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Pain and itch are sensations caused by complex reactions in the nervous system. These symptoms can vary greatly in severity and may have a variety of causative factors. Determining the cause of pain and itch is the first step toward finding an effective treatment.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Causes of Pain and Itch
The two main causes of pain are injury and illness. Bruises, broken bones, cuts and burns are examples of injury-related pain, while arthritis, migraine headache and menstrual cramps are considered to be illness-related. Pain can also be idiopathic, meaning it arises without reason and has no known cause.
Like pain, itch can stem from a variety of causes. Allergic reactions are among the most common causes of itching and may be triggered by food or inhaled allergens. Certain drugs are also known to cause itching and other skin reactions. Other possible causes for itching include insect bites and stings, contact with poisonous plants and irritation caused by clothing or sun exposure.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers include the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen reduce the production of pain-causing chemicals called prostaglandins. Acetaminophen is included in many brand name formulas like Tylenol and works by raising the body’s pain threshold. Both NSAIDs and acetaminophen can be used to treat headache, menstrual cramps and other minor forms of pain.
Opiates are painkillers derived from the opium poppy that act directly on the central nervous system to change the brain’s perception of pain. Because of their addictive nature, opiates are available by prescription only and are usually reserved for more severe forms of pain. Muscle relaxants are sometimes prescribed for treating muscular pain caused by tension or spasm, such as occurs with teeth grinding.
Antihistamines are among the most effective treatments for itch. They work by reducing levels of histamine—the chemical responsible for allergic symptoms like sneezing and rash. Antihistamines come in many preparations and can be taken orally or applied directly to the skin for effective itch relief.
For itch accompanied by pain or irritation, the herb aloe vera can provide temporary relief. According to MayoClinic.com, aloe gel may have immune-modulating properties that ease skin inflammation and speed wound healing. It has a cooling, soothing effect on burns and rashes, making aloe an effective remedy for these and other minor skin conditions.
For more severe cases of itching, prescription drugs may be necessary. Cortisone and other corticosteroids work by suppressing the body’s immune response, which often plays a role in allergy-related itch. Corticosteroids are available over-the-counter (Cortizone) and by prescription in oral and intravenous preparations.
While generally harmless, pain and itch can sometimes signal a more serious problem. If you experience severe itching or pain lasting longer than a week, seek medical attention to avoid complications. To reduce the risk of side effects, talk to your doctor before trying a new pain or itch remedy.