Good morning Everyone!
My Easter Sunday plans did not include spending the afternoon staring with concern at my daughter writhing on the floor, rubbing her back on a towel and crying. We had just returned from a five-day trip to the beach that morning. While we were there, Kayla spent one glorious five-hour stint in the water playing with some friends she had made that morning and wound up with an equally splendid sunburn on her back. Until Easter afternoon, it had been pretty much like any other sunburn, but what Kayla was experiencing then was a whole different order of magnitude. There was no doubt in my mind that she was sincere but I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
Mark woke up just as I was getting ready to take her somewhere for help, and suggested instead that I first give her Benadryl and some Tylenol. I did, and it seemed to help for about an hour and a half, then everything started all over again. While Kayla was calm, we asked her what it felt like, and she said when the itch got bad and she started crying, she felt like she had a thousand knives stabbing deep into her back, causing great pain and a deep, burning itch. When the itch started to come back after an hour and a half, we gave her two Advil and I took her to our local Doc-In-The-Box.
Apparently, arriving at 5:30 p.m. on Easter Sunday when the clinic closes at 6 ensures swift service. Kayla was their only patient. I was a little annoyed at the doctor because I didn’t think she really was taking Kayla and me seriously, but she did consent to give Kayla a shot of Benadryl and prescribe a stronger antihistamine in case the Benadryl didn’t work. She also told me to get some Cortisone cream and Benadryl cream to put on Kayla’s back.
I called Mark at 5:55 – the prescription had been called into our local pharmacy, which closed at 6, and Kayla and I were about 30 minutes away – and he won Father-of-the-Year award for making it to CVS in less than four minutes to pick up the prescription.
We were fortunate that he was able to do so, because about 10:00 p.m., by the time the Benadryl shot had worn off, Kayla came into our bedroom and woke me up to tell me that her back had started itching again and she wanted me to put the cortisone cream and Benadryl cream on her. I carefully applied the lotions, but by the time I finished, she was back to writhing in agony again and begging me to take the lotions back off. Mark woke up because he heard us. After I wiped the creams back off as best I could, we had Kayla take an Aveeno oatmeal bath. (Another remedy suggested by the doctor.)
After she got out of the bath, her back had calmed down a little again, so the three of us sat up for a while. While we sat, I did what any stumped parent would do – I googled “intense sunburn itch.” The results surprised me.
Apparently, there are a number of people out there – adults as well as children – that have experienced the same thing. The people who have had this happen to them called it either “Hell’s Itch” or ICI – short for “insanity causing itch.” The medical sites didn’t have a description of it or a name for it, but I know from our experience with Kayla that it exists. All of the stories I found on the internet described the same symptoms that Kayla had experienced. One sufferer was a former marine who admitted that he was embarrassed that this – whatever it is – had brought him to his knees. Another was a former paratrooper who said the same thing. The adults who described it said that it felt like fire ants were crawling underneath your skin, constantly biting you.
A very important point to remember if you encounter this is that all of the normal sunburn remedies – aloe vera, cortisone and antihistamine creams – only make the itch worse.
There were only three things that seemed to help the people who experienced this – and two of them were the opposite of what you would do for a normal sunburn. The first remedy that gave most people relief was to take a scalding hot shower for at least 15 to 20 minutes. The second remedy was peppermint oil, which is not something I keep on hand. The third remedy that helped was the prescription antihistamine. The brand name for it is Aderax and the generic is something like hydroxidine HCL. With Kayla, basic pain relievers like Tylenol and Advil also helped, although without the antihistamines the most they did was take the edge off.
Hell’s Itch only happens to someone who has acquired a decent sunburn to some area of the body. For reasons no one was certain of, about 48 hours later, each sufferer experienced an unbearable sensation that ran in waves over the places that were sunburnt. Even if you are one of the 5 – 10% of people who ever experience this, it doesn’t happen every time you get sunburned. Some people will experience it once and then not have it happen again for 20 years, even if they get sunburned in the meantime. In almost everyone, the symptoms subside on their own after 8 to 48 hours.
All’s well that end’s well, of course, and by Tuesday, Kayla was back to normal. Still, I wanted to share this with you in case you ever end up on the floor yourself writhing with this unbearable sensation, or, even worse, someone you love does. As for me, I think I’m going to buy some peppermint oil and keep it on hand, just in case.
Have a great day!
UPDATE: 7/8/2016 – Thank you to each of the over 11,000 people who have viewed this post since it was first published. Please if you have time, look at some of my other posts. I write about all kinds of things, with entertaining results.
I also need to remind everyone that I am not a doctor, and this blog post is not meant to give medical advice. It is meant to let people who are experiencing this terrible condition that they are not alone, they are not crazy and there are some things that some people have found helpful.
A special thank you to the people who take the time to share their own experiences. I know when Kayla went through this, I was infinitely relieved when I read about other people experiencing the same thing.
Finally, use your own judgment about when to see a physician. In my opinion, if you don’t earlier, you DEFINITELY need to see a physician if you experience these symptoms more than 2 or 3 days at the latest. (If it were me, I’m not sure I could make it as far as day 3). Regular Hell’s Itch doesn’t seem to normally last that long.