Neurodermatitis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Neurodermatitis usually starts with an itchy patch on the skin. What are the triggers? How is it treated?
Neurodermatitis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Diego Pereira

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Diego Pereira.

Written by Carmen Martín

Last update: 15 June, 2023

Neurodermatitis is a condition also known as “lichen simplex chronicus“. It’s a condition that compromises your skin health. Even though it isn’t contagious, it causes great discomfort for those who suffer from it.

To be more precise, it causes severe itching, which motivates the person to scratch constantly, thus causing skin damage and increasing itching and discomfort. In this way, the skin is damaged, in addition to increased itching and discomfort. What are the causes? How is it treated? In the following article, we’ll share all the details with you.

What is neurodermatitis?

As stated by Mayo Clinic, neurodermatitis is a skin disease that manifests itself as an itchy spot. Because it causes the person to scratch constantly, the skin tends to dry out, as well as become thick and leathery.

Scratching increases the itching, which becomes a vicious circle. In addition, as it progresses, more and more spots appear all over the body. The most frequent locations are the neck, wrists, and ankles.

Research suggests that this condition tends to appear in people under stress or emotional tension. Itching is a form of somatization of this stress.

When scratching, people suffering from neurodermatitis feel a sense of relief, which reduces some of the emotional tension.

The fact that the skin becomes irritated makes scratching increasingly necessary. Therefore, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish whether the cause in the first instance was nervousness. This pathology is more common in adults than in children. Even so, it can be the consequence of a nervous tic, which can appear at any age.

What are its causes?

The exact cause of neurodermatitis is still unknown. However, as detailed in a publication in Acta Dermato-Venereologica, there are several risk factors associated with its appearance. One of the most relevant is stress, as its prevalence is higher among people with stressful and competitive lifestyles.

It has also been identified more regularly in the following cases:

In some cases, there are triggering situations. For example, an insect bite, wearing rough clothing, or having dry skin. It has also been associated with chronic skin diseases, such as psoriasis.

Main symptoms of neurodermatitis

Neurodermatitis is more common in adults. Itching usually appears on the nape of the neck, wrists, ankles, or genitals. It can occur anywhere on the body.

The first symptom is usually one or more itchy patches on the skin. As the patient scratches, the skin takes on a more scaly or leathery texture. The itching may be continuous or may appear at times of stress or at night.

There comes a time when many people scratch out of habit. This causes the patches to become larger and larger, darker in color than the rest of the skin. Sometimes, wounds appear from the scratching itself.

Neurodermatitis can therefore lead to serious complications. Most often the lesions leave permanent scars. In addition, the wounds can become infected. Similarly, the people often sleep poorly and their sex life is often impaired.

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis of neurodermatitis can be complex. It’s easy to observe the lesions and determine if the skin has been injured by scratching. However, it’s essential to rule out any other possible cause before determining this diagnosis.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to do complementary tests or try different treatments. For example, in some cases, skin biopsies are performed. This is a test that consists of taking a small skin sample and analyzing it in the laboratory.

This can be used to check if the real cause is psoriasis, as it’s a disease that can appear in a similar way. It may also be useful to consult a psychologist, to try to clarify if there’s any underlying psychological disorder, such as anxiety.

Treatments for neurodermatitis

The treatment of neurodermatitis is complex and includes many different options. The first is to prevent the person from scratching. To do this, different itch-relieving creams can be tried, such as Adventan ® or Positon ®.

In some cases, it may be advisable to use oral antihistamines. This is because histamine is the substance most associated with itching. In addition, some of them produce drowsiness, which can improve these people’s sleep quality.

On the other hand, there are those who can benefit from anxiolytic drugs, such as benzodiazepines. These are drugs that help to reduce anxiety and also to rest better. However, they should be used with caution, as they have many side effects. For example, they can create dependency.

The truth is that one of the most beneficial aspects of treating neurodermatitis is psychotherapy. Talking to a specialist can help reduce stress or can teach the patient how to prevent or avoid certain behaviors, such as excessive scratching.

Remedies for neurodermatitis

Neurodermatitis can be improved or alleviated by a number of simple measures at home. In order to try to prevent scratching, it’s recommended to apply cold, wet compresses to the skin for a few minutes. Above all, you should do this before applying any ointment, as it improves its absorption.

It may also be useful to incorporate a spoonful of oatmeal in such a compress. According to a review shared in Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, this ingredient has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe itching, dermatitis, and rashes.

Other measures include the following:

  • Cover the most affected areas to avoid scratching and complications of the lesion.
  • Keep the skin clean and moisturized. Mild emollients such as petroleum jelly are quite helpful.
  • Don’t have hot showers, as they worsen dryness.
  • Keep nails short and filed.

Neurodermatitis has a psychological component

Most cases of neurodermatitis occur in people who are nervous or under stressful situations. It has been found that the lesions usually come from nervous scratching, which can be prevented by controlling such anxiety.

It’s essential to try to avoid the triggers that produce it. Hence, the support of a psychologist is recommended to learn how to manage the emotions and behaviors associated with scratching. Reinforcing skin care is also essential.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.