Resist the urge to itch! (Photo: Flickr/John Tann)
A mosquito touches down on your arm, and next thing you know, there’s that telltale red bump — and boy is it unbearably itchy.
Scratching is nothing more than a distraction — a pleasurable way to direct your attention to something other than the itch that’s annoying you. “You’re not accomplishing anything medically,” says Dan Wasserman, MD, a dermatologist in Naples, Florida.
Anything positive, that is.
What you are doing: potentially damaging the skin you’re scratching. “You can actually [create] permanent changes in your skin,” Wasserman tells Yahoo Health. If you break the skin, you may be left with a scar or something called a dermatofibroma. These firm little growths — or what Wasserman refers to as “scar balls” — are most likely to crop up in areas below the knee, such as your ankle and the lower part of your shin. (And, really, who hasn’t gotten a pesky ankle bite while wearing flip-flips?)
You also face the risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is essentially a brown spot that can occur when you injure your skin through excessive scratching, says Wasserman. The worst potential outcome: You end up with an infection, since “one of the dirtiest places on our body is our fingernails,” he says.
Now that we’ve established that scratching isn’t the best solution — is there another quick route to relief, without the potential for permanent damage? Yes, and it’s another form of distraction: slapping the bite. This is a noxious stimuli — i.e. one that causes a little pain — which is more effective at taking your mind off your misery than an innocuous stimuli, such as tickling the site with a feather. “The nerve stimulation will actually cause a shock or pain,” Wasserman explains. “[This] kind of overwhelms the itch.” In other words, the shock of slapping yourself drowns out the irritation of itching.
Of course, the resulting relief will only last so long. So if you’re able to access a pharmacy, dose up on Benadryl or Claritin, says Wasserman. And if your itching requires something stronger, ask your doctor for a high-potency steroid cream.
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