Winter itch is a common name given to generalize itching of the body that occurs during winter. Other names for winter itch are winter eczema, asteatotic eczema, xerotic eczema, pruritus hiemalis and eczema craquelé. This condition is primarily due to dry skin and is most common in elderly. It is characterized by generalized dryness with mild scaling and severe itching, particularly on undressing at night. It is most severe on the arms and legs while it tends to spare the face, scalp groin, and axilla.

This condition may persist for several months during winter and clear during summer. This may again relapse during winter and eventually may become permanent condition that may not be cleared during summer. Scratching, rubbing or irritants and sensitizers may worsen the condition and may further lead to severe diffuse eruption.

What Causes Winter Itch/Asteatotic Eczema?

Although asteatotic Eczema or winter itch is thought to be due to a decrease in skin-surface lipid, the exact pathogenesis of the skin changes is not clearly understood. This condition usually arises in elder people whose skin has a decreased rate of repair of the epidermal barrier and whose sebaceous glands are less productive. Several other factors contribute to this conditions, some of which are listed below.

  • Lifelong dry skin condition due to various forms of ichthyosis
  • Patients with atopic dermatitis or eczema
  • Frequent lengthy bathing and the use of hot water and excessive soap
  • Decrease environmental humidity and dry due to central heating or overheated rooms during winter.
  • Diuretics also appear to be an important contributory factor in elderly people
  • Zinc deficiency, essential fatty acid deficiency, malnutrition and hormonal decline are also thought to contribute this condition.
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Malignancies

Winter Itch Treatment and Prevention:

The Initial step in the management of winter itch is to adjust the environmental factors. Central heating should be humidified where possible and abrupt change in temperature should be avoided.

Woolen wear may further irritate the skin, so avoid direct contact with your body. Wear some loose cotton from inside.

As frequent lengthy bathing contribute to dry skin and itching, frequent bathing and use of hot water bath should be avoided. Always take short bath with lukewarm water.

Use soap only in the axilla and inguinal area, frequent use of soap in the body cause the skin to dry and irritation may be even severe.

Bath oil and oatmeal packs may be helpful but remember sometimes bath oils may be hazardous as it can make the bath very slippery.

Avoid scratching and use some over the counter anti-itch or moisturizing lotion.

Moisturizing preparations and emollients should be used immediately after bathing or daily. If you have sensitive skin you should always avoid moisturizers with perfume or lanolin.

If the condition is severe, you should always seek medical attention; your doctor may properly diagnose the condition and prescribe weak topical steroids or other medications accordingly. Lactic acid cream or urea containing creams are helpful, however for some they may cause irritation and worsening of itching.