Sensory disturbances, including an itching sensation, can occur with multiple sclerosis. Sometimes, these feelings can be early signs of MS.
It’s common for people with MS to experience neuropathic sensations, also known as dysesthesias or zingers. These physical feelings are often early signs of MS. These sensations can feel like:
- pins and needles
Itching (pruritus) is another potential dysesthesia of MS, though it can have other causes.
As with other symptoms of MS, itching may come on suddenly and occur in waves. It may last a few minutes or much longer.
Itching associated with MS can vary from person to person. It may be mild and short-lived or longer lasting. It can also occur with other sensations, like pins and needles or stabbing.
An itching sensation caused by MS does not go away if you scratch it. That’s because the sensation is neuropathic in origin. This means your nerves cause it.
Neuropathic itching differs from allergic itching. MS-related itching does not occur with a rash or skin irritation.
You may also experience MS-related itching due to your medication. Some disease-modifying medications are administered by injection. These may cause temporary skin irritation and itching at the injection site.
An allergic reaction to medications like interferon beta-1a (Avonex) may also result in itching. An allergic skin reaction to certain drugs given intravenously (by IV) may cause the skin to itch.
In clinical trials, one of the common side effects of the oral medication dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera) was the sensation of itching.
If the itching doesn’t bother you, no treatment is necessary. Over-the-counter (OTC) topical treatments are not useful for this type of itching.
If the itching is severe, prolonged, or interferes with daily living, a doctor can recommend treatment options.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, some medications can successfully treat neuropathic itching. They include:
- Anticonvulsants: carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenytoin (Dilantin), gabapentin (Neurontin), and others
- Antidepressants: amitriptyline (Elavil) and others
If your itching may be due to irritation or an allergic reaction, a doctor may recommend an antihistamine, such as hydroxyzine (Atarax).
Natural or complementary remedies
According to the American Academy of Neurology, there’s some weak evidence that reflexology may help treat strange sensations, numbness, and tingling that you may have on the skin.
Magnetic therapy may help reduce fatigue associated with MS, notes the American Academy of Neurology. This therapy is generally well tolerated.
There aren’t any specific lifestyle changes doctors typically recommend to treat itching in MS. However, some lifestyle changes may help reduce the overall symptoms of MS. These include:
- eating a nutritious, balanced diet
- engaging in rehabilitation, including physical, occupational, and vocational therapy
- following an exercise plan recommended by a physical therapist
- getting a massage for relaxation
Managing your overall symptoms may help manage the causes of this type of itching.
MS-related itching can be irritating and distracting. However, it usually doesn’t pose a long-term risk.
Itching creates a strong desire to scratch, but scratching can actually increase the feeling of itchiness. Vigorous scratching can break and damage the skin, which can lead to infection.
In most cases, treatment is used for comfort. The symptoms may subside on their own.
However, if you have an external rash or visible irritation, you may need to visit a doctor. A rash can indicate an allergic reaction or infection, though it probably isn’t related to MS disease activity.
Can multiple sclerosis cause itching?
MS can cause neuropathic sensations known as dysesthesias. These sensations can include itching, pain, numbness, and squeezing sensations.
What are the 3 warning signs of MS?
Early potential signs of MS can include fatigue, trouble walking, and muscle spasms.
Some people also experience dysesthesias, or neuropathic feelings of pins and needles or pain.
Are there any skin symptoms with MS?
While MS does not typically cause skin symptoms, some people may experience skin reactions to medications prescribed for MS. This can include irritation at the injection site or an allergic reaction to a specific medication.
What do MS zingers feel like?
MS zingers, or dysesthesias, can feel like pain, shocking, numbness, burning, itching, or stabbing that lasts a short duration or longer.
Itching can occur as a neuropathic symptom of MS. With this type of sensation, medications for itchy skin likely will not help.
Doctors may recommend specific types of medication to relieve your symptoms, along with medication and lifestyle practices to manage MS.