We know how frustrating it can be to deal with itchy, red skin — especially during our dry Colorado winters! Thankfully, our experienced specialists at Advanced ENT are here to help. Let’s work together to get you relief from your itchy skin so that you can enjoy the beautiful winter pain-free.
What is Winter Itch?
Winter itch is a type of dermatitis (or skin irritation) that often flares up during the winter months. Sure, the colder parts of the year often come with sniffles and sneezes, but the largest organ in our body — our skin — takes a beating too!
If you’ve noticed that your skin is dry, scaly, or red when you’re out in the cold, you’re likely experiencing winter itch (also known as “pruritus hiemalis”). This skin disease is commonly triggered by cooler temperatures, and it usually appears on your legs.
While it may seem to be an inevitable part of the seasonal change, winter itch can be prevented and treated. With some easy at-home changes and routines, you can take care of your skin and enjoy winter just a little bit more!
Symptoms of winter itch include:
Winter itch can affect any part of the body except the hands, feet, face, or scalp. It’s most frequently found in patches on your legs — the inner thighs, knee pits, calves, and ankles – and seems to flare up more at night and when you change clothes.
While winter itch is sometimes referred to as “winter rash,” it’s not actually accompanied by a rash, unlike some other common skin diseases.
Symptoms of winter itch include:
- Skin dryness
- Cracks in the skin
What Causes Winter Itch?
We don’t know the exact cause of winter itch, but we do know several factors that contribute to its onset, including:
Cold, dry air sucks the moisture out of the top layers of your skin, leaving your skin depleted and raw. Winter air is typically cool and lacks humidity; hence, the name “winter itch.” However, some people may experience winter itch in the summer months, if they’re exposed to cold, dry air from air-conditioning units.
This may be surprising, but too much water exposure can dry out your skin (especially if it’s hot water!). Excessive water strips your skin of natural oils, causing dryness and redness, leaving your skin irritated. Long, hot showers and baths — as well as extended periods of handwashing — can harm your skin.
Certain soaps contain chemicals that irritate and dry out your skin. Hot water alone is enough to strip your skin of moisturizing oils, but hot water combined with soap is a recipe for dryness! If you want to keep your skin nice and moist, wash your hands efficiently and minimize long bubble baths.
Chlorine can also cause your skin to dry up, so swimmers are more prone to itchy, scaly skin.
Using heat in your home can reduce humidity in the air, causing your skin to dry up. Sitting close to space heaters can also remove the moisture from your skin’s top layers.
Some over-the-counter skin treatments claim to alleviate dry skin. However, treatments that contain witch hazel or rubbing alcohol do the exact opposite. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re putting on your body and how it affects your skin.
If you’d like to revitalize your skin with an effective, customized treatment plan, contact our team today.
Who Can Get Winter Itch?
Anyone can get winter itch, but some people are more prone than others. Here are two of the main factors that increase your risk of developing winter itch:
As we get older, our skin becomes thinner and drier, depleting its moisture and ability to defend against cold, dry weather. Though it’s not unheard of, winter itch rarely affects children and adolescents.
Pre-Existing Medical Conditions
If you already struggle with conditions like sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis, or dry skin, Colorado’s harsh winters can exacerbate these conditions. Other medical conditions can also cause dry skin, like brain injuries, diabetes, or malnutrition.
If you’re not sure why your skin is so dry, our specialists at Advanced ENT will help you discover and treat the root cause.
Diagnosing Winter Itch
It can be difficult to diagnose winter itch because its symptoms are similar to other skin conditions, like dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. Pay attention to when symptoms arise and what makes them worse — a detailed history and careful examination are important in ruling out other skin diseases.
How to Treat Winter Itch
There are several options for winter itch treatment. Often, a combination of these will help you get rid of itchy skin.
- Take a warm bath. A warm bath with a quarter cup of baking soda mixed in can help relieve itchy skin. Try doing this once a day, before bed (and remember to moisturize after!). Only use soap on the parts of your body that really need it, and use a mild cleanser or soap-free product that won’t strip your skin of essential oils.
- Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Apply lotion after bathing and any time your skin feels dry or itchy. Use a thick, fragrance-free cream, and keep a small tube with you at all times. Avoid over-the-counter itch-suppressing creams, as these contain chemicals that can worsen winter itch. Instead, use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream along with your moisturizer to help alleviate itchiness.
- Use a cold, wet cloth or ice pack. For immediate relief, try cooling your itchy skin with a cloth or ice pack. Continue to apply pressure for 5 to 15 minutes or until your symptoms subside.
Preventing Winter Itch
What’s better than treating winter itch? Stopping it from happening in the first place! Winter itch prevention is all about moisturizing and protecting your skin, especially during the winter months. Here are a few ways you can prevent winter itch:
Choose your clothing wisely. Wear lightweight clothes like silk and cotton, and stay away from skin-irritating fabrics like flannel and wool. Use a fragrance-free laundry detergent to reduce exposure to irritants.
Minimize exposure to cold air and hot water. When showering, bathing, or washing your hands, use lukewarm water instead of water that’s piping hot. Gently pat your skin dry with a towel. Stay away from cold weather and dry air whenever possible — and if you do have to go outside, wear skin protection like gloves, scarves, and hats!
Buy and use a thick moisturizer. We can’t stress this enough: Moisturizing is the #1 defense against winter itch (and itchy skin in general). Add multiple layers of lotion or cream to your skin, even if it already feels moisturized.
Try out these additional solutions:
- Avoid “home remedies” that include rubbing alcohol or witch hazel
- Use sunscreen during the winter
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 and vitamins A, C, and E
- Use “fragrance-free” lotions, soaps, and detergents
- Drink plenty of water!
When to Call a Doctor
Though it’s never a bad idea to get in touch with a skin specialist, it can sometimes be hard to tell if your symptoms are severe enough to warrant a trip to the doctor’s office. If you’ve tried to avoid irritants and moisturize your skin, and you’re still experiencing itchy, flaky skin, it’s time to see a healthcare provider.
A skin doctor will determine the underlying cause of your symptoms — be it eczema, psoriasis, or winter itch — then get you started on the road to treatment and recovery.
Find Relief From Your Itchy Skin
Nobody should have to deal with the burden of painful, itchy skin alone. That’s why our team at Advanced ENT offers in-office and virtual consultations. We’ve got years of experience successfully treating winter itch (and similar conditions!), and we’re prepared to create a custom treatment plan just for you.
If you’re ready to find much-needed relief from your itchy skin, book an appointment with us today.