Itching After Anesthesia and Surgery

| February 28, 2013 | 20 Comments

Here’s another great question and answer covering itching after surgery and anesthesia.


Dr. Dave,

I had a c-section about 3 weeks ago with a spinal block but had to go back into the OR for emergency exploratory surgery about 12 hours post ceasar. I was under general anesthesia for about 2 1/2 hours I am told for the exploratory surgery. My biggest complaint is that I have itched everywhere on my body since and can’t seem to find anythings to make it stop. The only medication I have been taken regularly upon my discharge is Motrin 800mg. Could the itching me caused by the surgeries and what could be done to make it stop.





Thanks for your question.

My initial thought when you mentioned having a spinal, followed by itching, is that you received duramorph (morphine) in your spinal. This works very well to control post-operative pain after c-section, but itching is one of its side effects. But these effects typically last for about 24 hours, and you mentioned you are 3 weeks out from surgery.

Narcotic pain medicines (eg. Vicodin) can also cause itching. But again, you mentioned you are not taking much more than Motrin.

Itching can have many causes, among these are: reactions to medications, skin conditions and rashes, internal diseases (eg. liver disease, kidney failure, anemia), irritations and allergic reactions to various substances, etc.

From the information given, it’s impossible to pinpoint where the issue is for you. But it sounds like this is debilitating enough that you should see your doctor.

If you have no contraindication to them, anti-histamines such as Benadryl may help alleviate some of your symptoms until you are able to get to the bottom of this. Remember that Benadryl will make you drowsy, so be careful if and when you take it.

Hope this helps, and let us know if you figure out what caused the itching.

Dr. Dave

What General Anesthesia Side Effect have you experienced, if any?

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Category: Anesthesia Medicines, Anesthesia Topics, General Anesthesia

Comments (20)

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  1. Itching along both sides of scar down the center of stomach ,had anesthesia 8 months ago.

    • DrJoe says:

      Thanks for your comment. The itching you are experiencing is very unlikely to be a result of anesthesia. It is common for scars and the area surrounding them to itch. It is more common for scars that are hypertrophic or keloid to itch. If you notice a rash or start to have fever, I would contact your doctor for a checkup.

      Best of luck to you.

  2. dilna nazar says:

    i toooo have itching after my surgery before 7 months ago…. i had the surgery for appendix and it was laparoscopy… after dat i had urine infctn and had anti-biotic injctn for nearly one mnth.. aftr dat iam havin severe itchin all over my body wid red spots…. am havin tablets like alaspan-10mg and orni-o … but still d itchin doesnt stop.. plz giv a remedy for my problm…

    • David Draghinas says:

      Thanks for your question, Dilna.

      It sounds like you are describing severe itching with some kind of rash present as well. I would recommend you see a physician to try and figure out what is causing this reaction.

      If your symptoms get worse, such as experiencing any difficulty breathing, you should seek immediate medical attention.

      If you don’t have any allergies to Benadryl, you can take some of this medicine to help with the itching. You need to be careful, however, because this medicine can cause drowsiness. Care must be taken when driving, operating any machinery, etc.

      Let us know how you do.

      Dr. Dave

  3. Moses says:

    I had a small operation removing my appendicitis about 3 months ago. I recently started feeling some occasional itchy/pains inside where the suture is

    • David Draghinas says:


      It sounds a bit odd to start having these sensations three months after your surgery. If it continues, it may be a good idea to let your physician know about it.

      Dr. Dave

  4. Dominique says:

    I had an epidural with my first daughter, and a spinal with my last child because of an emergency c section. I ITCHED SEVERLY WITH BOTH…I TOOK BENADRYL WHICH DRIED UP MY BREAST MILK THE FIRST TIME. MY NEWBORN is 3 week’s and I want to breastfeed for as long as I can so I just have to suffer through this . I’ve been told certain drugs can stay dormant in your spine and then you can have reactions to it later . I am itching in all the same places…and when I gave birth to my son which was a natural birth…I had no problems whatsoever. I HOPE YOU ALL FIND RELIEF….BECAUSE I KNOW IT IS VERY UNCOMFORTABLE! 🙂

    • David Draghinas says:


      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry your experience with spinals and epidurals have been less than ideal.

