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Neurodermatitis

Neurodermatitis starts with a patch of itchy skin, but scratching it makes the area even itchier. Eventually you may scratch simply out of habit. This cycle of chronic itching and scratching can cause the affected skin to become thick and leathery.

Neurodermatitis — also known as lichen simplex chronicus — isn't serious, but breaking the itch-scratch cycle is challenging.

Successful treatment of neurodermatitis depends on identifying and eliminating factors that may be aggravating the problem. Over-the-counter and prescription creams can help ease neurodermatitis symptoms.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Signs and symptoms of neurodermatitis include:

  • Itchy skin in a single limited area
  • Leathery or scaly texture to the skin
  • Raised, rough patch that is red or darker than the rest of your skin

The primary symptom of neurodermatitis is itchy skin — often a single patch on the neck, wrist, forearm, thigh or ankle. Sometimes neurodermatitis affects genital areas, such as the vulva or scrotum.

The itchiness, which can be very intense, tends to come and go. Eventually you may scratch simply out of habit.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You catch yourself repeatedly scratching the same patch of skin.
  • The itch prevents you from sleeping or focusing on your daily routines.
  • Your skin becomes painful or looks infected.

The exact cause of neurodermatitis isn't known. Sometimes neurodermatitis begins with something that simply rubs or irritates the skin, such as tight clothing or a bug bite. As you rub or scratch the area, it gets itchier. The more you scratch, the more it itches.

In some cases, neurodermatitis is associated with other skin conditions — such as dry skin, eczema or psoriasis. Stress and anxiety can trigger itching, too.

Certain factors may increase your risk of neurodermatitis, including:

  • Your sex and age. Women are much more likely to develop neurodermatitis than are men. The condition is most common between ages 30 and 50.
  • Other skin conditions. People with a personal or family history of eczema, psoriasis or similar skin conditions are more likely to develop neurodermatitis.
  • Anxiety disorders. Anxiety and stress can trigger the itch associated with neurodermatitis.

Persistent scratching can lead to a bacterial skin infection and permanent scars or changes in skin color. Scratching may also disrupt your sleep.

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