Pruritus or itchy skin is a common complaint characterised by an uncomfortable, irritating sensation that urges you to scratch. Pruritus can be due to many underlying causes, with the most common being dry skin.
Depending on its cause, the skin may appear normal or look red, feel rough or have bumps or blisters on it.
Repeated scratching however, will only worsen the condition, causing the skin to become thick and raised, and prone to bleeding 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 in itself can be due to old age or environmental factors such as long-term use of air-conditioning or central heating, and frequent washing or taking too many showers in a single day.
Many skin conditions also cause itching including eczema, psoriasis, scabies, lice, chickenpox and hives.
Each condition results in uniques symptoms such as redness, irritated skin or the appearance of bumps and blisters.
Internal health issues such as liver disease, kidney failure, iron-deficiency anaemia, an overactive or under-active thyroid as well as cancer can also result in itchy skin. The itching usually affects the whole body.
Except for the areas that are repeatedly scratched, the skin may otherwise look normal. Diseases that affect the nervous system such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus and shingles can also cause itching.
Irritation and allergic reactions can cause itchy skin. Depending on the individual certain fabric, chemicals, soaps and other substances can irritate the skin and result in itching.
Certain foods and allergic reactions to medications may also cause skin to itch.
Some women may experience itchy skin during pregnancy, especially on the abdomen and thighs. It is not uncommon for dermatitis to even worsen during pregnancy.
Which products are best to stop the itching?
Rubbing and scratching the affected area can cause the skin to become even itchier. And the more it itches, the more you scratch, making it an unending cycle.
Continued scratching can damage your skin or cause infection. Itchy skin can also disturb your daily activities and be a hindrance to a quality night’s sleep.
Choosing the right products to soothe your skin can break this vicious cycle and prevent further skin damage.
- Moisturisers can be a helpful solution regardless of the cause of the itchiness. Make sure you opt for a gentle, fragrance-free moisturiser 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 water can wash away protective skin-surface oils. You will still need to moisturise after a shower, while skin is still slightly damp.
- Medicated creams can be used if the itchiness is due to an underlying skin condition. Examples of medicated creams are corticosteroids, or those that are anti-fungal or antihistamines. The topical cream will be given according to the suspected skin condition.
If an internal disease is diagnosed, treating it often relieves the itch.
You might need to consult your doctor or a dermatologist if the itching lasts more than two weeks or doesn’t improve with self-care measures.
Other alarming signs such as the 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 be taken seriously.
This article first appeared in hellodoktor.com and was reviewed by the Hello Doktor Medical Panel. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.