Why Do Healing Wounds Itch?: Causes & Solutions
If your wound itching is driving you up the wall, you may be wondering: “Why do healing wounds itch, and should I be concerned about this?” Even if itching is not a health concern, how on earth can you make it stop!?
First and foremost, let’s set your mind at ease; itching is usually a normal sign of wound healing. Whether you have a neatly stitched surgical wound during plastic surgery recovery, or a wound from traumatic injury trussed up with staples and glue - it’s going to itch.
But just because your itching might be normal, doesn’t make it any easier to bear. That’s why, in addition to answering the question “why do healing wounds itch?” in this article, we will also give you tips on how to stop a healing wound from itching.
Before we get into the details of why healing wounds itch, let’s take a look at the normal healing process, so you can better understand what’s going on in your body during recovery from surgery or injury.
What does normal wound healing look like?
Large or small, deep or shallow, most wounds and incisions go through the same four-step healing process. These steps are: hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling.
Step 1: Hemostasis
The hemostasis stage starts as soon as the injury occurs or the surgeon’s incision is made. The body’s immediate response is to stop the bleeding. It does this by coagulating the blood using a fibrin-rich natural “mesh” that creates a barrier over the wound site.
Step 2: Inflammation
Once bleeding has stopped and your wound is stitched and sorted, your body begins the second step of wound healing, the inflammation stage. This usually peaks 24-48 hours after bodily trauma, and lasts up to six days.
During the inflammation stage, your body uses histamines to dilate the blood vessels and make it easier for your white blood cells to access your wound site. These blood cells combat infection and get rid of dead skin and debris that could slow wound healing.
Step 3: Proliferation
Proliferation is the step where your body begins to fill in the wound. It does so as quickly as possible with granulation tissue made of collagen fibers. This stage can last anywhere from one to three weeks.
Step 4: Remodeling
The final step in the healing process is the remodeling stage. During the remodeling stage, your body reorganizes the collagen fibers it hastily laid down during the proliferation phase. Your body slowly breaks down and rebuilds the layers of collagen so they are smoother and stronger, resulting in scar tissue.
This stage can start at the three week mark and last up to four years! Not to worry, it doesn’t take four years for your wound to heal. In fact, most healthy wounds heal within four weeks to six weeks.
As long as these four steps of wound healing are happening along the proper timeline, you shouldn’t be too concerned about wound itching. Of course, that’s easier to say if you aren’t the one living through the itching!
So why do wounds itch when healing, and what can you do about it? Let’s look at some of the reasons behind this frustrating symptom.
Why do healing wounds itch?
Itching, also known as pruritus, is a normal part of cell reconstruction - but it’s also a serious nuisance. Itching can drive you so wild that you lose sleep, lose your appetite, and lose all common sense!
So why do healing wounds itch? Why do our bodies put us through this torment?
Well, there is no definitive answer to the question “why do wounds itch when healing?” But there are three strong theories.
Your skin is full of sensitive nerves. That’s why small blisters and paper cuts hurt so much! Whenever there is an irritation to your skin, your nerves react - and a wound is a very big irritation.
During the wound-healing process, the nerves in your skin signal the spinal cord to tell your brain that the skin is being stimulated. Unfortunately, these nerves aren’t always the best at passing along a message. Some things are lost in translation, if you will, and that translation is - itchy.
In fact, during skin healing, your nerves use the same pathways to communicate with the brain as they do during eczema! It’s no wonder you’re feeling some itching sensations.
But that isn’t the only reason why healing wounds itch. It also comes down to your immune response.
As mentioned above, your body releases histamines during the inflammatory stage of healing. Histamines are well known to cause itching. Afterall, the histamine response is the reason it itches so much when a mosquito bites you.
If you imagine the itching response to a simple mosquito bite, you can see that a full-on wound site could definitely warrant some itching once histamines get involved.
Luckily, this stage of the healing process is short-lived, so long as your wound is healing properly. But when you get to the next healing stage, proliferation, there is yet another reason why healing wounds itch.
The last reason why healing wounds itch is this: The formation of granulation tissue can cause itching.
When your body starts rapidly laying down collagen fibers, that information is also sent to your brain as an itching sensation. While the itching may not be as intense as histamine-related itching, it can stick around for longer.
So now you know the answer to the question: “Why do healing wounds itch?” But how LONG do they itch for?
How long does wound itching last?
It’s possible for wounds to itch throughout the entire healing process. Because wounds take up to four weeks to heal, you may experience wound issues for a month or less. The actual length of healing (and therefore the length of itching) will depend on many factors like the size and depth of your wound.
If you’re wondering: “Why do healing wounds itch for longer than four weeks?”, it may be time to visit a doctor. Wound itching beyond the month mark may be a sign of infection or a chronic wound.
