Wounds: Does Itchiness Mean Healing?

The human body is a remarkable machine, from its ability to heal and repair the damage we inflict on it daily. All our organ systems work in concert to keep us well. Skin is the largest organ, and it has the task of protecting and holding the rest of our organs inside our bodies.

Key takeaways:

It works tirelessly to repair damage from simple cuts to deeper surgical wounds to keep us whole. During this repair process, itchiness may occur, but it is usually a normal healing response.

How do wounds heal?

Itchiness is a normal part of wound healing and is explained by understanding the process of wound healing. Every wound, from simple shaving nick to surgical wounds, heals in the same manner. The injury's size, location, and depth dictate how long healing will take.

  1. The first stage of wound healing is hemostasis. This stage begins immediately when the wound is created and starts to bleed. Bleeding serves to flush the wound and create a clot. A clot forms when platelets and fibrin in the blood combine and stop the bleeding. This clot also acts as a barrier to prevent pathogens from entering the wound.
  2. The second stage is inflammation. During this time, which lasts a few days, white blood cells (WBCs) enter the wound to attack and kill pathogens to prevent infection and, in so doing, cause inflammation of the wound. The wound may appear red and swollen, while the WBCs kill pathogens to protect you from infection. Chemicals are also released from your body which aids in repair but can also trigger itchiness.
  3. The third stage is proliferation. This can take two to four weeks to complete. Fibroblast cells make collagen to regrow skin. As this new skin stretches to cover the wound, this triggers nerves to cause itchiness. The scab that forms is also dry, which can trigger itchiness.
  4. The final stage is remodeling. This stage can take up to a year to complete. During this time, the new skin matures and forms a permanent scar. If a scar does to form normally, such as with a keloid, that can trigger itchiness as well.

Why do wounds feel itchy when healing?

As alluded to above, itchiness can be caused by the wound-healing process and is normal. It can result from chemicals being released during healing, such as histamines and cytokines. These chemicals are involved in wound healing but also trigger itchiness.

Since all skin is connected to sensory nerves, any injury to the skin will trigger the nerves to send messages to the brain. The injury will trigger nerve fibers carrying different signals, such as pain or itch. The brain interprets these signals and sends a message to the skin, which causes the itchy feeling to occur.

Also, oil glands are connected to the skin and may get damaged during the injury. When oil glands are not functioning properly, the skin can dry out. Dry skin triggers itchiness.

Can I scratch a wound?

You should never scratch or rub a wound. Any damage you inflict on the wound during healing will slow down the whole process, and the wound will take longer to heal. Scratching or rubbing will set the entire wound healing process back to the beginning stage. Since we harbor bacteria and dirt under our fingernails, you may even cause an infection by scratching. Also, injury to the wound while healing will cause an ugly scar. The better you care for your wound while it is healing, the faster you will heal, and the better the scar will ultimately look.

How to stop a wound from feeling itchy?

If you cannot control yourself and want to scratch your healing wound, do not. Try these simple tricks instead to calm the itch. Ice packs are a great way to soothe the inflammation and itchiness caused by wound healing. Just remember, never stick ice cubes directly on your skin because they can harm the skin. Always use an ice pack over a covered wound.

Proper wound care will also cut down on itchiness. Keep the wound moist with antibiotic ointment or petrolatum. Moist wounds heal faster and with less itchiness. The wound must be covered and kept moist. Your clothing should be made of breathable fabrics to keep the wound cool and prevent heat build-up. Also, you should wear loose-fitted clothing that does not rub against the wound and irritate it.

It is also vital to take care of the area around the wound. If the skin around the wound is dry, apply a dye- and fragrance-free moisturizer. Ask your doctor if you can use a steroid cream, like hydrocortisone, around the wound to help alleviate the itchiness. Steroid creams reduce inflammation and alleviate itchiness.

Can itchiness mean something else?

If the itch you experience is uncontrollable, it may be a warning sign of something else happening. You should see your doctor immediately to have him or her evaluate the wound.

Itchiness can also mean you are experiencing an allergic reaction to something you are putting on or around the wound. During healing, the wound is susceptible to irritation from topicals. Always choose dye- and fragrance-free products to help prevent allergic reactions. 
If you have a history of eczema, an injury and subsequent healing of the wound can trigger an outbreak. You may need prescription medications to keep your eczema under control during healing. Patients with a history of eczema should always use dye and fragrance-free products to avoid triggering an outbreak.

In some cases, the itchy feeling can also mean an infection has occurred in the wound. In many cases, your doctor will prescribe a topical and oral antibiotic to kill the bacteria causing the infection. If left untreated, an infection could cause cellulitis and death, so do not delay seeing your doctor.

When to see a doctor?

Mild itchiness is a normal part of wound healing. However, if the itchy feeling is uncontrollable, see your doctor immediately. You may have other problems compounding the healing process, like an allergic reaction. If you are experiencing pain, redness, swelling, warmth, or pus at the wound site, you may have an infection. Do not delay in seeing your doctor; it could have deadly consequences.

Itchiness is a normal part of the wound-healing process for all types of wounds, from shaving nicks and minor cuts to deeper surgical wounds. As the wound heals, it releases chemicals that trigger an itchy feeling. The injury itself also sends nerve signals to the brain to trigger itchiness. Always keep the wound moist and covered to protect it and prevent infection. The better you care for the wound, the faster and better it heals. If the itch becomes uncontrollable, you experience pain, or you see redness, swelling, and pus, see your doctor immediately for treatment.

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