Itchy pins and needles feelings on the skin is a medical condition called paresthesia. Paresthesia is a very strange feeling, and it often causes individuals to worry about the possibility of a serious medical problem. However, itchy pins and needles are very common, and usually nothing to worry about. Paresthesia is due to a problem with nerve signals, whether due to internal problems or external pressure. Most cases appear and disappear spontaneously, or go away once the nerve compression stops.
There are two types of paresthesia: transient and chronic. Transient paresthesia comes and goes, and chronic paresthesia is more constant.
Transient paresthesia may happen when temporary nerve compression happens. This includes nerve compression from staying in one position too long while putting pressure on a nerve or putting too much weight on a nerve. Cold temperature exposure can also cause transient paresthesia. Hyperventilation and panic attacks are other causes of transient paresthesia.
Chronic paresthesia is a dysfunction of neurons, and has a variety of medical causes. Circulation problems, common in the elderly, cause paresthesia. Diabetes, thyroid problems and nutritional deficiencies can also cause chronic paresthesia. Immune system disorders such as multiple sclerosis and lupus also cause chronic paresthesia. Shingles, a virus known as herpes zoster, is also a cause, as well as Lyme disease. Chronic nerve compression leads to chronic paresthesia. Other causes include transient ischemic attack, motor neurone disease and Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Frost bite may cause chronic paresthesia.
If a patient has concerns about paresthesia, she should consult her physician for a referral to a neurologist. Neurologists specialize in nervous system problems.
Neurologists diagnose nerve problems by running a variety of tests. Nerve conduction tests and electromyography help determine nerve signal issues. Blood tests help determine any vitamin deficiencies that cause paresthesia. Sometimes a doctor will run a spinal tap or order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to confirm suspicions of multiple sclerosis or other diseases.
If there is an underlying condition, it requires treatment. Beyond that, the only treatment options are extremely temporary. These options include Prilocaine or Lidocaine. These are topical creams that provide some relief to individuals with paresthesia. Excess use of these creams can further paresthesia, so users must be careful to only use the prescribed amount.
People with paresthesia need to be careful when using the appendage affected. For instance, hand paresthesia may cause the person to drop things. Foot paresthesia may result in tripping and falling.