Why Do Painkillers Make You Itch?

Millions of people take painkillers to relieve headaches, body aches, and common problems. While these medications do provide relief, they also come with certain side effects. And itchiness is one of them. Some people even decide to cut back on painkillers to reduce itching. 

Why Do Painkillers Make You Itch?

Painkillers really help treat minor body aches and headaches. However, people may develop serious itching after taking these medications. Here are some reasons why painkillers may make you itch.

1. Painkillers May Contain Opioid

Certain painkillers like morphine and codeine contain opioid that can interact with your nervous system and cause certain side effects. Your brain activates four types of receptors in response to opioids, and each of these types has different structural variants called isoforms. You experience itching because most opioids are nonspecific and they bind to all types of isoforms, including the one responsible for itching. That is the reason why you may experience itching after taking painkillers that contain opioid.

2. Painkillers May Cause Allergic Reactions

Painkillers have different components and it is possible that you are allergic to one of them. Once you develop an allergic reaction, your body releases histamines that can cause itchiness. While you can be allergic to many different types of painkillers, tramadol is the most common culprit.

How to Relieve Itch Caused by Painkillers

Knowing "Why do painkillers make you itch?" is important, and it is equally important to find out what you can do to relieve itching. Here are some home remedies to help.

1. Baking Soda

Try baking soda to deal with skin rashes as well as itchy skin. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can create a soothing effect on the skin. It also works as a natural acid neutralizer to help relieve itching.

Take a cup of baking soda and add it to a bathtub of cool water. Be sure to stir it well and then soak in the water for about 30 minutes. Do not rub yourself afterwards. Instead, pat dry with a towel. Do it once to relieve itching. Just avoid this remedy if you have open wounds or broken skin.

2. Colloidal Oatmeal

You can use colloidal oats to comfort your itchy skin. It works because of its anti-inflammatory, anti-irritating, and soothing properties.

Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water and add two cups of colloidal oatmeal to it. Soak in the water for about 20 minutes. You can take an oatmeal bath thrice a day for relief. Just ensure you do not use hot water for this remedy.

3. Cool Water

Why do painkillers make you itch and how to deal with it? Applying cool water on your affect skin helps relieve the itching sensation. The reason is that the same nerve is involved in sending the itching and cold sensations to the brain, so if you feel cool, the level of itching will be reduced. Here are some ways to use cool water on your skin.

  • Take an ice cube, wrap it in a cloth, and rub it over the affected skin.
  • Run cool water over your affected skin.
  • Take a cool bath or shower.

4. Apple Cider Vinegar

Thanks to its anti-itching, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, apple cider vinegar helps reduce itching in no time.

Fill your bathtub with lukewarm water and add a couple of cups of apple cider vinegar to it. Soak in it for half an hour and then pat dry your skin using a clean towel. You can also apply a light moisturizer after the bath for better results.

5. Aloe Vera

Due to its anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, aloe vera serves as an effective remedy for itchy skin. Vitamin E found in aloe vera also keeps your skin moisturized, which also plays a role in reducing itching.

Take an aloe vera leaf and extract its gel. Apply the gel directly on the affected skin. Rinse it off after 15 minutes. Use lukewarm water for this purpose and do it once a day to relieve itching.

6. Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. It creates a soothing effect on your skin and is also effective against scabies, dermatitis, and stress.

Take a cup and add 3-4 drops of peppermint oil to it with a tablespoon of carrier oil like olive, coconut, or almond oil. Apply it directly to the affected area and massage gently until the oil penetrates into the skin. Do it twice to relieve itching.

7. Take OTC Medications

Why do painkillers make you itch? You already know the reasons, but you may have to consider taking OTC medications when your itching is due to an allergic reaction. Here are some possible options:

  • Corticosteroid Creams: You need to apply these creams topically to control itching. Sometimes, it is important to cover the area where you apply the cream with damp cotton material. The moisture in the dressings promotes the absorption of the cream.
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors: You may consider taking certain drugs such as pimecrolimus or tacrolimus to relieve itching. These drugs are usually effective when you do not want to use corticosteroid creams.
  • Oral Antihistamines: You may have to take anti-allergy medications in case your itching is due to an allergic reaction. You can take OTC drugs such as cetrizine and loratadine because they do not make you sleepy. Diphenhydramine is another available option but it can make you sleepy. You may want to take it in case your itchy skin makes it difficult for you to fall asleep at night.
  • Antidepressants: In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help treat your skin itching. They usually opt for selecting serotonin-reuptake inhibitors such as sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac).