Scratching is Bad – Even a Toddler Gets It


I’m sitting on the couch with my almost-3-year-old watching Mickey Mouse when I start aggressively scratching my lower back. “Don’t scratch, don’t scratch! Ruuuub,” my daughter told me, rubbing her leg softy with her hand to show me how to do it. What?! How does my toddler know about the itch-scratch cycle? Daycare sure does prepare toddlers for the real world!

Thinking back, Nina has probably noticed my scratching, flared spots, blood and scabs. It’s time for me to be more careful about how I treat my body when I’m in front of Nina, as well as be more transparent about my eczema condition. My little baby is getting more mature every day!

Blissful Scratching

For this moment, let's put aside the wrongness of scratching - the bleeding, making-eczema-worse, scarring and addictive nature of it. Just for right now, let's only think about the glorious feelings scratching brings. 

1. It Feels So Good

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, feels as good as scratching when the itching is unbearable. I really do mean nothing.

2. It's the Best Instant Gratification

Buying something you want, kissing your partner, taking a bite of your favorite food ... all are examples of good instant gratification situations. But, they don't compare to scratching, probably because it feels so uncomfortable before the scratching. I can buy things often, my guy is always smoochable and I'm not usually starving before I eat. I am, however, usually very, very itchy before I scratch. Maybe I've been lucky in life and in my health to think itching is the best instant gratification; for that I am grateful. And maybe I'll change my mind once my baby girl is born in a few weeks. We'll see. 

3. It's Self-Inducing Pleasure

Nobody has to do it for me. I have full control (or lack there of) for scratching my spots. I can do it any time and anywhere (sort of). And if I can't reach a spot, there's always something around that can be used: an unsharpened pencil, an Apple TV remote control, a backscratcher ... one can get very creative in the moment.

4. It Brings Relief

Although often temporary and short-lived, the seconds or minutes after the oh-feel-so-good scratching are so calm and quiet. The skin isn't screaming for attention. You can finally think about something other than the itching and need for scratching. Sometimes, when my skin happens to not be itchy, even before scratching, I pause a moment to reflect on the calmness of it. "Last night, I couldn't sleep because my legs were so unbearably itchy and today they are acting totally normal. It feels so good to not be trapped by my body."




"Don't Scratch!"

"Don't Scratch" - the dreaded words we often hear and hate. We don't want to scratch; it's more of a need. I could insert motivational words here about how it's mind over matter and how I believe in you, but, ultimately, the body will probably win. Itching is an immune response. It is making you feel itchy because it wants you to react to something it thinks is hurting you. And the body likes to get its way - you'll feel itchier and itchier until you can't handle it.

Maybe I'm being dramatic because I am itchy now and just made myself bleed. I'm sorry. What I'm trying to say is that we should have realistic goals. I don't think not scratching is realistic. I think controlling how we scratch is more realistic. Here are my tips:

1. keep your nails short and filed so they're smooth. Fingernails are weapons for eczema sufferers. 

2. Use cold compresses when the skin is completely out of control. It helps calm it down. 

3. Touch your itchy spots and rub instead of scratching with fingernails.

4. Have "hell no" scratch zones. Mine is my face. I've had serious eczema on my face and I know that scratching will make it go down a very bad path. I avoid scratching my face as often as possible.

5. Love yourself and your body. Sounds mushy, but your skin is a part of you. Instead of feeling like it's attacking you, be compassionate towards it. This will help you be more gentle with it when it's acting up.

6. Have a "no scratch" mantra, phrase, song, etc. Mine is the "Let it go" line from Disney's Frozen song. It's a great line for not scratching!

7. Avoid bleeding! Instead of "don't scratch," we should hear "don't bleed" from our loved ones. We really should avoid making ourselves bleed. 

8. Forgive yourself. It's hard when you try to not scratch and you fail. Forgive yourself and try again. 

9. Stop the itching. Not as easy as it sounds, I know, but many times there are reasons for the flare-up or there are things you can do to reduce the itching. Remove yourself from the allergen, take an antihistamine, meditate, distract yourself, calm down, etc.  

Good luck!