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Why Does Hydrocodone Make You Itch So Much?

Hydrocodone is an opioid that is often prescribed to help an individual cope with severe pain, but it is a medication that is both addictive and can cause severe side effects. It belongs to a group of painkillers known as narcotic analgesics that interacts with the central nervous system to relieve long-term, chronic pain. It is also often combined with acetaminophen to prolong pain relief.

Like most medications, hydrocodone has some common side effects such as:

  • Stomach Pain
  • Dry Mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Back Pain
  • Ringing in the Ears
  • Insomnia
  • Uncontrollable Shaking
  • Constipation

More severe side effects include:

  • Chest Pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Swelling of the face, throat, or lips
  • Hives or Itching

Increased Itching Due to Use

It is not entirely understood why opiate pain relievers like hydrocodone cause a person to itch severely. There are some theories that the use of hydrocodone triggers an immune response, even if it is used as prescribed. This immune response affects receptor proteins on the surface of mast cells, which are white blood cells found in connective tissues within the skin.

For people who experience itchiness when taking hydrocodone, it appears that the person’s cells react as if they were allergic to the medication. This causes a histamine response that leads to itching and hives.

Another theory states that the itching may come from the activation of opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Sensations of itching may be caused by the transmission of sensations from the skin to the brain which results in intense itching sensations.

It is also believed that injecting opioids into the skin—which may not be hydrocodone but other opioid drugs like fentanyl, heroin, codeine, or oxycodone—can cause an allergic reaction or itching sensations within the skin. Injecting drugs may lead to abscesses, sores, or injuries to the skin that causes itching.

Treating Itching

If a person is using hydrocodone as prescribed for pain management, side effects like itching can be extremely inconvenient. Some ways to treat itching include:

  • Antihistamines: these are medications are over-the-counter and are used to treat allergic reactions, itching, and hives.
  • Topical steroids are used to address physical symptoms of itching.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are another common medication that helps treat itching or hives.
  • A doctor may also prescribe different anti-anxiety medications as itching may be a result of opioid-induced nerves or anxieties.

Opioid Use Disorder

Though itching is often a side effect of normal hydrocodone use, it may also be indicative of a more severe condition. Substance abuse, specifically with opioid medications, is extremely dangerous and may even be life-threatening. Increased side effects, such as itching and hives, could mean that you or a loved one are abusing hydrocodone or other opioids.

If this is the case, seeking professional help is critical as continued abuse may lead to an opioid overdose or death. Side effects of an opioid overdose include:

  • Pale or clammy face
  • Limp body
  • Blue or purple lips and fingernails
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slowed or stopped heartbeat or breathing

An opioid overdose is very dangerous, especially if you are alone or if no one around you carries Naloxone. Naloxone is the only medication that reverses the effects of opioids, allowing a person more time to get medical help.

Treating Opioid Addiction

If itchiness is caused by hydrocodone or opioid abuse, there is a more severe underlying issue. Drug addiction is no joke, and seeking professional help is the most beneficial way to overcome this disorder. An addiction treatment center will work with you to determine what your specific symptoms are and how to best help you.

In some cases, detoxification may be a necessary first step. Experiencing opioid withdrawal can be difficult, but ridding your body of any opioids is an important way to begin this process. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness

Withdrawal from opioids can be helped through medication-assisted treatments. Medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone were designed specifically to address withdrawal symptoms and make this process much easier to get through. Anti-anxiety medications like Clonidine can reduce nerves, agitation, muscle aches, and other side effects that cause complications during this process.

Once a person is done with this process, working with professionals through different treatment programs can be helpful. Different programs like SMART recovery, group therapy, narcotics anonymous meetings, intensive outpatient treatment, or inpatient treatment can provide different resources to an individual seeking help with reaching long-term sobriety.

It is also important to talk with your healthcare provider about taking prescription opioids for pain if they have led to addiction. There are different medications that can be used to treat pain that are less addictive.

Get Help Now

There is no shame in seeking professional help for opioid abuse, and there are many different resources out there that can help you find a treatment program that best addresses your needs. Call today to find a rehab program and start your sobriety journey now.

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