Neurodermatitis, also called lichen simplex chronicus, is a common type of eczema, a group of skin conditions that make skin itchy and inflamed. About 1 in 8 people have neurodermatitis.
Neurodermatitis tends to appear as just one or two patches on the body. That’s different from other types of eczema that can show up in multiple areas at once. These patches can form anywhere. The most common spots are the feet, ankles, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and scalp.
Anyone can get neurodermatitis, but some people are more prone to it than others, including:
- Women ages 30 to 50
- People who have other skin conditions, such as contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis (allergic skin conditions), and psoriasis (an autoimmune disease)
- People who have anxiety disorders
A Vicious Cycle
No one knows exactly what triggers neurodermatitis. Stress, a bug bite, or tight or irritating clothing might kick it off. Once you have it, unfortunately, it can get worse fast. The more it itches, the more you scratch, and the more your skin gets irritated and inflamed.
Neurodermatitis patches are often thicker than the surrounding skin. The thickened patches might appear redder or darker than your normal skin and feel leathery or scaly. The thick scales can lead to even more itching. Repeated scratching sometimes causes the patchy areas to bleed.
Don’t worry about spreading neurodermatitis. It isn’t contagious. It isn’t generally a very serious condition, either. That said, torn, irritated skin can make you more likely to get infections. And the itch can be very uncomfortable. Some people say it is so bad that they can’t sleep at night. So you’ll want to treat it.
Fortunately, there are many treatments. You can start with an over-the-counter cortisone cream. If that doesn’t help, you should see a dermatologist. The doctor might prescribe a stronger cortisone cream or an ointment called a calcineurin inhibitor. They might also inject corticosteroid medication directly into the affected area.
The dermatologist might also suggest one or more of the following:
- A thick moisturizer
- A skin cream that contains coal tar or capsaicin
- A sedating antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- A cool compress or a soak in a cool bath with colloidal oatmeal
It might be a good idea to cover the patch so you don’t keep scratching it mindlessly. Wrap the area loosely with an elastic bandage or ask your doctor about wearing an Unna sleeve. That’s a special cover to protect delicate skin.
Some people with neurodermatitis benefit from UV light therapy. Also, psychotherapy can help control compulsive scratching.
If none of the standard remedies work for you, your doctor might recommend an experimental treatment that has shown some potential to help people with severe neurodermatitis. A medicine called N-acetylcysteine might help you if you have a compulsive tendency to scratch. Or you may benefit from a Botox shot, which can help with itching and rough skin.