Itchy skin is also known as pruritus and is any irritating sensation on the skin that makes you want to scratch the area. Although in most cases the itchy area will have bumps, redness or rough skin it can also appear to be normal despite the itching sensation. There are several possible causes for itchy skin, ranging from harmless (such as a rash) to harmful (such as kidney problems or psoriasis). Many home remedies can relieve the itchiness, but it’s necessary to be informed when it’s the time to seek medical help.
Causes of Itchy Skin
1. Dry Skin
In most cases when itchy skin does not involve noticeable changes in the skin (such as a rash), it is caused by xerosis or dry skin. This is usually due to environmental factors such as bathing too frequently, overuse of central heating or air conditioning and cold or hot weather that is accompanied by low levels of humidity.
2. Skin Conditions and Rashes
There is a long list of rashes and related skin conditions that can cause itchy skin and some of these include dermatographism, hives, chickenpox, lice, scabies, psoriasis and eczema (dermatitis). In most cases when the itchy skin is due to one of these conditions, there will be other symptoms as well such as blisters, bumps, or skin that is red and irritated.
Some internal diseases can also cause itchy skin and a few examples include: some cancers, thyroid problems, anemia, kidney failure, celiac disease and liver disease. When a disease is the cause, the skin can appear to be normal with the exception of scratch marks (from scratching the itches) and the itching will usually affect the entire body.
4. Nerve Disorders
An additional cause of itching can be conditions which affect your nervous system including shingles, pinched nerves, diabetes mellitus and multiple sclerosis.
5. Allergic Reaction and Irritation
People with allergies know that this can sometimes cause itchy skin. This cause is more common with contact substances such as cosmetics or poison ivy but can also occur because of food allergies. Skin irritations caused by soaps, chemicals, wools and other items can also cause itching.
Widespread itching and rashes can also be due to a side effect of drugs, specifically narcotic pain medications, antifungal drugs and antibiotics.
Some women will suffer from itchy skin during pregnancy and this most frequently occurs on the arms, breasts, thighs and abdomen. People who suffer from an itchy skin condition (ex: dermatitis) can also experience a worsening of symptoms during pregnancy.
Menopause is the time when a woman stops getting her periods due to changes in hormonal levels. Doctors believe that these hormonal changes (such as the levels of estrogen) are a cause of itchy skin.
Symptoms of Itchy Skin
Itchy skin can either occur in a small area of the body (such as a leg or arm) or the entire body. Although it may occur in addition to other noticeable skin changes, that is not always the case. It can be associated, however, with a scaly or leathery texture, skin that is dry or cracked, blisters, spots, bumps or redness. Itchiness can be intense and long-lasting. Keep in mind that rubbing the area will cause the itchiness to increase.
When to See a Doctor
If the itching does one of the following, you should contact a dermatologist or your normal doctor:
- It lasts over two weeks without improvement using self-care
- It is extremely uncomfortable and severe to the point where you are unable to sleep or participate in your daily routines
- There is no easy explanation for it
- It affects your entire body
- It includes additional symptoms such as skin redness, fever, a change in urinary or bowel habits, weight loss or extreme tiredness
Remedies for Itchy Skin
- Instant Relief. Your doctor may prescribe topic anesthetics or lotions and ointments that provide instant relief from the itching but in almost every case this relief will be short-term.
- Medications. Corticosteroid creams are applied topically to control itching. Usually you will apply them to the itchy areas and then cover them with using damp cotton as this helps your skin absorb the cream. Oral antihistamines are good for itching due to hives or allergies.
- Treating the Underlying Conditions. When the itching is caused by an underlying disease, treating the disease should relieve the itchy skin although your doctor may recommend additional treatments.
- Light Therapy. Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, exposes your skin to specific wavelengths of UV light and usually requires several sessions.
- High-quality Moisturizer. You should apply a high quality moisturizer to your skin one or two times each day, being sure to concentrate on the spots with severe itching. Examples of these creams include CeraVe, Eucerin, Cetaphil and Vanicream.
- Anti-itch Lotion/Cream. There are nonprescription hydrocortisone creams that are able to relieve the itch temporarily. You can also try an oral antihistamine that is non-prescription (such as Benadryl) if your itching is more severe.
- No Scratching. As mentioned earlier, scratching will make the itchy skin worse. If you are not able to control yourself, cover the affected area, cut your nails and wear gloves.
- Wet, Cool Compress. Applying cool, wet compresses can help relieve itching as can covering the itchy area with bandages. This will also prevent you from scratching.
- Cool Bath. Another great option is to take a cool bath and sprinkle some colloidal or uncooked oatmeal or baking soda in it as well.
- Proper Clothing. Wearing clothing made of smooth-textured cotton will allow you to avoid further irritation of the itchy areas.
- Mild Soaps. When selecting your soaps, choose ones that are mild and do not have perfumes or dyes. You should make sure to rinse off completely and use a moisturizer afterwards.
- Detergent. When washing your towels, bedding or clothes, always use a mild laundry detergent that is unscented and use your machine’s extra-rinse cycle.
- Keeping Away from Irritants. If you know certain substances cause allergic reactions or skin irritation, you should avoid these. The most common objects include cosmetics, cleaning products, perfume, jewelry and nickel.
- Licorice Root. Licorice root compress is a natural remedy for itching because it has a steroid that will reduce the itching sensation. Either choose skin-care products with licorice root in them or make tea using the root and soak a compress in it.
- Basil Tea. Because basil contains cloves which have eugenol, it can help relieve itching. Make tea using half an ounce of the dried leaves, keeping it covered while it steeps. After the tea cools, use a clean cloth to apply it to your skin. Thyme and mint will help in the same way.
- Oatmeal Bath. Taking an oatmeal bath can help with itching from a variety of causes. Simply run the bath then add as much oatmeal as you want (the oatmeal in your kitchen is fine). The natural ingredients in the bath won’t dry out your skin like other products do.
Video: Natural home remedies for itching