Ask an expert - body - skin conditions - itching

4 questions

We are sorry to hear of your father's problem. We are aware from clinical experience just how much suffering this can cause because of its relentless nature.

There isn't a great deal of published evidence for the treatment of itching as such, although what there is is quite positive, as this systematic review shows: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4430643/

Most of the research which would prove relevant is buried away in studies of diabetes and kidney problems where the itching is a part of a wider clinical picture.We suspect that there is no easy fix for this problem. There is a very strong chance that the changes in blood chemistry caused by the diabetes and kidney disease are the drivers for the itching, and these are not likely to relent as his age increases. What acupuncture may be able to do, though, is to break the cycle of discontent which can mean that the anxiety and distress caused by the problem become one of the factors which ensures that it escalates. Many conventional medicines are prescribed in this way to stop thins building on themselves, and there are certainly points used in Chinese medicine which would accomplish relief both from itching and anxiety at the same time. The only major question is now much relief and how sustainable it is.However, Chinese medicine looks at the whole person, not simply at the condition which someone has, and there would be a great deal of questioning about where the itching was, what made it better or worse, and so on, and looking at this within the context of the overall functioning of the body. There is a tendency sometimes to ascribe any symptoms to the headline conditions which people have, and this may not be the case. There may be all sorts of treatable reasons why someone develops itching, and a skilled practitioner might find something eminently treatable.The best advice as always is to try to get your father to visit a local BAcC member for an informal chat. Most are more than happy to give up a little time without charge to prospective patients, and this will allow someone to give your father a much better idea of what may be possible.  

Q:  I am in the 5th week of shingles on my neck, scalp, ear, shoulder and upper chest Scabs all gone but I am left with acute skin sensitivity and itching - the latter mainly at night. I received anti vial medication and am now on Amytriptilyne and take paracetomol.  Do you think it is too early to consider acupuncture?

A:  Quite the reverse!

As with a great many conditions viewed from a Chinese medicine perspective the earlier treatment commences the better. The logic is somewhat similar to the use of antivirals like acyclovir in conventional medicine - get in early before the problem takes root.

Our factsheet on herpes zoster quotes some quite positive research study material

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/herpes.html

and although the studies are not large enough or methodologically acceptable for advertising purposes, they are suggestive of the usefulness of giving acupuncture a go.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, shingles is a combination of Wind and Heat, but note the capital letters! We are talking about categories within an entirely different diagnostic system which describes opportunistic infections as 'invasions' and which sees the expulsion of them as the primary task. The earlier this is done the better. What happens of the condition is left untreated too long is that it becomes what the Chinese call a 'lingering pathogenic factor' with different characteristics. To some extent the body gets used to this being a part of its make-up, and removing it can be more of a challenge. This may sound rather odd, but all conditions eventually become a part of who we are or believe ourselves to be, and there can be quite a great deal of 'habit' energy involved in a presentation which can be a problem to dispel.

Five weeks is still relatively early, though, so it would be well worth your while to visit a BAcC member local to you for an informal chat about what acupuncture treatment may be able to offer. Shingles is a horrible condition whose effect far outweighs its apparent simplicity of appearance, so we wish you well in limiting its nastiness.

Q:  Can acupuncture help manage a skin condition on my forearms,  topical treatments are not effective. Currently I am being kept awake by constant itching  arms.  I am unable to work due to flare ups and I become very distracted.

A:  It is very difficult to answer your question without a great deal more information than we have here. There is no doubt that the evidence for the use of acupuncture treatment, while far from conclusive, is encouraging enough to warrant seeking advice from one of our members about whether they may be able to help you. Looking at the condition at first hand, and also making a few basic diagnostic soundings, should give you a better idea of whether treatment would be of benefit.

Our website has a number of sections under the 'research' area in factsheets such as this one:

 http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/eczema-and-psoriasis.html

which speak of a few trials for eczema and psoriasis. Our experience, however, is that most presentations of skin problems are unique, not because they manifest differently but because they have to be seen in the context of someone's overall health and patterns of energy, and this can make a huge difference to how a problem is treated. Each one of a number of people with the same western named condition might be diagnosed differently in Chinese medicine, and this would lead to individualised treatment, not simply the application of a formula treatment.

We also tend to recommend that people with skin problems consider the possibility of seeing a BAcC who also uses Chinese herbal medicine. Most members of the RCHM, one of the main Chinese herbal medicine associations, are also members of the BAcC, and members of the ATCM, another leading body for Chinese medicine, use both modalities. Our experience is that skin problems seem particularly well suited to Chinese herbal medicine, and while we are sure that acupuncture treatment may be able to have an effect (at least to some extent) the daily regimen of herbal preparations seems to suit these kinds of problem where sustained daily treatment seems to pay off.

Not all problems of this nature are amenable to treatment, though, and we recommend that you make sure that you have some form of face to face assessment before committing to treatment. Progress may be gradual and that may mean a considerable financial outlay. You need to ensure that you have clear and measurable outcomes and regular review periods if you decide to go ahead with treatment.  

Q:  My husband has been diagnosed with senile pruritus ( he is 75) - nothing he has tried in the way of creams and lotions gives him any relief. Otherwise he is fit and healthy but this is really affecting his quality of life. Is acupuncture likely to give help him?

 

A: A great deal depends on the health background from a Chinese medicine perspective against which the condition sits. Pruritus is often associated with dry skin, and within the diagnostic systems of Chinese medicine there area number of ways in which dryness of the skin can be explained and understood. A symptom seen in isolation is rarely the basis for effective treatment; the practitioner will want to see how the symptom fits into the wider patterns of a patient's health in order to tailor the treatment to their needs. The same symptom could be a feature of a dozen different diagnostic patterns, and the skill of the practitioner lies in ensuring that the most appropriate treatment is used. Otherwise, the treatment may give short term benefits which are not sustained.
 
In broader terms the kind of secondary problems which drive the condition along, such as the agitated state and the fixed focus on the problem, also fall within the work of the skilled practitioner. A key word in Chinese medicine is 'appropriate', and there is a sense in which any pattern that persists beyond its reasonable limit is a sign that the system is not as balanced as it could be. While this is much easier to recognise in the kinds of long term worry and anxiety with which practitioners routinely deal, it is nonetheless a component of physical complaints which start to dominate a life. Since part of the treatment involves breaking the 'itch-scratch-itch' cycle, there may be a benefit from treatment on this level too. There are one or two acupuncture points which are cited as 'first aid' points for itching, but these are very much short term treatments to buy some peace and quiet, not a proper solution.  
 
Our best advice to you is to see if your husband can visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment of whether acupuncture treatment may be of benefit to him. In the case of some skin problems we often recommend that someone sees a member who is also trained as a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, anf there is no doubt that many people with skin problems find herbal medicine very effective because of the daily treatment which it offers at a systemic level. However, we have heard several anecdotal accounts of acupuncture alone being of benefit, and if the member you see says that he or she thinks it may be worthwhle, this would be the first option to follow, with herbal medicine in reserve if it acupuncture did not provide sufficient sustainable gains.

 

 

 

 

 

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