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Alleviating Pruritus with Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
By: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM

Pruritus is more than just an annoying itch felt on the skin. It is a condition of intense itching that is often worsened by scratching. Fortunately, acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offer treatments to address pruritus and the underlying disease causing it in the first place.

Symptoms and Causes of Pruritus

The intense itching caused by pruritus leads to constant rubbing or scratching of the affected area, but this can lead to inflammation and open wounds. This leaves the area vulnerable to infection. The constant battle with unpleasant or intolerable itching can prove to be a real mental challenge as well.

Pruritus can affect many areas--anywhere there is skin, there is potential. The symptoms vary and depend on the specific area that is affected. The skin may look normal in some cases but, bumps, rashes, pimples, and other variations of rashes can occur. It may be one small area that suffers, or the entire body, from the toes to the top of the head.

Patients contending with end-stage kidney disease sometimes present with uremic pruritus. The symptoms include daily episodes of itchiness, mainly affecting the upper body, with intensity worsening at night. Another kind, brachioradial pruritus, causes insatiable feelings of itchiness on the skin, between the wrist and elbow. The exact cause remains a mystery, although cervical spine disease remains a possibility.

Systemic disease is often the culprit behind pruritus. These diseases can interfere with the proper functioning of any of the systems in the body. Diabetes, cancer, allergies, overgrowth of candida albicans, and human papaloma virus are all examples. To further explain, although diabetes is foremost a condition which prevents the body from managing blood sugar levels, the collateral damage from this can affect the heart, blood vessels, eyes, nervous system, brain, etc.

Treating Pruritus with Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

To begin with, a patient must find relief from the intense itching because it may disrupt sleep and interfere with daily activities. It can be embarrassing and socially awkward to constantly scratch oneself, especially if the afflicted body part is in a private area. Ani pruritus occurs on the outer portion of the rectum, so during a bout of itchiness, being in public may prove very difficult.

A practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine needs to assess the degree and intensity of the itching episodes. For some patients, even scratching to the point of bleeding, still brings no relief. The mind and the body require immediate attention. The acupuncture points on the ear prove especially powerful to calm the nervous system and help change the perception of pain. Shen Men, translated as Spirit Gate, is the premier point to quiet the mind, restore emotional balance and manage physical pain. This point is safe to use for virtually all types of negative emotions and pain.

To further decrease the pain and itching episodes, acupuncture points selected for their ability to subdue wind may come to the rescue. According to the theory of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the element of wind causes symptoms that arise quickly, spread easily and carry potential dangers. Skin conditions follow this pattern, like a rash that starts suddenly after coming into contact with pollen, blown around by the wind. Soon itchiness starts, and what began as an irritation on the hands spreads to the arms.

Wind Palace, an acupuncture point located on the back of the skull, literally takes its name based on its ability to effectively deal with wind conditions. This may be a perfect selection for a patient who contends with a maddening desire to scratch the neck and upper shoulders. In the same way a blustery wind can make a mess of things, when it dies down, equilibrium is once again possible. As the wind leaves the body, so should the desire to scratch, as the neck and shoulders adjust to normal sensations.

However, to truly heal a patient, the systemic disease needs treatment. Strategies will vary according to the medical problems. A diabetic treatment will look very different than one for a renal failure patient. In the case of diabetes, a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine may select points to help the digestive system regulate blood sugar levels. An end-stage renal failure patient may receive treatment that is more palliative in its focus. As always, the individual receives a specially crafted healing plan.

If you experience symptoms of pruritus and currently have a diagnosis for a systemic disease, contact a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to learn more.

About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.