Pruritus, usually referred to as itchy skin, is basically an irritating sensation which sparks an urge to scratch. Usually, the spot where it itches features rough skin, redness or bumps. At times though, the skin may appear perfectly normal, but still the person may experience itching sensation. Skin itch can be attributed to several causes; some relatively harmless, such as simple rash, and some very harmful, like psoriasis or kidney problems.
Causes of Itchy Skin
In some cases, the symptoms of itchy skin are seen at the affected part of the body, while at other times, they can be observed all over the body. Though a person can experience itchy skin without noticing any changes in the skin, the 'itch' is usually accompanied by symptoms like redness, bumps, blisters and dry or cracked skin. These symptoms can worsen if the affected area is scratched as the disruption of skin makes it vulnerable to bacterial infection, and therefore scratching should be strictly avoided.
Discussed below are some health conditions which are likely to cause utter discomfort owing to severe itching associated with them.
Allergies: Allergic reactions to certain substances, which are triggered when the individual comes in contact with the allergens, are known to cause skin itch in some people. These allergens include certain foods, pollen, plants like poison ivy and poison oak, lacquer, in some people even cosmetics and hair dye, chemicals, wool, etc. In this case, the itching sensation may either last for a few hours or even go on for a few days.
Autoimmune Diseases: Autoimmune diseases, i.e. diseases caused by abnormal functioning of the immune system, that trigger antibodies against your own tissues can also lead to severe itching in some individuals. Though there is a considerably lengthy list of autoimmune diseases, those which predominantly lead to itchy skin include systemic sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and vasculitis.
Central Nervous System Disorders: Itchy skin, though not necessarily, can also be a symptom of certain central nervous system disorders. A person suffering from disorders like brain abscess or tumor can experience skin itch. Epidural anesthesia resulting from injection of an anesthetic into the epidural space of the spinal cord is also known to be one of the most prominent causes of this condition.
Dermatitis: Dermatitis, a non-infectious skin inflammation characterized by red itchy rash, can also cause itchy skin. It is caused by touching, inhaling or ingesting certain substances. Contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, stasis dermatitis, photodermatitis are some of the prominent types of dermatitis which are known to cause itchy skin. If not subjected to proper treatment in time, the skin may further deteriorate and become vulnerable to a range of infections.
Dry Skin: Dry skin, referred to as xerosis, is one of the most common causes of itchy skin. It can be caused due to various environmental factors, such as very high or low temperature with low humidity levels, as well as long-term use of air conditioners and central heating. Even a daily activity as simple as washing clothes can cause dry skin when carried out for long period, and trigger severe itch. Though the problem can arise in an individual of any age group, it is most commonly observed in old aged people.
Gastrointestinal Diseases: Various gastrointestinal diseases caused due to intestinal parasites or their eggs may cause itchiness as well. Other than these, diseases caused due to dumping syndrome and malabsorption are also common causes of this condition.
Hormonal Disorders: Certain hormonal disorders or hormonal imbalances may eventually lead to itchy skin. Complications such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are known to trigger this problem. In women, menopause or later months of pregnancy are responsible for itching.
Infections: Infections may also cause itching of skin in various parts of the body. Fungal infection caused due to moist environment, parasitic skin infections, bacterial infections or viral skin infections are common causes of itchy skin; affecting people of all age groups. In case of these infections, the itch will be accompanied by some tell-tale signs in form of rash, red bumps, scaling, etc.
Insect Bites: Insect bites are known to cause severe itching lasting for several hours or even days in some cases. Insects such as wasps and bees can trigger severe allergic reactions characterized by severe itching, pain swelling, bumps, boils, etc. Such allergic reactions are not just restricted to insect bites; even coming in contact with them can trigger a bout of severe itch. Other than insects, certain species of spiders and scorpions are also known to trigger such skin problems.
Irritants: Several irritants can lead to itching of skin, when a person comes into contact with these irritants. A few of these substances are detergents, which remove fat from the skin and make it dry, thus vulnerable to severe itch, and fiberglass, which can lead to skin as well as throat itching.
Kidney Failure: One of the most grievous causes of this condition is kidney failure. Any kidney disease that increases the level of urea in the blood and accumulates urate crystals in the skin can cause severe itch.
Liver and Biliary Tract Diseases: Various liver or biliary tract disorders, such as liver cancer and biliary atresia, can cause itchy skin by accumulating bile salts in the skin. Other similar diseases include cirrhosis, obstruction of biliary ducts with gallstones, cancer etc.
Malignancies: Malignancies are diseases wherein some cells in the human body display uncontrolled growth, invasion and even spread to other locations in the body. Acinic cell carcinoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Leukemia, Polycythemia vera, cervical cancer, cancer of prostate or colon cancer can cause itchy skin as well.
Medication and Substance Abuse: A host of drugs and medications can lead to an adverse effects on our body, including itching. Medications such as morphine, allopurinol, amiodarone, estrogen, opioids and simvastatin are known to trigger itchy skin in some people. Drug abuse is being seen as one of the most rapidly increasing hazard for the society, and the same can also lead to some serious skin itching. Cocaine, ecstasy and LSD abuse can cause itching in various parts of the body.
Nutrient Deficiencies: Nutritional deficiencies, especially deficiency in iron and vitamin A, have been known to trigger skin itch as well. Similarly, the lack of vitamin C disrupts the formation of collagen and triggers skin problems which cause itchy skin.
Skin Conditions: Itchy skin is one of the obvious symptoms of various skin conditions, like psoriasis, nummular dermatitis, perioral dermatitis, rosacea, etc. In these conditions, itching is accompanied by various other symptoms which play a crucial role in their diagnosis. Nummular dermatitis, for instance, is characterized by coin-shaped eczema on the skin, while psoriasis is characterized by dry red patches.
Sweating: When we sweat, the microbes present on the normal skin break down the sweat and produce substances which cause itching. Excessive sweating is by far the most common of the various causes of itchy skin. In children and infants, sweat rash is relatively common as their sweat glands are not fully developed.
Taking into consideration the severity of some of these conditions, it is not at all wise to ignore skin itch. If itching prevails for 3-4 days and hampers your daily routine or your sleep, then you should immediately see a doctor. The treatment generally involves diagnosis to identify the underlying cause of itching, and treating it. The treatment procedure will differ in accordance to causes. For instance, itching triggered by insect bites can be relieved by placing ice cubes over the affected spot, whereas the same triggered by dry skin can be treated by over the counter moisturizing creams. Serious problems, such as kidney failure and gastrointestinal diseases, would possibly require the help of medical professional specializing in the particular field.
This article is purely for the purpose of providing information, and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice.