Two types of Itchiness
The medical term for itchy skin is pruritus. There are two kinds of itchiness that normally occur - one, where there is a change in the texture of the skin at the site where you scratch (scaly skin, bumps, dryness, etc); and two, where there is an itchy sensation but the skin appears to be normal. This classification helps us bring the next important point; i.e., the causes of itchy skin could be external or internal.
It is very important to note the changes in your environment when the itching begins. Is there any activity that you do around the time when the problem occurs? Since when have you been dealing with this problem? Was any change in your lifestyle made during the time? If you are unable to identify the cause behind your itchy skin, then pondering over these questions is necessary.
Itchiness Caused by External Factors
By external factors, I mean the causes which are not related to your health. The external contributors to your skin irritation are usually the elements present in your surrounding. Even certain activities which you tend to do, may make your skin prone to itchiness.
Mentioned below are some of the commonly observed reasons that may disturb your sleep at night.
Do you take a hot shower at night?
When you expose your skin to extremely hot temperatures, it tends to get dry. A hot shower may be a good way to wash off all the tiredness of the day, but it also washes off the natural oils present in the skin, leaving it dry and stretched out. Dry skin is one of the main reasons behind itchiness! Another point to be noted here is that many people experience itchy skin if the water supply in their area is that of hard water.
What can you do?
If you think this is the reason behind your problem, then try taking a cold shower, or use lukewarm water for bathing. Use mild soaps for washing your body. Soaps that have very strong fragrance are usually harsh on the skin. Do not forget to moisturize your body properly to prevent the dryness.
Could it be an insect biting you in the night?
Though this may not be a pleasant news to you, but there are several instances wherein the itching is caused by none other than bedbugs biting you all night. If this is the case, you will see small red bumps on your skin, very similar to that of a mosquito bite. Another cause could be the presence of ticks. Do you sleep with your pets? Pets like dogs and cats tend to have ticks and fleas that can bite us humans, causing itchy bumps on the skin.
What can you do?
Check for bedbugs in the house or on your bed. The most common places where you can find them include the corners of the mattresses and pillows. If you see black spots on these areas, you have found the culprit! Call for professional assistance immediately to get rid of them. If you have pets in the house, then make sure you sleep with them only after the ticks and fleas have been removed completely. Consult your vet for advice.
Could it be an allergy?
As I mentioned before, observe the changes around you, especially during the time when you start feeling itchy. Could it be an allergy due to something that you eat during the time? Or any medication that you take before going to bed? Many times, itchiness may be caused due to an allergic reaction from the fabric of the bed sheets or blankets. Also, if detergents with harsh chemicals have been used to wash the bed linens, or, if you haven't washed them at all, then you may experience itchiness resulting from an allergy.
What can you do?
Notify your doctor about the medications and foods you are consuming, especially at night. There may be an ingredient that you are allergic to. If you think the source of allergy may be the fabric of the blanket, bed sheets, or the clothes you are wearing, then it would be best to switch to a mild detergent. Also, wear a fabric that is comfortable for the skin, like cotton.
Itchiness Caused by Internal Factors
Internal factors are those relating to the health of your body. There are many health conditions that may cause itchiness, which may become intense during the evening hours. If you were unable to associate with the causes mentioned above, then there are chances of an underlying condition causing the problem. It is mandatory to check with your physician for proper diagnosis without any delay.
Some of the causes mentioned below are also fatal in nature.
Thyroid problems, like hyperthyroidism -- the thyroid gland ends up producing excessive hormone, may cause itchiness. Hyperthyroidism caused due to Graves' disease may result in the thickening of the skin in certain areas of the body. The affected area might have skin that is hard, red and itchy. The itching is likely to get intense during the night. Even hypothyroidism -- when the thyroid glands are underactive, may also contribute to itchy skin.
Problems related to damaged kidneys causes itching in various parts of the body. People who are going through hemodialysis often experience itchiness, especially after the treatment session. Also, when your kidneys do not function properly, there could be elevated amount of phosphorus, and low amounts of calcium in the blood, which may lead to itching. When the body identifies low calcium levels, it triggers the parathyroid glands to produce more parathyroid hormone. This hormone is responsible for extracting the calcium from the bones into the blood. An increase in the parathyroid hormone levels may also cause itchy skin.
