By Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Ever have an itch that just wouldn’t go away? Well, there’s a new and surprising way to treat people with chronic itching.

“It was getting really bad, then I purchased myself a back scratcher from the Dollar Store, and it took care of all of it,” said one person.

But imagine that feeling all over, all the time.

“Chronic itching is the sensation of itch, sometimes all over the body, that will not go away. Lasts for weeks or months,” said Dr. Brian Horvath, of Horvath Dermatology.

Cancer, kidney disease and liver disease can cause chronic itching, because of substances that build up in the skin with these conditions.

But sometimes a cause is never found.

Typical treatment is with steroid creams for the skin or antihistamines by mouth. But these can have intolerable side effects. Drowsiness and falling, for instance, with the antihistamines.

“No one dies of itching, but it’s really uncomfortable if you itch all over your body. It can really take over your life. We have not had really great treatments for that,” Dr. Horvath said.

So researchers went looking for an alternative. They reviewed 35 studies examining antidepressants and chronic itching.

“Almost all the studies showed that it did help,” said Dr. Horvath. “Paxil or paroxetine helps more with itching related to cancer, whereas Zoloft or sertraline helps more with itching related to kidney disease.”

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

These medicines help with itching by modulating certain brain chemicals, and in some cases, working like antihistamines.

Dr. Horvath says he has recently started prescribing these types of medicines. Some people have had to stop the medicine because of side effects, such as dizziness. But some have done well.

“Recently, last six months or so, we started writing antidepressants for people with chronic itch. And we’ve had some good results,” Dr. Horvath said. “He called the office two weeks later and said he wasn’t itching at all.”

Dr. Maria Simbra