Itching

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Definition

What is itching?

Itching of the skin is an uncomfortable, irritating sensation that makes you want to scratch. It’s important to see a doctor for itchiness if the cause isn’t obvious. A doctor can find the underlying cause and provide treatments for relief. Several home remedies such as over-the-counter creams and moisturizers work well for itching.

Itching skin can affect the quality of your life. Prolonged itching and scratching may increase the intensity of the itch, possibly leading to:

  • Skin injury
  • Infection
  • Scarring

How common is itching?

Itching is extremely common. It can occur in patients in any gender at any age. However, it’s more common in older adults, as skin tends to become drier with age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Which signs and symptoms can itching usually be associated with?

Related signs and symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Bumps, spots or blisters
  • Dry, cracked skin
  • Leathery or scaly texture to the skin

Causes

What causes itching?

Causes of itching can include:

  • Dry skin. If you don’t see a crop of bright, red bumps or some other dramatic change in the itchy area, dry skin (xerosis) is a likely cause. Dry skin usually results from older age or environmental factors such as long-term use of air conditioning or central heating, and washing or bathing too much.
  • Skin conditions and rashes. Many skin conditions itch, including eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, scabies, lice, chickenpox and hives. The itching usually affects specific areas and is accompanied by other signs, such as red, irritated skin or bumps and blisters.
  • Internal diseases. Itchy skin can be a symptom of an underlying illness. These include liver disease, kidney failure, iron deficiency anemia, thyroid problems and cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma. The itching usually affects the whole body. The skin may look otherwise normal except for the repeatedly scratched areas.
  • Nerve disorders. Conditions that affect the nervous system — such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, pinched nerves and shingles (herpes zoster) — can cause itching.
  • Irritation and allergic reactions. Wool, chemicals, soaps and other substances can irritate the skin and cause itching. Sometimes the substance, such as poison ivy or cosmetics, causes an allergic reaction. Food allergies also may cause skin to itch.
  • Reactions to drugs, such as antibiotics, antifungal drugs or narcotic pain medications, can cause widespread rashes and itching.
  • During pregnancy, some women experience itchy skin, especially on the abdomen and thighs. Also, itchy skin conditions, such as dermatitis, can worsen during pregnancy.

The conditions mentioned above are some common causes of itching. Consult with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for itching?

You are more likely to experience skin itching if you have one or more of the conditions mentioned above.

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

When to see your doctor

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you or your loved one suffer from itching that:

  • Lasts more than two weeks and doesn’t improve with self-care measures
  • Is severe and distracts you from your daily routines or prevents you from sleeping
  • Comes on suddenly and can’t be easily explained
  • Affects your whole body
  • Is accompanied by other signs and symptoms, such as extreme tiredness, weight loss, changes in bowel habits or urinary frequency, fever, or redness of the skin

On noticing one of these symptoms or having any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor to get the best solutions for your situation.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage itching?

These following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with itching:

  • Avoid items or situations that cause you to itch. Try to identify what’s causing your symptoms and avoid it. This might be rough clothing, an overly heated room, too many hot baths, or an irritating substance such as perfumed soap or detergent, jewelry, or a cleaning product.
  • Use a high-quality moisturizing cream on your skin. Apply cream (Cetaphil, Eucerin, CeraVe, others) to affected skin at least once a day.
  • Use creams or gels that cool the skin. Try calamine lotion or a product with up to 1 percent menthol.
  • Apply an anti-itch cream or lotion to the affected area. Short-term use of nonprescription hydrocortisone cream containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone can temporarily relieve an itch accompanied by red, inflamed skin. So can calamine lotion or creams that include capsaicin.Topical anesthetics, such as pramoxine, may be helpful.
  • Avoid scratching whenever possible. Cover the itchy area if you can’t keep from scratching it. Trim nails and wear gloves at night.
  • Apply cool, wet compresses. Covering the affected area with wet bandages and dressings can help protect the skin and prevent scratching.
  • Take a bath or shower. Use lukewarm bath water and sprinkle in baking soda, uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal — a finely ground oatmeal that is made for bathing (Aveeno, others). Some people with long-term pruritus say that a hot shower eases their symptoms for hours. Others say a cold shower helps. Whatever method you use, rinse thoroughly and apply moisturizer.
  • Reduce stress. Stress can worsen itching. Counseling, behavior modification therapy, meditation and yoga are some ways of relieving stress.
  • Try over-the-counter allergy medicine. Some of these drugs, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can make you drowsy. They might be helpful at night if your itchy skin keeps you awake.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor for the best solutions.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: December 13, 2018 | Last Modified: December 13, 2018

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