      What can contribute to the itchiness with a spinal/epidural is the use of a special kind of morphine in the medicine that’s given. Anesthesiologists do this because it provides the best pain relief in the first day after a c-section. Most itching experienced is mild and responds well to treatment.

      I hope you feel better soon! And should you need a spinal/epidural in the future, be sure to let your anesthesiologist know so they can adjust the medicine that is given to you.

      All the best,

      Dr. Dave

  5. jessica says:

    Hi sorry to ask a question on someone elses post but I couldnt figure out how to ask a question without so here it goes. Almost to yrs ago I had a scheduled c-section with my second child. I was given a spinal I believe. When he administered it I flinched because of the pain. I had a severe reaction during the operation nearly passing out. The anesthesiologist put something in my iv to bring me back to awareness. Since I have had a itch in my spine where the epidural was given. I have been told it will go away. It has been almost 2yrs and it is getting worse. I have an appt but not for a few weeks. Is there any tests I can request to figure out what is causing the itching. Any knowledge anyone may have regarding this problem will be helpful. Thank you

    • David Draghinas says:

      Thanks for sharing your question, Jessica.

      I’m sorry to hear you had difficulties with your spinal. This is certainly not what usually happens.

      Many anesthesiologists will add some special morphine in the spinal solution because this helps with pain control for the first 24 hours or so after the spinal is placed. One side effect of the morphine is itching.

      But that itching should only last for a day or so. To have itching 2 years later does not sound like anything I’ve seen with a spinal, and makes me wonder if there may be another cause.

      It’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about the problems you’ve been having. If you are taking any narcotic medicines currently, they could possibly cause itching. There are other medicines that could cause this symptom as well.

      Best of luck with your appointment. Please let us know what you find out. I hope you feel better soon.

      Dr. Dave

  6. Amanda says:

    Please help… I had hemorrhoid removal surgery on Wed the 21 and i have itched severely ever since…ive tried Benadryl but its not helping. Then in about maybe 30 minutes of taking it its back. Could it be the mix of Duramorph during surgery and Lortab for after surgery? and should i call my Doctor? I dont have a rash either

    • David Draghinas says:

      Hi Amanda,

      Duramorph can cause a significant amount of itching, depending on the dose used. But duramorph typically lasts for about 24 hours or so.

      Lortab, as well as almost any medication you are taking, could potentially cause itching. If it continues to bother you, it would be a good idea to speak to your doctor to figure out the cause and get you feeling better (without the itching).

      All the best to you as you recover.

      Dr. Dave

  7. Catrine says:

    Hi I had a major bacteria infection in my leg and had to undergo 9 operations including both spinal and general. I was on many painkillers such as morphine and oxynom in hospital. It has been 2 weeks since i discharged and im beginning to itch all over my body, evryday in a different place. Im getting some red spots but i think it may b because i scratched it. Im on no medications currently so it shouldnt b an allergy reaction. Pls help its bothering me as im only 15

    • David Draghinas says:


      I’m sorry to hear about your horrible itching.

      Unfortunately, itching can be caused by a number of different things. The best thing to do is to speak with your doctor, who can do a full evaluation of your situation and recommend a treatment plan.

      Hope you feel better soon.

      Dr. Dave

  8. Lynn Wilson says:

    I have itching on my heel that I had achillies tendon surgury on 6 yrs. ago, cannot stop the itching, why is this happening and what is causing it?

  9. Terri says:

    I had dental surgery four days ago (with sedation), I itch from the tip top of my head to the soles of my feet and all areas in between. Scratching it is great and for once I am grateful for my lack of fingernails ’cause I would look like a slasher film. Tried most of the OTC products and nothing works. I really hope this is over soon.

