Ask the treatment expert: What effect does xerosis have on pruritus?

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Susan Wickard, RN, BSN, CWCN, CWS, CLNC
Susan Wickard, RN, BSN, CWCN, CWS, CLNC
What impact do xerosis and pruritus have on wound care?

Of the many effects of the aging process on the skin, moisture depletion is significant.

Xerosis, dry skin, can cause the skin to become scaly and crack, which increases the skin's exposure to bacteria. Many factors contribute to dry skin.

Environmental factors, such as a dry environment, is one of the biggest causes. Air conditioning, central heating, wind and temperature extremes are a few of these. Some resident habits also can cause dryness, smoking and past alcohol usage, to name a few.

Medications and poor diets can cause the skin to become dry. Some soaps can leave the skin dry, warranting care in soap selection.

Pruritus, the medical term for itching, is sometimes caused by xerosis.  Residents might scratch the affected area and that may cause excoriations.

Pruritus can be a common symptom for several diseases, such as liver or renal failure, as well as scabies. Therefore, it should not be taken lightly. Careful assessment is needed to determine if it is simply caused by dry skin or indeed a more serious problem. 

To treat both conditions, skin-moisturizing products can be useful.  Long-lasting moisturizers are the best. A variety of moisturizers are available with various functions: 

• Humectants promote moisture retention

• Emollients help retain moisture while soothing and softening the skin

• Occlusives minimize water loss to the external environment

It is best to bathe every other day. Use tepid water and a pH-balanced soap, and apply moisturizers immediately after bathing. As internal conditions significantly affect the skin's status, it is important to monitor and encourage appropriate fluid intake.
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