Why Getting Old Gives You Itchy Skin

Medically reviewed by | By

Update Date 11/05/2020 . 3 mins read

Itchy skin is an unpleasant sensation associated with the need to scratch. It can occur on diseased skin or non-diseased skin. Itchy skin can be due to skin problems, a systemic disease, neurological and other diseases. It is the most common grievance among elderly patients during a dermatological consultation.  Itchy skin in elderly people can be defined as chronic pruritus in a person over 65 years old.

Skin, like many other organs, undergoes deterioration with the passage of time. Nearly every aspect of skin biology is affected by ageing phase. The epidermis’s self-renewing capability, which provides vital barrier function is diminished with age. The collagenous extracellular matrix at dermal level, the bulk of skin that confers strength and resiliency, undergoes gradual fragmentation, which deleteriously impacts skin mechanical properties and dermal cell functions. Age-related alterations of skin consequently lead to age-related skin fragility and diseases.

Old age and itchy skin

Ageing affects three important components that induce itchy skin. This includes the barrier function of the epidermis, the immune system and the nervous system.

With age, there is a significant change that causes a decline in surface lipid production that maintain the epidermal barrier.  Starting at approximately age 55, the surface pH of the epidermis becomes less acidic. The enzymes required to process the lipids that compose the epidermal water barrier require an acid pH. By the age of 70, the rate of production of the precursors of the lipid barrier is reduced, resulting in insufficient lipids to maintain the barrier.

The epidermal barrier insufficiency may be related to increased risk for the development of contact dermatitis. This explains why an elderly patient complains of irritation and itchiness from washing products that were well tolerated at a younger age. Loss of sweat and oil glands on the skin will also lead to itchiness due to dry skin, the most common skin disorder among the elderly.

The changes that occur in the immune system with age are termed “immunosenescence”. The aged immune system is pro-inflammatory with dysfunction of immune cells. In some patients, this can result in an allergic reaction and the body inability to react effectively to infectious agents.

Neurological conditions such as degenerative diseases of the spine may affect the elderly patient. In some cases, the sensory nerves may be affected and causing itchiness. Diabetes polyneuropathy can also manifest with the itchiness of the trunk.

In the elderly, chronic itching can also be triggered by light pressure, such as the brush of fibres from a sweater. According to a study by anesthesiology researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine, older people may have less pressure sensing cells that can lead to touch-related itchiness. The study involves mice by applying a precise amount of pressure to a patch of shaved skin on young and old rodents’ necks. Older mice are discovered to scratch more on the spot than the young mice in response to the light touch. Through skin analysis, the team found that older mice had far fewer pressure-sensing cells than young mice did.

Managing itchy skin in elderly

Itchy skin, though may seems trivial to most of us, can actually affect the quality of life of individuals especially in the elderly. The itchiness was often observed as a sign of being unclean and could influence other’s perception on the elderly. They may be perceived to be a source of infection or infestation. This perception could lead to an avoidance of the patient and an isolation that influences their quality of life. Interventions to prevent this include proper hydration, protection from irritant and daily sun protection.

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

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

msBahasa Malaysia

Read also:

    Was this article helpful for you ?
    happy unhappy"

    You might also like

    Trivial Skin Diseases that Could Worsen without Care

    While not all skin conditions need urgent treatment, one should never take their supposed trivial skin diseases lightly as they can worsen over time. 

    Medically reviewed by Hello Doktor Medical Panel
    Written by Ahmad Wazir Aiman Mohd Abdul Wahab
    Skin Care, Beauty 20/12/2019 . 4 mins read

    Understanding Urticaria

    Urticaria, also known as wheal or hives, is a form of allergic rash. It can appear anywhere on the and can join together to form larger itchy areas.

    Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor
    Written by Nga Truong
    Skin Diseases, Health centers 31/10/2019 . 4 mins read

    Update On Current Management of Psoriasis

    Psoriasis is chronic condition that poses physical and emotional stress on the patient. Current management of Psoriasis is discussed in this article.

    Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor
    Written by Ahmad Wazir Aiman Mohd Abdul Wahab
    Skin Diseases, Health centers 17/04/2019 . 5 mins read

    How Do I Reverse Sun Damage on My Skin?

    A daily dose of healthy sun exposure can provide you with adequate vitamin D and promote emotional well being. Unfortunately, ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can damage your skin and cause sunburn. Over time ...

    Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor
    Written by Helma Hassan
    Healthy Living, Beauty 06/03/2019 . 3 mins read
    Balneum HD Desktop Right

    Recommended for you

    arthritis psoriasis

    Every 1 in 3 Psoriasis Patients Develops Arthritis

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Joseph Tan
    Written by Aaron Joseph Sta Maria
    Published on 09/04/2020 . 4 mins read

    Why You Should Not Be Worried About Biologic Treatment for Psoriasis

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Joseph Tan
    Written by Aaron Joseph Sta Maria
    Published on 08/04/2020 . 4 mins read

    Chronic Diseases that Stem from Untreated Psoriasis

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Joseph Tan
    Written by Aaron Joseph Sta Maria
    Published on 08/04/2020 . 4 mins read
    kulit merekah

    This is How Skin Cracks

    Written by Aaron Joseph Sta Maria
    Published on 20/12/2019 . 4 mins read