If you've had it, you would know. Chronic itchiness -- often the result of skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema or allergies -- disrupts sleep, dims pleasure and limits activities. Just as much as chronic pain does.
Now it's official: A study published online this week by the Archives of Dermatology has found that those who suffer from unrelenting itch, generally for six months to a year, have been brought every bit as low by their condition as have chronic-pain sufferers.
These findings, the study's authors say, suggest that chronic itch is "the skin equivalent of pain."
And like chronic pain, chronic itch appears to go hand in hand with depression. The relationship between depression and the two chronic conditions is undoubtedly complex: People who are depressed seem to tolerate pain and itching less well than those who are not; but the nagging distraction of chronic pain or chronic itch also seems to trigger depression in many.
Like pain, itchiness varies greatly from one person to another, and is difficult to convey. Both are also devilishly resistant to treatment, and both are clearly exacerbated by stress. The study found that, as with patients who have chronic pain, social support matters in how a sufferer of chronic itch tolerates his or her symptoms. Among both sets of patients, those who were unmarried tended to suffer most acutely.