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Treatments for Itching

Pediatric Dermatology Basics

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Updated May 21, 2014

Mother hugging son in bathroom
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Itching is a common and frustrating symptom for children.

Whether it is caused by mosquito or chigger bites, hives, or poison ivy, itching can leave kids miserable, scratching all day, and sleepless for most of the night.

Fortunately, even when you don't know the definite cause for your child's itching, there are some common treatments for itching that can provide some relief, including many over-the-counter 'anti-itch' type medications.

Itch Relief Home Remedies

In addition to some of the anti-itch medications described below, you can often help your itchy child by:
  • keeping your child's fingernails cut short
  • dressing your child in loose, light, cotton clothing
  • not letting him get overheated, since sweating will likely make him itch more
  • take cool or lukewarm showers or baths and avoid hot water
  • keeping him distracted
  • not allowing his skin to get overly dry
  • find your favorite over-the-counter anti-itch medications and keep them handy to quickly use when your child develops an itchy rash, since scratching usually makes most itchy rashes worse
  • avoiding things that seem to trigger episodes of itching, especially if he has eczema, sensitive skin, allergies to nickle, etc.
  • using insect repellents and teaching your child to avoid poison ivy to help avoid common things that cause itching

Non-Steroidal Topical Medications

Many of these medications can be used in combination with a topical steroid cream to provide maximum relief, either with or without an oral antihistamine, like Benadryl. Be careful not to mix topical and oral Benadryl together though. And watch your kids for reactions from medicines that have -caine type analgesics in them.
  • Aveeno Anti-Itch Cream with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal
  • Band-Aid Anti-Itch Gel
  • Benadryl Itch Stopping Cream
  • Caladryl Clear Topical Analgesic Skin Lotion
  • Calamine Lotion
  • Domeboro Astringent Solution Powder Packets
  • Gold Bond Maximum Strength Medicated Anti-Itch Cream
  • Itch-X Anti-Itch Gel with Soothing Aloe Vera
  • Lanacane
  • Sarna Ultra Anti-Itch Cream & Skin Protectant
Wet dressings, compresses, or soaks with Domeboro solution mixed with water (modified Burow's Solution) or Aveeno oatmeal baths can be especially soothing for itchy rashes.

These work well for most itchy rashes, including poison ivy, insect bites, and chicken pox, etc.

Topical Steroids

This is typically the mainstay of over-the-counter itch relief treatments and includes a variety of brands of 0.5% and 1% hydrocortizone cream, such as:
  • Aveeno 1% Hydrocortizone Anti-Itch Cream
  • Cortizone 10
  • Cortaid
  • Lanacort Cool Cream
There are also many 'store' brands of hydrocortizone cream made by Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart, etc.

Keep in mind that steroids should usually be avoided if you think that your child has any type of infection as a cause for his itching. They work especially well for inflammatory or allergic types of itchy rashes, like insect bites and poison ivy.

Oral Antihistamines

Benadryl (Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride) is the standard oral antihistamine that most parents use when their kids are itching. It is available over-the-counter without a prescription and comes in a variety of forms, including liquid, chewable, and fastmelt dissolving tablets, so even younger kids who can't swallow pills can take it easily. The only downsides are that Benadryl is short-acting (about 4-6 hours) and can make kids very sleepy.

A prescription strength antihistamine, such as Atarax or Vistaril (hydroxyzine), can sometimes be used for children with persistent itching, since it usually works a little longer than Benadryl (about 6-8 hours). Unfortunately, once-a-day antihistamines, such as Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec, typically don't provide any relief from itching.

These work well for most itchy rashes, including poison ivy, insect bites, chicken pox, and hives, etc.

Prescription Strength Anti-Itch Treatments

If you are not able to get your child's itching under control with over-the-counter medications, even when the cause is a simple bug bite or a mild case of poison ivy, or if you don't know why your child is itching, then a trip to your Pediatrician might be a good idea for an evaluation and perhaps a prescription strength anti-itch medication. These prescription anti-itch medications most commonly include stronger topical, intermediate potency steroid creams, such as:
  • Cutivate cream 0.05%
  • Elocon cream 0.1%
  • Locoid cream 0.1%
  • Triamcinolone acetonide 0.1%
  • Westcort cream 0.2%
Other prescriptions for itching might include an oral antihistamine, as discussed above, prednisone, or other medications depending on the underlying cause of the itching.

For example, a child who has scabies, which can be very itchy, would need treatment with Elimite, an antiparasitic medication. On the other hand, children with poison ivy would likely need many of the anti-itch medications described above, including prednisone, while a child with chicken pox would want to avoid steroids at all costs.

Related Video
Easing the Itch of Rashes
How to Get Rid of Itchy, Dry Skin

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