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Itchy skin (pruritus)


Disease: Itchy skin (pruritus) Itchy skin (pruritus)
Category: Dermatological diseases
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Disease Definition:

Itchy skin is an uncomfortable, irritating sensation making one want to scratch. It seems simple; when one itches, they scratch. But itchy skin (pruritus) can have hundreds of possible reasons for its occurrence. It may be the outcome of a rash or another condition, like dermatitis or psoriasis. Itchy skin may be a symptom of an internal disease, like kidney failure or liver disease. The skin may look normal, even though it’s itching. Or it may be associated with rough skin, blisters, bumps or redness.

Identifying and treating the underlying reason behind the occurrence of itchy skin is important for long-term relief. Itchy skin treatments include medications, light therapy and wet dressings. Self-care measures, such as anti-itch products and cool baths can help decrease itching and soothe skin.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Itchy skin may occur in small areas, like on an arm or leg, or the whole body may feel itchy. Itchy skin may either be related to the following or occur without any other noticeable changes:



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

Itchy skin may occasionally last a long time and can become very intense. As one rubs or scratches the area, it gets itchier. And the more it itches, the more one scratches. It can be challenging to break this itch-scratch cycle.
Consulting a specialist in skin diseases or seeing a doctor might be necessary when the itching:


  • Unable to be explained
  • Lasts more than two weeks and doesn’t improve with self-care measures
  • Affects the whole body
  • Is associated with other symptoms, like weight loss, changes in bowel habits, urinary frequency, redness of the skin, fever or tiredness.
  • Is extremely severe and uncomfortable and distracts the person from their daily routines or keeps them from sleeping.


Dry skin
Itchy skin that isn’t associated with other apparent skin changes, like rash is most frequently resulting from dry skin (xerosis). Dry skin often is the outcome of environmental aspects that one can wholly or partially manage. These include hot or cold weather with low humidity levels, long-term use of air conditioning or central heating, bathing or washing too much.

Other possible causes
Other conditions result in itchy skin as well. Skin disorders, allergies, drug reactions and internal disease top the list.

Skin conditions and rashes: Several skin conditions result in itchy skin, such as scabies, lice, psoriasis inflammation of the skin (dermatitis), dermatographism, chickenpox and hives. The itching often affects specific areas in such cases and is associated with other signs, like bumps, blisters, red irritated skin.

Internal diseases: These include liver disease, malabsorption of wheat (celiac disease), iron deficiency anemia, thyroid problems, kidney failure and cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. The itching often affects the whole body in such cases, instead of one specific area. The skin may look otherwise normal except for the scratched areas.

Irritation and allergic reactions: Wool, soaps, chemicals and other substances are able to irritate the skin and result in itching. The substance occasionally results in an allergic reaction, like in the case of poison ivy or cosmetics. Food allergies may additionally result in itchy skin reactions.

Drugs: Widespread rashes and itching may result from reactions to drugs, like narcotic pain medications, antibiotics or antifungal drugs.

Pregnancy: Certain women go through itchy skin during pregnancy, particularly on the abdomen, breasts, arms and thighs. Itchy skin conditions, such as dermatitis can get worse during pregnancy as well.



Intensity of the itch may increase with prolonged itching and scratching, possibly leading to neurodermatitis (lichen simplex chronicus). Neurodermatitis is a condition in which an area of skin that’s often scratched becoming thick and leathery. The patches can be raw, red or darker than the rest of the skin. Persistent scratching can additionally result in a bacterial skin infection and irreversible scars or changes in skin color.


Treatments for itchy skin may include the following once a reason is identified for its occurrence:

Medications: Oral antihistamines for allergies, or hives, corticosteroid creams for itching from skin inflammation are included among medications.
Wet dressings: This involves applying medicated cream to affected areas and then covering these areas with damp cotton material that has been soaked in water or other solutions. The moisture in the wet dressings helps the skin absorb the medicated cream.
Treating the underlying disease: In case there’s an internal disease that’s detected, whether it’s kidney disease, thyroid problem or iron deficiency, itching would be relieved after treating the underlying disease. Other itch-relief techniques may be recommended as well.
Light therapy (phototherapy): Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light. Multiple sessions are often scheduled until the itching is managed.
Relief may not come right away, even though several types of itching react well to treatment. Yet, a number of creams and ointments are specifically designed to relieve itch. These include short-term use of topical anesthetics like benzocaine or lidocaine or ointments and lotions like calamine, camphor or menthol. Treatment of the underlying cause is most important for long-term relief, even though these anti-itch products may sooth the itch right away.


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