Are anti-itch medications safe and effective?

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Over-the-counter anti-itch ointments are safe and effective if you follow directions. They are designed for the temporary relief of itching, not as a long-term solution. A common active ingredient is hydrocortisone, a steroid, which may cause side effects; if you use it too long, it can make your skin thinner and more susceptible to irritation and infection. That's why you should apply it only three or four times a day -- and for no more than seven days straight, unless you have consulted your doctor. One indirect danger of relying on over-the-counter anti-itch ointments is that they can mask medical conditions that may be causing your itchiness, such as kidney failure, an overactive or underactive thyroid gland, iron deficiency or a pinched nerve. Your doctor should be able to diagnose the source of your itch.