How to Stop Eczema Itching: Controlling the Urge

Eczema can cause bouts of extremely itchy skin, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else. It may feel good to scratch the itch, but giving in to the urge can cause a vicious cycle of scratching and even lead to infection. If you’re dealing with regular eczema flare-ups, you might be wondering how to stop eczema itching.

A cold compress, moisturizers, and hydrocortisone cream are among the tactics for getting some immediate relief. This article looks at why scratching your itchy skin can be problematic, how to treat eczema itching, and what to do to stop the itching fast.

Close-up of person scratching their hand

Dharmapada Behera / Getty Images

The Problem With Scratching Eczema

Satisfying the itch with a scratch might feel good in the moment, but it can cause more harm than good. Here’s why you should avoid scratching and find alternatives for relief.

It Can Prolong Itching

With eczema, scratching your itchy skin can lead to what experts call the “itch-scratch cycle.” Itching worsens the rash, prompting you to continue scratching—and on and on the cycle goes. That’s because eczema-prone skin sends out chemical messengers that trigger your nerves and produce an itch sensation. 

There’s also evidence that people with eczema have more sensitive skin, which can turn up the dial on itchy sensations and turn even non-itch-producing triggers (like a light touch) into an itchy feeling.

Itch Triggers

While eczema-related itches can spring up for no reason, some things can trigger the urge to scratch, including:

  • Nighttime: You’re more likely to scratch at night. One theory is that water loss through the skin is higher at night, which makes your skin dryer and more vulnerable to irritation. 
  • Sweat: Getting sweaty can worsen eczema and trigger itchiness. Some experts theorize that this may be due to an allergic response to something in sweat. 
  • Environmental triggers: Things in your environment can also prompt itchiness. Pollutants, dust mites, pollen, temperature changes, and more are possible eczema itch triggers.


It Can Lead to Infection

The more you scratch eczema-prone skin, the more likely you are to break open the skin and introduce bacteria to the wound. This can lead to infection.

Signs of infection include:

  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • An area of skin that's hot to the touch

Treatments to Control Eczema Itching

Scratching itchy skin can worsen an eczema flare, but it’s hard to resist the urge to itch forever. That’s why finding a relief method that works for you is important.

Temporarily using an over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream can reduce itching. Be sure to follow all instructions on the product as to where and how often it can be used, and only use it on a person of the appropriate age. Talk to a healthcare provider about any possible interactions and their recommendations.

A moisturizer can be applied over the hydrocortisone cream or used on its own to reduce itching. Choose moisturizers that are free of fragrances and dyes.

Products containing pramoxine, such as Tronolane or Caladryl, are topical anesthetics that may also help relieve itching. Those with menthol or calamine can cool the skin and relieve itching.

A healthcare provider may give you a prescription for a more potent steroid cream to reduce itching. Other topical prescription medications for eczema that can reduce itching include Opzelura (ruxolitinib 1.5%) cream, Protopic (tacrolimus) ointment, Elidel (pimecrolimus) cream, and Eucrisa (crisaborole) ointment.

How to Stop Eczema Itching at Night

It can be especially tough to find relief from nighttime eczema itching. There's less to distract you from the itch when you're lying in bed. Bedtime itchiness can sometimes be so bad it leads to insomnia, which can, in turn, increase stress levels and aggravate your eczema symptoms further.

Allergy medications won't stop itching because histamines don't cause eczema-related itching. Still, you might find OTC allergy medications help you to fall asleep. 

Covering your hands to prevent yourself from scratching and breaking the skin while asleep may also be helpful in extreme cases of itchiness. 

If your eczema-related itching keeps you up at night and nothing seems to help, consider talking to a healthcare provider about prescription treatments that can help with nighttime itching.

How to Stop Day-to-Day Itching

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to eczema itching. 

The National Eczema Association recommends daily bathing and moisturizing to help prevent painful itching flare-ups. They also recommend talking to a healthcare provider about prescription medication that may help your condition.

Other ways to prevent itching include:

  • Avoid products, like certain shampoos, that trigger itching for you.
  • Use proper sun protection to prevent sunburn-related itching.
  • Avoid products with added fragrances or strong scents.
  • Use warm, not hot, water when bathing or showering.
  • Limit daily stress.

How to Stop Itching in Babies and Young Children

You can't stop a baby or toddler from scratching, but you can treat the itch and prevent scratching from causing infection. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the following:

  • Use a cold cloth to soothe the itch. Apply a cold compress and then moisturize the skin.
  • Try colloidal oatmeal. Add this to bathwater to help reduce dryness and soothe itchy skin. Make sure to moisturize after the fact.
  • Opt for distractions. Distracting your child with games and activities can help take their mind off the itch. 
  • Don't let their nails grow too long. Long nails mean a greater likelihood of puncturing the skin while scratching. 
  • Cover their skin. Long sleeves and pants can help prevent scratching.
  • Cover their hands with mittens. Eczema mittens are an option when nothing else works. Your child can scratch without damaging the skin and increasing the chances of infection.

What to Do Immediately When Itching Starts

Strategies like regular moisturizing and avoiding triggers can help prevent itch flares, but they’re not necessarily beneficial when you want to stop the itch right away.

Ways to stop the itch quickly include:

  • Soak for 15 minutes in a colloidal oatmeal bath. 
  • Apply a cold compress to the itchy area.
  • Apply OTC topical products with cooling ingredients like menthol.
  • Try distracting yourself with activities you love.

Still not finding relief? Talk to a healthcare provider about fast-acting prescription itch relief options that might work for you. 

Summary

Eczema-related itching can sometimes be so bad it interrupts your sleep. It can also make it hard to concentrate during the day.

Prevention is an important step for controlling eczema itching. Moisturizing, taking prescription medications, and performing other daily routines to soothe the skin can help minimize itching over time.

And when you have a flare-up, get quick relief by soaking in colloidal oatmeal, applying a cold compress to your skin, or using OTC products that help soothe the skin. 

A Word From Verywell

You don’t have to live with annoying, sleep-interrupting itchiness. There are treatments available to help control eczema-related itching. 

Consider speaking with a healthcare provider about your symptoms. They can recommend a treatment plan to help relieve the itch and even help you pinpoint triggers that might worsen your skin condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will eczema still heal if you scratch just a little?

    It’s challenging to avoid scratching completely. If you need to scratch, make sure to avoid doing so too hard. You can even try using mittens to prevent further irritation.

  • How do you know what triggers eczema itching?

    It can be tough to pinpoint triggers. Keeping a diary of your eczema flare-ups may help you to identify the things that make itching worse. A medical professional such as a dermatologist can also help you narrow down your triggers.

  • How do you make yourself stop scratching eczema?

    You can try distracting yourself or using prescription or over-the-counter products to help relieve the itching sensation and soothe the skin. 

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Eczema Society. Why does eczema cause itchiness?

  2. National Eczema Association. Why does eczema itch?

  3. National Eczema Association. How to stop itching.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to relieve itchy skin

  5. National Eczema Association. Available eczema treatments.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Home remedies: What can relieve itchy eczema? 

By Steph Coelho
Steph Coelho is a freelance health writer, web producer, and editor based in Montreal. She specializes in covering general wellness and chronic illness.