Did you know that itchy skin is one of the major symptoms of liver diseases? Our liver produces a fluid called bile. This fluid helps in the process of digestion. In case of a liver disease, the bile acid deposits in the blood, and travels to the surface of the skin causing itchiness, which usually aggravates during the nighttime.
Cancers like leukemia and lymphoma are known to cause itchy skin. In fact, many experts consider this symptom to be among the early signs of cancer. The itchy sensation may either be in a specific area (most commonly in the lower legs), or may be experienced all over the body.
There are many forms of skin disorders which may be responsible for itchy skin. Conditions, like scabies, psoriasis, hives, folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicle), eczema, etc., may be responsible for the same. Among this list, scabies is specifically known to cause itching that intensifies during the night.
If you are a woman going through menopause, then that may be the reason behind your discomfort. During menopause, a lot of hormonal changes take place in the body. One such change is the lowered levels of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen is responsible for regulating the moisture and natural oils present in the skin. If the levels are lowered, the skin becomes dry, and we already know that dryness leads to itchy skin.
Fungal infections may lead to worm infestations including the presence of ringworm in the body. In this case, the pattern of the skin changes, and the infected area appears to be like a round patch along with itchy skin. Other conditions like athlete's foot, jock itch, swimmer's itch, and infestation of pinworms and body lice may also cause itching.
Conditions like anemia, sexually transmitted diseases (causing itchy skin in and around the genital areas), stress and anxiety, hemorrhoids, nerve disorders (diabetes, multiple sclerosis, shingles, etc.), and pregnancy, may also act as causative agents of an itchy skin.
Seek Doctor's assistance
If you think that the specific cause for itchy skin in your case is a medical condition, do not delay by looking for ways to self-treatment. It is strictly advised to seek a doctor's assistance, so that proper diagnosis and treatment could be done without any delay. The treatment may include topical application of ointments, creams and lotions. Oral antihistamines and topical anesthetics may also be suggested depending upon the condition.
Additional Tips and Remedies for Itchy Skin
While professional assistance is necessary, there are certain precautionary steps that may be followed to prevent the itchiness. The tips mentioned below will help you cope with the problem to some extent.
The first precautionary measure that you can take is to prevent dryness. Apart from hot showers, constant exposure to hot temperature (direct sun exposure) can make your skin dry. Wise application of sunscreen lotions is recommended while going out in the sun.
Have cold/lukewarm showers in the evening. Use oatmeal bath powders while bathing; they prove to be helpful to treat itchy skin.
Moisturize your skin
To prevent itchiness, moisturize your skin thoroughly. You may use natural oils including coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil, which can make the skin soft and supple. The pulp of the aloe vera plant is also great for your skin. Although, make sure that you are not allergic to any of these substances. Some people have reported of being allergic to aloe vera.
Another tip that would help you cure the itchiness is to keep scratching to the minimum. In most of the cases, vigorous scratching has caused severe bacterial infections leading to breakage of the skin and bleeding! Do not use your fingernails to scratch; try using the tip of your fingers, instead. This may seem difficult but it will ensure less complications and quicker healing.
Apple cider vinegar
Using apple cider vinegar is another remedy. It has antifungal and antiseptic properties that can help you get rid of the itchiness. Just soak apple cider vinegar in a cotton ball and apply it on the affected area. If a large area is affected, then add 2-3 cups of apple cider vinegar in your bathtub and soak your body in it for 30 minutes. Using organic apple cider vinegar would be more beneficial. Consult your doctor before using this remedy, in case you have a sensitive skin.
So, what should you do when you feel like scratching? Apply cold packs! Yes, application of cold packs will reduce the irritation and make you feel better. You can keep an ice pack nearby, in case of emergency. You can also wash the area with cool tap water, or place a clean cold cloth over the area that itches.
From the information given above, it is clear that a simple (yet annoying) problem, like itchy skin can also be a sign of some serious ailments. If the preventive measures mentioned above are not proving to be of help, then please contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.