Best Treatment for Itching Skin – Why Does this Happen?

Many hospice patients will experience symptoms of itching, and there are several reasons why this might happen.

The sensation of itching  can have a negative impact on someone’s quality of life, and should not be overlooked.  Your hospice nurse will collaborate with the doctor to discuss the potential causes and appropriate course of  treatment.

What causes itching in hospice patients?

The main culprit to this annoying symptom is a chemical that is produced in the body called Histamine.    This chemical is released by our immune system or as a response to inflammation. Histamine circulates through the blood, and activates our nerve fibers  that  directly interact with the skin.  Medications that are most commonly used are antihistamines, and they work to block the body’s release of the chemical.

Common Causes of Itching

An allergy to a medication can initially cause symptoms of itching.  This should not be ignored, as it may be warning sign that a more serious reaction might occur.  The medication that is causing the reaction is usually discontinued, and the itching improves over the following few days.   An exception to that rule is the use of pain medications, because itching is a common side effect of Opiate narcotics.  In this type of scenario, pain management is the priority.  The sides effects of itching related to pain medications can be easily treated with an antihistamine prescribed by your doctor.

Sometimes when skin infections and wounds are in the healing process, the affected area will itch.   This is temporary, and is not considered problematic. Fungal and yeast infections can also cause severe itching, and when treated with an appropriate topical agent, the symptoms will improve quickly.

There are some disease paths in which itching is a very common symptom.  Cancer patients  will sometimes have this problem,  and it is even more evident when the kidneys or liver are compromised.  These two vital organ systems clean our blood and work to remove toxins from the body.  With kidney damage,  toxins will seep out through the skin, and it is formally called Uremic Pruritis.

I have a patient who had a severe case of the Shingles Virus on her face and around her eye.   She was told by her physician that her symptoms of itching were a result of nerve damage caused by the shingles.  She does  report some relief with a medication called Atarax or Hydroxyzine HCl, which is a common Antihistamine prescribed by your doctor in hospice.

If you or a loved one is having problems with symptoms of itching there are a few things to consider.

  • Try not to scratch as this could cause injury and can intensify the sensation of itching.

  • Warm showers can help ease discomfort and are especially helpful for patients with chronic kidney disease.

  • Try to avoid stress and going outside when it is warm, because itching can be made worse with sweating or overheating.

  • There are topical creams that may help like Hydrocortisone, which can be purchased at the drug store.  In more severe cases,  your hospice doctor may prescribe a topical steroid cream.

  • Often times keeping the skin moisturized with lotions can make a difference.

  • Barrier cream seems to also help in minimizing itching, and is worth a try.

    Your Doctor may recommend that you try taking an Antihistamine Medication.

  • Atarax also called Hydroxyzine HCl is more commonly prescribed by the hospice physician and can be very effective in treating symptoms of itching.
  • Benadryl also called Diphenhydramine can be purchased at the drug store without a prescription.  This medication is commonly used for allergic reactions in adults and children, and is widely recognized.
  • Periactin also called Ciproheptadine  is another type of antihistamine that is typically reserved for treating severe itching, but is not as commonly used.  The medication is a little different because it also has some pain relieving ability as well.

I would encourage you discuss these symptoms with your hospice nurse.  I hope you found this information useful. Please feel free to ask a question or leave a comment.


  • Simon Crowe in Asia April 27, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Thank you for the great advice you give here. I have personally found Atarax (or Hydroxyzine HCl) is very effective at cooling and calming down itching.

    I haven’t tried Benadryl or Periactin but I will have at look at these options.

    I think you’re right about finding the cause of the itching because then you can take the right actions to relieve the symptoms. Thanks again.

    • Heather Williams RN CHPN April 27, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      I am glad you found the information useful. Periactin does have to prescribed by your doctor, or your veterinary doctor, as Periactin has been found to be effective for our canine species.
      Take Care,

  • Marley Dawkins April 27, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Well this is really supportive for me right now as I have a really bad skin rash at the moment. Spring is here in the UK and pollen is becoming an issue, so this post has reminded me to dose up on antihistamines. Also I think I will try hydrocortisone creams as I’m open to trying anything at the moment.

    Do you think steroid cream has any negative side effects that I should be aware of?

    • Heather Williams RN CHPN April 27, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Hi Marley,
      Seasonal allergies are very common here in Central Texas, and many suffer from congestion, rash, and itchy eyes, all. There are a lot of OTC treatments targeted. I give my little boy a Claritin every night.
      Take Care,

  • jeffrey16201 April 27, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Interesting article, I have experienced hospice patients seem to have much itching problems from family members and friends with similar experiences.

    Great tips on relieving the itching, I was wondering would relaxation techniques or yoga possibly help the itching for many of these patients? Pretty tough to be in that situation and not be anxious and stressed, the creams sound like a good option and the baths I never knew would relieve your itching symptoms.

    • Heather Williams RN CHPN June 4, 2017 at 12:08 am

      If the itching is related to toxins, showering can be quite effective. Thank you for taking the time to read the article.
      Many Blessings,

  • George April 28, 2017 at 10:35 am

    From my experience back to that period when my parents stayed in Hospice, many issues like fever, pain and itching were really annoying. Hospital could take care fever and pain easier, but itching was recurring from time to time. We didn’t have medication knowledge and only could look for help from doctor to ease their symptom. It is useful information to me.

    It seems to me better weather can ease the discomfort symptom. I am not sure if it is related to humidity and temperature. How do you think?

    • Heather Williams RN CHPN April 29, 2017 at 2:30 am

      Hi George,
      Actually itching is very common, and people tend to just accept it as an annoyance really. I do think that it worth some attention because I have had a few patients where it was the predominant complaint. In those experiences, it often required the need of medication to calm it down. But once that symptom was relieved, they were very happy for it!
      Take Care,


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