What is pruritus?


Know the basics

What is pruritus?

Pruritus, also known as itchy skin, refers to the condition in which you want to scratch yourself due to an uncomfortable and irritating sensation. It may be the result of a rash or another condition, such as psoriasis or dermatitis. You can also have pruritus because you are living with a disease such as liver disease or kidney failure. The cause of your pruritus decide if you have normal itchy skin or have red or rough or bumps or blisters on your skin.

How common is pruritus?

Pruritus is common since anyone can get it. It can lead to a primary skin disorder such as xerosis, atopic dermatitis, urticaria, psoriasis, arthropod assault, mastocytosis, dermatitis herpetiformis, or pemphigoid. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of pruritus?

The common signs and symptoms of pruritus are:

  • Itchy skin over certain small areas, such as on an arm or leg, or your whole body may itch;
  • Redness;
  • Bumps, spots or blisters;
  • Dry, cracked skin;
  • Leathery or scaly texture to the skin.

Sometimes itchiness lasts a long time and can be intense. The more you scratch, the itchier it may get. But it is difficult to resist the urge of scratching triggered by the unpleasant sensation originated from the skin’s free nerve ending. Breaking this itch-scratch cycle can be challenging, but continued scratching can damage your skin or even cause infection.

There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if or a skin disease specialist (dermatologist) if the itching:

  • Lasts more than two weeks;
  • Doesn’t show any improvement after some self-care measures;
  • Is severe and distracts you from your daily routines;
  • Cause you trouble sleeping;
  • Difficult to find the original cause;
  • Itching sensation get worse and affects your whole body;
  • Is accompanied by other symptoms, such as extreme tiredness, weight loss, changes in bowel habits or urinary frequency, fever, or redness of the skin.

Know the causes

What causes pruritus?

A single mechanism cannot explain all causes of pruritus. Your pruritus can occur due to one of the followings:

  • Dry skin. In case a crop of bright, red bumps or some other dramatic change in the itchy area can’t be found, the cause of your pruritus may be dry skin. Dry skin usually occurs to respond to environmental factors such as hot or cold weather with low humidity, long-term use of air conditioning or central heating, and washing or bathing too much;
  • Skin conditions and rashes. Many skin conditions can make you feel itch, including eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, scabies, lice, chickenpox and hives;
  • Internal diseases. There are some diseases that their symptoms include pruritus. Such disease can be liver disease, malabsorption of wheat, kidney failure, iron deficiency anemia, thyroid problems and cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma;
  • Nerve disorders. Multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, pinched nerves and shingles can affect the nervous system and then lead to your pruritus;
  • Irritation and allergic reactions. You can have pruritus as a result of the irritation from cool, chemicals, soaps and other substances. Food allergies may cause skin to itch to.
  • Reactions to drugs, such as antibiotics, antifungal drugs or narcotic pain medications, can cause widespread rashes and pruritus;
  • During pregnancy, some women can experience pruritus, especially on the abdomen, thighs, breasts and arms.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for pruritus?

There are many risk factors for pruritus, such as:

  • Seasonal allergies, hay fever, asthma, and eczema;
  • The elderly is more likely to have pruritus;
  • Life in the community promoting the development of lice, intestinal worms, and infectious childhood diseases;
  • Wearing closed shoes types sports shoes with synthetic socks, maceration and promotes the development of fungi;
  • The presence of pets in the house;
  • Exposure to insect bites;
  • Care and hygiene.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is pruritus diagnosed?

Pruritus can be diagnosed through a physical exam and your medical history. If your doctor suspects that an uderlying medical condition causes your pruritus, some tests can be performed, including:

  • Blood test. This kind of test can provide the doctor with evidence of an internal condition causing your prurits, such as iron deficiency;
  • Chemistry profile. This test is done to check if you have a liver or kidney disorder;
  • Thyroid function test. Your doctor need to determine whether thyroid abnormalities, such as hyperthyroidism, is availabe because it can be a cause of your disease;
  • Chest X-rays. Radiography can indicate the signs of underlying disease that are associated with your disease.

How is pruritus treated?

Alleviating symptoms of prutitus by non specific measures has been proved to be an effective approach. Non-specific therapy include

  • Apply skin lubricants frequently;
  • Avoid excessive bathing;
  • Limit your daily use of soap on sensitive areas;
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, spices, hot water as they can make you sweat more;
  • Wear comfortable clothes made from materials that are less likely to cause irration to the skin.

Your doctor can prescribe you corticosteroid creams to treat your pruritus. You need to apply this medicated cream to affected areas, then covering these areas with damp cotton material that has been soaked in water or other solutions. With moisture from the wet dressings, the skin can possibly absorb the cream better.

Certain drugs, such as tacrolimus and pimecrolimus are calcineurin inhibitors which you can be given in some cases, especially if the itchy area isn’t large.

In order to ease your pruritus, you can receive oral antihistamines from your doctor as well. It must be noted that antihistamines are only effective in types of pruritus originated from utarica or other allergic causes. Besides, it can also be used to assist sleep at night as some can have trouble sleeping due to itching. They may cause some adverse effects related to their sedation and anticholinergic properties, particularly in elderly patients.

Besides, the doctor can treat the underlying cause that leads to your pruritus. After an internal disease is found, the doctor will treat that disease so you can relieve the itch. Other itch-relief methods also may be recommended.

Light therapy or phototherapy is one of methods to treat your pruritus, inclduing exposing your skin to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light. Multiple sessions are usually scheduled until the disease can be controlled.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

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

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with pruritus:

  • Avoid scratching. You can prevent this by covering the itchy area. Before sleep, you can trim nails and wear gloves so that you can’t scratch yourself during the night;
  • Apply cool, wet compresses. Covering the affected area with bandages and dressings can help protect the skin and prevent scratching;
  • Humidify your room when it gets dry, especially in winter.
  • Take a lukewarm bath. This a good idea for you to relieve from your pruritus. It is suggested that you should cprinkle the bath water with baking soda, uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal;
  • Choose mild soaps without dyes or perfumes. Dye or perfumes just worse your condition. After washing with soap, you need to make sure to rinse the soap completely off your body. And after washing, apply a moisturizer or lubricant to protect your skin.
  • Avoid substances that irritate your skin or may provoke an allergic reaction, including nickel, jewelry, perfume or skin products with fragrance, cleaning products, and cosmetics.
  • Reduce stress. Stress can worsen itching. Counseling, behavior modification therapy, meditation and yoga are some ways of relieving stress.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

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

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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