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MS and the Itch You Can’t Scratch

By Matt Cavallo

There is nothing worse than the itch you can’t scratch. What if you scratch that itch and it doesn’t go away. Scratch that. What if you scratch the itch, it doesn’t go away, and you have multiple sclerosis? You may have chronic itching as a result of MS. While you may not associate MS with itching, it can be a neuropathic symptom such as numbness and tingling. Thirty-one percent of the patients in a 2022 University of Miami study reported chronic itching.

Chronic itching in MS may be neuropathic, meaning it is a result of nerve damage from MS. This is similar to numbness or tingling that people living with MS report as common symptoms. What they may not know is that itch that they can’t scratch may be MS-related.

The biggest problem with chronic itching is you can never get comfortable, and, as a result, drifting off to a restful sleep is nearly impossible. Or, when you finally fall asleep, you are awakened by the chronic itch. This becomes very frustrating. While itching may seem like a minor symptom, when it is chronic, it becomes all consuming and can affect other areas of your life.

If the itch is MS-related, typical itchy remedies such as scratching and topical creams will not work. In fact, you can read stories of other people with the MS itch here, including stories of how people have bruised themselves itching, or tried prescribed creams that don’t work. In addition to these stories, I suffer from chronic itch. I had an MS relapse in 2016 and after it went into remission, the top of my right forearm became chronically itchy. Some days are worse than others. I find when it is really hot outside or if I am really stressed, the itchiness flares up. Even when it is not at a full flare, the constant itchiness is nuisance. I am constantly itching my right forearm and can’t scratch the itch. Even though I know it neuropathic, but I can’t help but scratch.

Recently, an itch developed on my left shoulder. I wasn’t having any luck relieving the itch, so I asked my wife if she could scratch it. No matter what she does, the itch does not go away. However, I noticed when she scratched my left shoulder, it felt different than the right. It feels like the left has some underlying numbness. My next step is going to be to call my neurologist and schedule an appointment. I am hoping that this itchy symptom isn’t the precursor to an MS exacerbation, but I am using this awareness of symptoms to actively reach out and schedule an appointment to get it checked out. In the meantime, I am looking for remedies that can help.

One home remedy you can try if you think you have the MS itch is icing the itch. Ice stimulates the nerves and reduces inflammation. If you have tried everything else, and it hasn’t worked, put some ice on it to see if you can get some relief. People with the MS itch have also reported success using the antiepileptic drug, Neurontin. Neurontin can be used to treat MS pain, which is also typically neuropathic. If you have tried everything and the itch still persists, then talk to your neurologist and they will talk to you about your treatment options.