Itching is not a distinct disease by itself, but a symptom or sign of other skin or general disorders. Occasionally it must be treated as if it were a separate disease, as when it occurs about the entrance to the bowel ( anus ), or to the external female sexual parts ( vulva ), or attacks the skin generally, and is not accompanied by any skin eruption except that caused by scratching, and the cause be unascertainable. Itching, without apparent cause, may be due to parasites, as lice and fleas, and this must always be kept in mind; although debilitated states of the body and certain diseases, as gout and diabetes, are sometimes the source. Commonly, itching is caused by one of the many recognized skin diseases, and is accompanied by an eruption characteristic of the particular disorder existing, and special treatment by an expert, directed to remedy this condition, is the only reasonable way to relieve the itching and cure the trouble.
It may not, however, be improper to suggest means to relieve such a source of suffering as is itching, although unscientific, with the clear understanding that a cure cannot always be expected, but relief may be obtained until proper medical advice can be secured. The treatment to be given will be appropriate for itching due to any cause, with or without existing eruption on the skin, unless otherwise specified. If one remedy is unsuccessful, try others.
For itching afflicting a considerable portion of the skin, baths are peculiarly effective. Cold shower baths twice daily, or swimming in cold water at the proper time of year, may be tried, but tepid or lukewarm baths are generally more useful. The addition of saleratus or baking soda, one to two pounds to the bath, is valuable, or bran water obtained by boiling bran tied in a bag in water, and adding the resulting solution to the bath. Even more efficient is a bath made by dissolving half a cupful of boiled starch and one tablespoonful of washing or baking soda in four gallons of warm water. The tepid baths should be as prolonged as possible, without chilling the patient. The bran water, or starch water, may be put in a basin and sopped on the patient with a soft linen or cotton cloth and allowed to evaporate from the skin, without rubbing, but while the skin is still moist a powder composed of boric acid, one part, and pulverized starch, four parts, should be dusted on the itching area.
Household remedies of value include saleratus or baking soda (one teaspoonful to the pint of cold water), or equal parts of alcohol, or vinegar and water, which are used to bathe the itching parts and then permitted to dry on them. Cold solution of carbolic acid (one teaspoonful to the pint of hot water) is, perhaps, the most efficacious single remedy. But if it causes burning it must be washed off at once. Dressings wet with it must never be allowed to become dry, as then the acid becomes concentrated and gangrene may result. Calamine lotion is also a serviceable preparation when there is redness and swelling of the skin. When the itching is confined to small areas, or due to a pimply or scaly eruption on the skin, the following ointments may be tried: a mixture of tar ointment and zinc ointment (two drams each) with four drams of cold cream, or flowers of sulphur, one part, and lard, twelve parts.