In 2009, I had my first taste of the skin manifestations of colitis. I’d just started taking probiotics. Within two or three days of taking them, I began to itch. I wasn’t tracking my symptoms or my diet at the time (see my journal template here), and had been spending lots of time in the woods. I thought I had gotten poison ivy. Over the next few days the itching got worse and worse. I was befuddled. Soon I had full-blown hives—a “classic drug rash,” my doctor called it. By the time I got to the doctor, though, I had put two and two together and quit the probiotics. It took almost three weeks for the hives to dissipate—even with a potent antihistamine cocktail.itching

But quitting the probiotics weren’t an option for me; they made me better; they, along with the SCD were my plan to stay off drugs. I could see that even in the short week or ten days I’d been taking them that they were effective for me. I was stuck—there was no way I was going back to Imuran. It made me feel terrible. After the hives disappeared, I tried increasing the probiotic dosage again with monumental slowness; I tried different brands; I tried just yogurt, both cow and goat; I tried everything in every combination I could imagine, but the itching remained. I wanted to filet my skin off. Since the itching was worse at night, I’d often wake up looking like I tried to do just that. I was tired. I was embarrassed to show my legs or arms in public. And I was nearly driven mad on several occasions from what I can only call itchiness ‘flare ups.’

In 2009, I thought I had a simple cause and effect: eat probiotics, get itchy for 3-6 weeks. However, over time, I found that it wasn’t that simple. One or two brands of probiotics helped my colitis, but which didn’t make me itch. I could go weeks on these probiotics and not itch, then for no apparent reason, I would begin itching furiously—curious and confusing. I began to look more deeply into it, using my journal and attempting (I’m human too) a disciplined addition and subtraction of foods and treatments. As I was investigating the source of the itching, I found several things which seem to set me off (mind you, it’s taken me over two years to figure this out—it was that confusing for me). None of this is yet certain, but only my best guess. I’m currently consulting with an ND to get to the root cause (which is related to inflammation and leaky gut, but I’d like to get more specific answers).

If you’ve dealt with this kind of itching, please share your experience in the comments below.

What I Know About Me and My Itching:

This symptom has been the most frustrating, the most maddening, and the most confusing yet in my journey with IBD. The itching kept me up at night, my legs, arms, and/or hands flaring. I went sometimes for six weeks with 4-5 hours of fitful sleep each night. I got to the point where a metal hairbrush or cold wet rags (or both, hairbrush followed by wet rags) were the only humane ways to quell the itching. Antihistamines did practically nothing. My hands would often cramp from scratching. I’ve had bouts with hives, eczema (on the palms and back of my hands), and never had more than a week or ten days break from the itching—until now. (We’ll get there, I promise.)

Best I can tell, the probiotics (I still react to most) were a tipping point for my body. Since then, I’ve found a brand of probiotics (Custom Probiotics, 11-strain mix) which doesn’t make me itch, and is very effective at treating my gut symptoms. That said, I’ve culled out several other things that flare up my itching. In order of their power for creating a reaction, they are:

  • Fermented foods, especially cow dairy (cheese and yogurt)
  • Pasteurized cow diary (including the love of my life—butter)
  • Sprouted anything
  • Really high doses of either Vitamin C, Raw green juice, or Milk Thistle (Who can say, “Liver!”?)
  • Raw Apples. (So, so sad.)
  • Things that give me diarrhea (like 14 almond flour cookies in one sitting—don’t ask. Let’s just say I have an impulse control problem) will also make me itch, but temporarily.
  • This bullet is reserved for the unknown sources; those I still haven’t found. It’s like the ancient Greek, Agnostos Theos.

I’ve researched itching and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD: Chron’s and Colitis), and there’s really very little out there. So, in the interest of filling the gaps, I’ve decided to write on itching (pruritus), hives (chronic Urticaria), and other skin itchiness(es) (is that a word?) as they relate to inflammatory bowel disease.

Since there is such a paucity of information and experience out there that is accessible to us who have IBD, I’d ask that if you have experience with itching and IBD, please share it with us in the comments—especially if you’ve found a solution to your itching.

Next time we’ll take a look at the nuts and bolts of itching and IBD: Where does it (likely) come from and what you can try do about it.

Onward to Health,

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