Pruritus or itchy skin is a common complaint that is characterized by uncomfortable, irritating sensation that urges you to scratch. Pruritus can be due to many underlying causes, with the most common is dry skin. Depending on its cause, it may appear normal or it may be red or rough or have bumps or blisters. Repeated scratching cause raised, thickened areas of skin that are prone to bleed or infection.
Causes of itchy skin
If there are no apparent changes in the itchy area, dry skin is a likely the contributing factor. Dry skin might manifested due to old age or environmental factors such as long-term use of air conditioning or central heating, and washing or taking too much showers.
Many skin conditions also cause itching including eczema, psoriasis, scabies, lice, chickenpox and hives. Each condition may have characteristic areas and accompanied by disease signs, such as red, irritated skin or bumps and blisters.
Internal diseases such as liver disease, kidney failure, iron deficiency anaemia, thyroid problems and cancers can also be developed with itchy skin. The itching usually affects the whole body. Except for the repeatedly scratched areas, the skin may otherwise look just normal. Diseases that affect the nervous system such multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus and shingles can also cause itchiness.
Irritation and allergic reactions can cause itchy skin. Depending on the individual, certain fabric, chemicals, soaps and other substances can irritate the skin and cause itching. Food and medications allergies may also cause skin to itch.
Some women may experience itchy skin during pregnancy, especially on the abdomen and thighs. Dermatitis may even worsen during pregnancy.
What products should I use?
Rubbing and scratching the affected area can cause it to be itchier. And the more it itches, the more you scratch, making it an unending cycle unless something is done.
Continued scratching can damage your skin or cause infection. Itchy skin can also disturb your daily activities and a hindrance to quality night’s sleep. Choosing the right products to soothe your skin can break the cycle and prevent further skin damage.
- Moisturizer can be a helpful solution regardless of the cause of the itchiness. Make sure that you opt for a gentle, fragrance-free one and use it two to three times a day.
- Soap and body wash that is mild, unscented, and free of alcohol can help but always limit your shower time as it can wash away protective skin-surface oils. You will still need to moisturize after the shower, while skin is still slightly damp.
- Medicated creams. If the itchiness is due to an underlying skin condition, you may be given some medicated creams such as a corticosteroid, antifungal or antihistamines. The topical cream will be given according to your suspected conditions.
If an internal disease is found, treating the underlying disease often relieves the itch. You might need to consult your doctor or a dermatologist if the itching lasts more than two weeks and doesn’t improve with self-care measures. Other alarming signs such as severity of the itchiness, and related signs and symptoms such as extreme tiredness, weight loss, changes in bowel habits or urinary frequency and fever should also be taken seriously.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: November 28, 2018 | Last Modified: November 28, 2018
Michael Joseph Lavery et al., ‘Pruritus: An Overview. What Drives People to Scratch an Itch?’, The Ulster Medical Journal 85, no. 3 (September 2016): 164–73.