  10. Dan L. says:

    Hay Doc, i am going nuts over this. Had my second heart valve replacement this past Jan, and then had a stroke 3 days later. I recovered from the stoke via T.P.A.. Then 4 days later after I got home, my INR shot up to 14.7 and started to bleed out.went to the restroom and it looked like a Friday night horror show, and of course was rushed to the E.R. then air lifted to a large hospital while all the time having blood unit after unit replaced as I was in dire straits. Found out I have ulcers in lower intestines and after certain meds I recovered from that as well. After that I started to itch. I had the same type of issue with itching a few years ago because I am on morph and oxy due to other chronic issues. I was on morph and norco but change to oxy/Percocet because of the itching. That solved to issue back then, but now my itching is intense. Its all over my back, most intensely in the middle of my back and shoulder blades. I itch so bad that sores have become open and bleed at night. I ware a tee shirt and sweet jacket to help keep me from itching during the night when i sleep. I have to keep it cold in the room. To keep from sweating because of the extra clothing. I take benadryl and apply OTC anti-itch medication before i go to bed, but am up in the middle of the night to drink a lot of water and itch. I am always thirsty and I do see a kidney doc because my kidneys are not doing well because of the surgery and the complication after. I am at the end of my wits and will be seeing a dermatologist but have no idea what to tell them. Some of the sores have been there long before the itching and some were removed do to being cancerous. I have had Hodgkins lymphoma cancer 2x’s. I have had blood poisoning from staph that cause me to have a 107°+ temperature. I survived it all. I survived skin cancer on my neck. I survived hernia surgery that turned into a staph infection(it was bad and had to do more surgery to get rid of the infected parts). I have had my back/spine fused. Survived severe phenomena was in isolationand told that I had 3 choices. Really bad harsh drugs, kill the lung(by hoping to cut the correct artery)or take the lung out completely, (I opted for the drugs). I survived 2 heart surgeries, and a stroke. Now I am itching to my death. WHAT CAN I DO TO STOP ITCHING!

    • David Draghinas says:


      I am so sorry to hear about all that you have endured.

      Yours is a very complex medical history. No doubt, you have to have done great docs taking care of you.

      They will be in the best position to try and solve this difficult problem for you.

      All the best,

      Dr Dave

  11. Jen Isitchy says:


    I had ureteroscopy w/laser lithotripsy 6+ wks ago. I was sent home on 1 wk of Cipro. 2 days after completing the Cipro I woke up w/a moderate sized red/inflamed rash on my breast. It was *absurdly itchy*. I took Benedryl and applied OTC Cortisone cream with no improvement. After a week it only got worse. In fact it looked just like inflammatory BC pictures, so I went to my primary.

    It was examined by 3 physicians and a med student at my primary’s office. One thought it was mastitis, 2 said contact dermatitis and the med student remained silent, lol. All felt I needed to have it looked at by a breast specialist. I was lucky enough to be seen *that day*. In the few short hours between appointments, the rash appeared on my other breast as well (gave us all a sigh of relief, as I guess it lessened the chances of IBC that much more).

    The breast surgeon sent me home w/stronger topical cortisone & instructions to take Benedryl around the clock for 3 days. She would punch biopsy if there was no improvement.
    I had no improvement… (it got worse).

    She did the biopsy the following week.. 3 samples.
    Results showed “mid dermal perivascular dermatitis w/eosinophils, ulcerated”
    “Note: histopatholologic changes not specific but favor dermal hypersensitivity reaction such as a drug eruption.
    Pancytokeratin stain is performed w/appropriate controls and fails to reveal additional information. ”

    Cipro was the only new medication I’ve taken.
    I’ve taken it in the past w/o rash.
    I’m on several other meds, but I’ve been on all of them for years.

    I’ve now seen a dermatologist who has just given me a stronger topical cream. She feels I’m allergic to the Cipro. The breast rashes are improving slowly (on the surface).. HOWEVER…
    I’m still ferociously itchy .. deeply itchy. I’m like internally itchy if that makes sense. My entire body feels itchy inside. My legs, my arms, my abdomen are now itchy… (without rash).
    My lab work doesn’t show any inflammation.. yet my breasts still have this breast inflammation and they’re so insanely itchy I’d like to rip them off.
    She also ran a Lyme titer…negative.

    The pharmacist suggested I could be itchy from the anesthesia. My hair is also falling out by the fistful for the past month.

    I was not intubated, but I don’t know the type of meds they used other than Fentanyl.

    I need ideas/answers because everyone else seems to have run out of ideas.. so I’m not sure who/where to even turn for help from different types of doctors.

    I can’t function on Benedryl forever. It only helps because it puts me to sleep.

    The surgery +1 week was when this all started.

    Please help :/

    • David Draghinas says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear about all the difficulties you’ve had. It sounds like yours is a complex issue and surely won’t be solved via a website. I’m reluctant to believe itchiness one week later is due to the anesthesia. Unfortunately, I don’t have any ideas for you. I hope you get back to normal soon.

      Dr Dave

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