Medical Q&As

Skin irritation - from stress?

I have had a skin irritation for the past few months and my GP has prescribed various creams and lotions but they haven't worked. I have since found out I am allergic to oranges so I have cut them out of my diet. The rash keeps re-occurring. Could this be down to stress?

Stress is a possible cause of your problem and very often itch is a prominent symptom. Your skin can be very sensitive when you are tense. Dermatologists describe a “scratch itch cycle” that can develop in such situations. In other words you are itchy therefore you scratch but in the act of scratching you release histamine into your skin, which in turn makes you more itchy and then you scratch again. Thus a vicious circle of scratching and itching intensifies and perpetuates. Histamine is the naturally occurring chemical in the skin that produces the sensation that we describe as itch and this is the key chemical in generating the scratch itch cycle. Treatment focuses on interrupting the scratch itch cycle. Antihistamines are a logical treatment for this condition because they chemically block the effects of histamine. Sometimes an occlusive dressing can have a dramatic effect by providing a physical barrier that prevents scratching. If these suggestions were applied in conjunction with an anti-inflammatory cream you might have better results than simply applying a cream on its own. However you should discuss these suggestions with your doctor because he has the advantage of having actually seen the rash and is familiar with your medical history.