Some underlying health conditions can slow down the healing process, like in diabetic wound healing. Your doctor will be able to help you discover any conditions or habits that may be hindering your healing process.
Excessive itching, especially after a full month of healing, can be a sign of excessive fluid build-up, necrotic tissue, or infection. Keep an eye out for these problems:
- A fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Excessive bleeding
- Stitches that fall out
- Foul-smelling drainage
- Yellow, thick, or cloudy drainage
- New numbness or tingling at the wound site
- Increasing pain, redness, and swelling
If you are experiencing any of these issues, please schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Otherwise, if you are showing all the normal signs of a healing wound, and a month has not passed, there should be no need for concern.
Even if itching isn’t a health concern, it can sure be a nuisance. Itching sensations can drive even the best of us crazy! But it’s important not to scratch that itch - and here’s why.
Why you shouldn’t scratch your itchy wounds
Scratching an itchy wound may feel great in the moment, but it can set back your healing process - and even make your wound itching WORSE!
Even if you think you’re being gentle, scratching a scab or incision with stitches can reopen the wound or cause damage to your delicate new tissue fibers.
If you set back your healing process, you may need to deal with wound itching for even longer - heaven forbid!
Plus, when you scratch an itch, it feels great because it releases serotonin. Unfortunately, serotonin can actually intensify itching sensations! This leads to a vicious itching and scratching cycle that is hard to break and miserable to deal with.
Why oh why do healing wounds itch so much if we cannot scratch them!?
But never to fear, there are plenty of tips and tricks you can try to ease your itching during the healing process.
How to stop wounds from itching
So we know why healing wounds do itch. We also know how long they itch, and why we shouldn’t scratch them. But now comes the important topic - the reason we are all here - how to stop a healing wound from itching.
The best methods will differ from person to person depending on their wound, but we will leave you a list of many methods to try and discuss with your doctor as needed. At least one of them should help!
Without further ado, here are our top tips for how to stop a healing wound from itching:
Make sure the wound is clean
As you know, why healing wounds itch may be due to infection. Keeping your wound clean is one of the best ways to control infection-related itching at the beginning of wound healing.
So can you put alcohol on wounds to keep them clean?
Rubbing alcohol may work wonders to clean unbroken skin, but it’s dangerous to put on a wound. Alcohol is harsh and can kill off important microbes and skin cells.
It’s best to stick to simple warm water and mild soap.
Keep the wound moisturized
Your skin is more likely to itch if your scabs or wound site is dry. In fact, dryness can also slow down the healing process. To speed up healing and control the itch, it’s best to keep your wound moist.
Use wound dressings
Do wounds heal faster covered or uncovered? The answer is - covered! Wound dressings are not only one of the best ways to keep your wound moist, they can also provide wound healing benefits.
Wound dressings come in many forms. Some have antibiotic properties, some help promote collagen synthesis, and they all help provide a barrier to prevent you from scratching the healing area.
You can ask your doctor what type of wound dressing would be best for your wound and stage of healing.
Consider anti-itch creams
There are literal creams out there for stopping wound itching. But before you run to the store to pick them up, please talk to your doctor! The active ingredients in these creams may be too harsh for your recently traumatized skin, and if you still have an open wound, they could be downright dangerous.
Your doctor will be able to tell you the pros and cons of anti-itch creams, and the safest ones to take to counteract why healing wounds itch.
Because histamines are one of the reasons why healing wounds itch, it stands to reason that antihistamines (like Benadryl) could be beneficial to mitigating symptoms. Of course, your histamine response is happening for a reason, so it’s best to check with your doctor to see if taking antihistamines will get in the way of your healing.
Your doctor will be able to decide if you are having a normal (or overactive) immune response, and what dosage of antihistamines would benefit you.
Apply a cold compress
A cold compress is a swift and simple way to control wound itching in the inflammation stage of healing. Cold can reduce inflammation and dull the nerve response, which are two of the reasons why healing wounds itch.
Don’t use the compress for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
Wear non-irritating clothing
To limit irritation to your wounded area, wear loose-fitting and breathable clothing. This will help protect your wound from sweat buildup and rubbing.
Try wound healing supplements
In addition to some of the items on this list, we recommend looking into wound healing supplements. Diet plays a big role in wound healing, and certain supplements, like liquid protein for wound healing, may speed up the healing process.
While this may not affect why healing wounds itch, it will prevent them from itching for any longer than necessary!
In particular, we recommend taking collagen protein to ease you through your healing process. Your body needs all the collagen it can get to create new tissue, and providing it with extra collagen during healing may make the proliferation and remodeling phases of healing go much more smoothly.
Not all collagen supplements are created equal, but medical-grade collagen products like ProT Gold are trusted for use in medical nutrition by thousands of medical facilities across the United States. Taking this high-quality collagen protein daily may make all the difference in speeding you through the itchy stages of healing.