Itchy skin (pruritus)
Itchy skin (pruritus)
Itchy skin is an uncomfortable, irritating sensation that can make scratching irresistible. It seems simple. When you itch, you scratch. But itchy skin can have hundreds of possible causes. Also known as pruritus (proo-RIE-tus), itchy skin may be the result of a rash or another condition, such as psoriasis or dermatitis. Or itchy skin may be a symptom of an internal disease, such as liver disease or kidney failure. Though itchy, your skin may appear normal. Or it may be accompanied by redness, rough skin, bumps or blisters.
Identifying and treating the underlying cause of itchy skin is important for long-term relief. Itchy skin treatments include medications, wet dressings and light therapy. Self-care measures, including anti-itch products and cool baths, can also help.
Itchy skin may occur in small areas, such as on an arm or leg. Or your whole body may feel itchy. Itchy skin can occur without any other noticeable changes on the skin. Or it may be associated with:
Sometimes itchiness lasts a long time and can be intense. As you rub or scratch the area, it gets itchier. And the more it itches, the more you scratch. Breaking this itch-scratch cycle can be challenging.
When to see a doctor
Other possible causes
Prolonged itching and scratching may increase the intensity of the itch, possibly leading to neurodermatitis (lichen simplex chronicus). Neurodermatitis is a condition in which an area of skin that's frequently scratched becomes thick and leathery. The patches can be raw, red or darker than the rest of your skin. Persistent scratching can also lead to a bacterial skin infection and permanent scars or changes in skin color.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or primary care doctor. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist).
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it can help to be well prepared. Here are some tips to help you get ready for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Write down questions that you want to ask your doctor and don't be afraid to ask questions that may come up during your appointment. For itchy skin, questions you may want to ask include:
What to expect from your doctor
Do you come in contact with common environmental irritants, such as pets or certain metals, at home or at work?
Tests and diagnosis
Physical exam and other tests
If your doctor suspects that your itchy skin is the result of an underlying medical condition, he or she may perform other tests, such as a:
Treatments and drugs
Once a cause is identified, treatments for itchy skin may include:
Treating the underlying disease
Light therapy (phototherapy)
Benzocaine has been linked to a rare but serious, sometimes deadly, condition that decreases the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry. Don't use benzocaine in children younger than age 2 without supervision from a health care professional, as this age group has been the most affected. If you're an adult, never use more than the recommended dose of benzocaine and consider talking with your doctor.
Although these anti-itch products may immediately soothe your itch, treatment of the underlying cause is most important for long-term relief.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To help reduce itching and soothe inflamed skin, try these self-care measures:
Last Updated: 2011-04-14
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