. So frustrating! I will definitely post an update if anything happens.

  • Sara Hiatt
    4 years ago

    I myself have itching episodes. They are mainly concentrated to me shoulders, head and neck (no rash). I am not quite sure if I have officially been diagnosed with RA, it is a long story… However I am being treated for it. I am in the process of switching Rheumatologists, because I feel dismissed by my current one. Not only do I have itching spells, but vision issues as well, for no apparent reason (according to the doctors). Good luck on the itching… Mine are not relieved with allergy medication. You are not going crazy!!

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Sara, so sorry to hear that your current doctors aren’t being very helpful. I hope you find a good one soon! And thanks for validating my itching. When doctors hear itching with no rash, I think they think patients are lying about it.

  • Lindsay
    4 years ago

    Have you ever had your thyroid antibodies tested? That was the cause for a similar problem for me, but it led to hives. You can ask your primary care doctor for it. There are two main antibodies geared towards your thyroid. If one of them is too high in your blood, it can be a cause of chronic urticaria and a precursor to Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Mind you, I am not a doctor. The endocrinologist told me to take a selenium supplement to decrease the level of antibodies in my blood.

  • Lindsay
    4 years ago

    I have also had my thyroid tests score in the normal range. My thyroid itself is perfectly functional. TSH, T3, T4, thyroglobulin, etc. test thyroid function, but people with autoimmune diseases can have extremely high anti-thyroid peroxidase antibodies or anti-thyroglobulin antibodies, which require specific tests for those specific antibodies. My antibodies are high, but my thyroid is still OK. I just wanted to clarify because when I started going to my primary care doctor instead of the endocrinologist, he did not run the correct tests. He only tested for thyroid function. I had to ask for the antibody tests to see if my levels went down.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Lindsay, I appreciate the clarification. This is definitely something I will look into!

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Lindsay, I believe that my rheumatologist checked my thyroid at my last appointment due to fatigue. I will definitely keep that in mind, though, for the future. Thanks for your comment!

  • Poll