The itch from Hell

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, June 3, 2015

After spending most of the weekend at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, I developed the worst sunburn of my life. Nevermind that I regularly applied a decent amount of lotion or that I usually tan with ease, the ultraviolet rays singed my skin like they had never before.

I lathered myself in aloe vera and went to sleep, dreaming of how tall, dark and handsome I’d soon be. But it wasn’t until nearly 48 hours after my initial burn that I would experience an unprecedented sensation.

While I was preparing my dinner on Monday night, an insatiable tingling began to run up and down my spine. My nerve endings began simultaneously exploding on my chest and my back as if fire ants were walking underneath my skin. This deep itch consumed me with panic, getting worse with every beat of my heart. I ripped off my clothes with the same rage that I wished I could have removed my skin and smothered myself in moisturizers.

I was at peace… but only temporarily.

The itch became worse than before, and I started losing my mind. An ice cold shower didn’t work; neither did the antiseptic burn cream that I had in the back of my medicine cabinet. The empty cabinet and treatments littered across my bathroom floor can attest to the fact that I tried everything.

I began frantically running around my apartment, pleading for the pain to stop. I had no idea what was going on, and there was no solution in sight. Tears rolling from my eyes, I put some pants on, laid down, cuddled a pillow and told my dog that it was nice knowing him. I was ready to say goodbye to the world.

Now I’m not one to trust everything I read on the Internet. In fact, I’ve said on multiple occasions that no matter the symptoms, WebMD will always convince you that you have cancer. But I was at wits’ end.

So I Googled “extreme sunburn itch,” and it led me to several blogs and forums filled with people crying out for the same relief of which I was in search.

“This itch is unlike anything else,” reads one post. “It makes me want to rip my skin off using rusty razors, to put it lightly.”

Another lamented, “It’s a maddening, body-twitching, hands-shaking, insatiable itch that literally had me in tears. As a former Marine, I am embarrassed that this causes me so much utter agony, I just want to go insane.”

An article in The National Post referred to the sensation as “Hell’s itch.”

“For upward of two days, the patients are completely consumed by the itch, unable to work or think straight,” Dr. Martin Steinhoff, one of the world’s leading sunburn researchers from University College of Dublin, Ireland, told the newspaper. “It’s a completely debilitating condition, largely unknown to medical science.”

He estimates that “Hell’s itch” strikes 5 to 10 percent of sunburn sufferers, and I was one of those unlucky few.

Ultimately, one author suggested taking Benadryl and standing underneath a boiling hot shower. The medicine made sense, so I rushed to CVS and drank half a bottle of the tasty children’s medicine before I left the parking lot. The latter, on the other hand, seemed counterintuitive. But then again, as the clock now neared midnight, I was out of any other ideas.

Begrudgingly, I turned my bathroom into a sauna and took the hottest shower of my life… but it worked! Within a half hour — thanks to the medicine — I was sleeping like a baby.

Yes, I’ve learned my lesson. Even the prospect of a perfectly bronzed body is not worth the excruciating pain I’ve had to deal with. Never again will I spend all day in the sun without an arsenal of all the SPF products in the world.

And what do you know… recalling the tremors from the night before have brought back the itch. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a hot shower and Benadryl cocktail.

Andrew Lind is a staff writer at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187, or by email at