Background Although pruritus is the predominant and commonest feature of atopic dermatitis, its clinical characteristics have not been explored.
Objective To characterize the clinical pattern and sensory and affective dimensions of the itch experience utilizing a comprehensive itch questionnaire.
Methods A structured itch questionnaire based on the McGill pain questionnaire was given to 102 Chinese patients with known atopic dermatitis.
Results There were 100 patients with atopic dermatitis who fully filled the questionnaire. In 87% of the patients pruritus appeared on a daily basis. It had a prolonged duration (mean duration 10.7 7.3 years). It involved all body areas mostly in the lower limbs (83%), flexures (76%), upper limbs (71%) and neck (65%). Itch intensity during its peak was nearly twice higher than the itch of a mosquito bite. Itching was most frequent at night (65%), and 84% of patients reported of difficulty falling asleep. Daily life activities which increased the severity of itch were sweat in 96%, dryness in 71%, stress in 71% and physical effort in 73%. The major factors which were found to reduce the intensity of pruritus included: bathing with cold water in 55% and cold ambient environment in 56%. Associated symptoms were heat sensation (51%), sweating (40%) and pain in the pruritic area (45%).
The various anti-pruritic therapies had limited long-term effect. The pruritus was bothersome (52%) and a major distress to the patient. The affective score correlated to itch intensity during its peak (r = 0.4, P < 0.001).
Conclusions The study provided a detailed description of pruritus in atopic dermatitis with new data on affective and sensory dimensions and associated symptoms. The questionnaire was found to be a useful tool in characterization of itch.