What is Neurodermatitis?

What is Neurodermatitis

Neurodermatitis is a common skin condition also known as scratch dermatitis and lichen simplex.

Commonly, the condition begins with a patch of itchy skin which the patient scratches, leading to more irritation and beginning a cycle of near-constant itching and scratching that is difficult to break.

The cause of neurodermatitis is unknown, and though it is not a serious condition, constant scratching can lead to thick, leathery skin and permanent scarring.



Initial symptoms are extreme itching in a single area, usually accompanied by a red, raised patch of scaly skin. Neurodermatitis may occur anywhere on the body, though it mostly crops up in easily reached areas such as the neck, forearm, wrist, thigh or ankle.

Occasionally, genital areas may be affected. Though the itch itself may come and go, the act of scratching commonly becomes habitual, causing increasing redness, scaling and itchiness. Severe symptoms, such as uncontrollable scratching, painful skin, discoloration or signs of infection call for a trip to the doctor.

Complications can include permanent scarring, permanent changes in skin color or bacterial skin infections. Signs of infection include yellowish drainage, brown crusts, open sores and visible cracks in the skin.


Causes and Risk Factors

Myriad causes for neurodermatitis have been identified, some as simple as the irritation caused by tight clothing or a bug bite. Scratching the area leads to increased inflammation and more itching, causing an irresistible need to scratch.

The condition may also be triggered by stress and anxiety or associated with such concurrent skin conditions as dry skin or psoriasis. Though neurodermatitis is a common ailment, women, middle-aged people and those with a family history of eczema or psoriasis are at increased risk.


Visiting the Doctor

Many sufferers pay a visit to their primary care provider or a dermatologist. Be sure to arrive at your visit with lists of symptoms, prescription and over-the-counter medications and any significant changes in lifestyle, diet or stress level. You should ask about the probable cause of the itching, whether tests are required, recommended treatments and alternatives to traditional approaches.



Typically, diagnosis is made after checking the skin’s appearance and taking a history of the start and progression of the disease. Sometimes, a doctor will order a test to confirm the diagnosis. Patch testing, used to identify allergic sensitivities, is sometimes administered. Small quantities of allergens are applied to the skin and observed two days later to see if a reaction has occurred. Your doctor may also order a punch biopsy, which involves removal of a small, deep section of your skin to see if the actual culprit is a similar skin condition, such as lichen planus.



Neurodermatitis is commonly treated with prescription and over-the-counter medications to reduce inflammation and relieve itching. Common drugs are oral and topical corticosteroids and oral antihistamines.

If your doctor notices indications of depression or stress, he may suggest antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Symptoms of bacterial infection may be treated by oral or topical antibiotics. Wet dressings may be used to help sooth inflamed areas and help medication cream absorb into the skin, while alternative treatments include application of witch hazel or camphor.


Stopping the Cycle

Perhaps the most difficult part of dealing with neurodermatitis is breaking the cycle of itching and scratching. To prevent further inflammation, keep nails trimmed, cover infected areas, take cool baths, wear cotton clothing and use mild, hypo-allergenic soaps.

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Last article update: 4/23/2019