Oxycodone is a synthetic opiate analgesic medication, prescribed for moderate-to-severe pain control. It is stronger than morphine and better absorbed (Goodman, 2004). Oxycodone is generally combined with acetaminophen in the prescription drug Percocet. Percodan contains aspirin and oxycodone. Common side effects of opiate analgesic medications include skin flushing, sweating and pruritis (itching). Itching may occur anywhere on the body, but the scalp, face and extremities are frequently affected. The physiological reasons why oxycodone makes your head itch are probably related to processes in the liver and nervous system.
Oxycodone is metabolized in the liver by certain enzymes and eliminated in urine and sweat. These enzyme pathways may be directly related to pharmacological responses (Goodman, 2004). Theoretically, opiate-induced itching may be due to processes in the liver. The exact mechanism is not known.
The link between endogenous (natural) opioids produced by the liver in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) and the severe itching that characterizes this disease seems to support the theory that liver metabolism plays a role in opiate-induced itching. Trials of opiate antagonist medications to bring relief to PBC sufferers have had mixed results, however (Worman, 2000).
Itching that originates in central nerves but does not involve nerve damage is associated with the accumulation of naturally occurring opiates and possibly with the administration of synthetic opiates, such as oxycodone. Part of the pain-killing action of oxycodone is a result of its ability to increase serotonin, a feel-good chemical in the brain. Increased serotonin may also stimulate nerve fibers to cause itching on the head and in other parts of the body as well (Twycross, 2003).
To alleviate itching, your doctor might prescribe antihistamine or steroid medication. Lowering the dose of oxycodone, with your doctor's permission, may help as well. Cold packs bring temporary relief too. Itching may be worse when starting oxycodone. Many patients report that this and other side effects subside with time.
Tell your doctor if you experience hives, rash or swelling as these are serious side effects. Do not stop taking oxycodone abruptly. Withdrawal symptoms from opiate analgesics include, but are not limited to, sweating, muscle pain, nausea, anxiety and insomnia.