Itchy skin can make one feel extremely irritated. If you are suffering from this problem, here are details of its various causes, along with some effective remedies to get rid of the condition.
Approximately 10% people around the world experience chronic itching, mainly due to the ‘itchy’ gene or gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR).
An itch is an intense, distracting irritation or tickling sensation that elicits an urge to scratch the skin.
The medical term for an itch is pruritus (pronounced: proo-RIE-tus), and it can affect any area of the body.
Itching is usually defined into two categories:
Localized – when the itch is only in a specific area.
Generalized – when the itch is throughout the body.
There can be numerous causes that lead to itchy skin. It can be due to a rash, a few conditions such as dermatitis or psoriasis, or can even be a symptom of an internal disease. Many a time, the itchiness may be accompanied by bumps, redness, and rough skin.
Causes of Itching due to…
… various allergies and skin reactions
↬ Close interaction with the fluids of certain plants or plants that sting
↬ Synthetic dyestuffs and coatings of fabrics
↬ Reaction to oral or topical medications (aspirin, or group of medicines named opioids)
↬ Allergic reactions to certain foods
↬ Cosmetic intolerance
↬ Prickly heat (sweat ducts get blocked due to high heat and humidity)
↬ Sunburn (overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays)
↬ Close contact with specific metals, like nickel
… various skin conditions
Folliculitis – A condition in which one or more hair follicles get infected and inflamed.
Lichen Planus – A sudden occurrence of small, shiny, flat-topped, light pink spots, usually on the forearms, wrists, and lower legs. It is a non-infectious skin condition.
Eczema – A non-contagious skin inflammation which can be either acute or chronic.
Urticaria – An itchy skin irruption triggered due to an allergen, like latex or food. It is also known as welts, nettle rash, and hives.
Dandruff – The most common non-transmissible skin condition which affects the scalp by forming scaly scurfs.
Psoriasis – A chronic non-infectious skin disorder, marked by dry, flaky, red patches. It usually occurs on the ears, scalp, and genitalia.
Prurigo – An inflammatory skin disease which is chronic in nature. Small fluid-filled blisters and intense itching is observed.
Contact Dermatitis – Any delayed type of skin inflammation which is a result of the skin’s contact with a particular allergen (e.g. poison ivy).
… different types of infections
↬ Chickenpox or any other viral infection
↬ Athlete’s foot (a fungal infection)
↬ Jock itch (a fungal infection of the groin)
↬ Ringworm (an infection caused by fungi, which causes a ring-like red rash)
↬ Female and male thrush (a yeast infection in which the area around the genitals itch)
Note.- The itch caused due to yeast and fungal infections are usually in a particular area, but if the condition is left untreated, it might spread throughout the body.
… pregnancy and menopause
The hormones are in flux during the pregnancy period. These hormones, which are responsible for mood swings and food cravings, are also responsible for itching.
In the third trimester, some women get red, itchy skin bumps and pustules on their abdomen and thighs, known as pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP), which can be a cause of itching.
Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy may interfere with the transfer of bile to the liver, and leads to buildup of bile salts. This can cause intense and painful itching, without any skin rash.
Some preexisting skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or allergies that are worsened due to pregnancy, can lead to body itching.
If you are pregnant, you must always consult your doctor before you continue to take any previously-prescribed medication for relieving an itching problem. Remember that the wrong intake of drugs and medicines can prove harmful to your unborn child.
Menopause – Around the age of 52, a woman stops menstruating. This is the time frame wherein a lot of hormonal changes (e.g. estrogen levels) occur, leading to an itchy sensation throughout the body.
… conditions that affect the entire body
↬ Liver-related diseases (liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis)
↬ Kidney failure
↬ Underactive or overactive thyroid gland
↬ Cancers (leukemia and lung, breast, or prostate cancer)
↬ Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a lymphatic system cancer)
… insects and parasites
Itching can also be a result of stings and bites from insect like mosquitoes or fleas. Infections and infestations are other causes of itching all over body.
Swimmer’s itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, is a type of parasitic infection caused by an allergic reaction to infection by certain parasites of birds and mammals that are released from infected snails in fresh and saltwater.
Itching can be caused due to skin infestation by body lice, including head lice and pubic lice. Besides, scabies, which is a skin condition in which the scabies mite burrows into the skin, can also cause itching.
Treatment Options for the Itch
Oral Antihistamines – These aid in controlling allergic reactions and breaks the itchy-scratch cycle.
Note.- It is not advisable to drive or use heavy machinery and power tools for those individuals who are on antihistamines, as these tablets make an individual drowsy and sleepy.
Antidepressants – Antidepressant drugs like paroxetine or sertraline might give a person some relief from the itching and scratching.
Note.- Take this medication only if your doctor prescribes it. Besides, if prescribed, it doesn’t mean that you are depressed.
Corticosteroid Creams – Many a time, the doctor might prescribe these creams to soothe the inflamed and itchy areas. When applied topically with the help of a damp cotton, mild steroid creams (hydrocortisone cream) help in reducing skin irritation and the itchy feeling.
Note.- These creams should not be applied for more than a week.
During and After Bathing
- Use lukewarm or cold water, and not hot water, as it might burn your skin more.
- Use mild and unscented soaps, and avoid scented shower gels, soaps, and deodorants, as they contain various skin irritants.
- Apply unscented, mild moisturizing lotions and emollients after showering.
Appropriate Clothing and Bedding
↬ Wear clothes (preferably cotton) which do not irritate the skin.
↬ Do not wear tight-fitting or body-hugging clothes, till you recover completely.
↬ Use mild and unscented detergents while you laundry your clothes and bedding.
↬ Spread soft, light, and cool bedspreads to avoid any extra irritation.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Avoid scratching or rubbing the itchy skin. You must strictly keep your fingernails short to avoid damaging the skin from scratching.
- Dry skin is a common cause of itching, so keep your skin well moisturized.
- Avoid prolonged exposure of your skin to heat and humidity.
- Apply ice over the itchy area to avoid the urge to scratch.
Remember, the above-mentioned precautions are helpful in getting rid of body itching problems. However, if the problem doesn’t subside even after trying any of these remedies, do consult a dermatologist to know the exact cause, and get the right treatment.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is solely for informative purposes, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.