Itch is an irritation in the skin that elicits an urge to scratch. Itches are a common problem and can be localized (limited to one area of the body) or generalized (occurring all over the body or in several different areas).
In some cases, itching may be worse at night. The medical term for itching is pruritus.
Generalized itch is often more difficult to treat than localized itch. Itches can also occur with or without skin lesions (bumps, blisters, or abnormalities that can be seen on the skin).
An itch that is accompanied by a visible skin abnormality usually should be evaluated by a physician and, in some cases, by a dermatologist since the problem is likely to be a condition that requires specialized medical treatment (for example, eczema, scabies, etc.).
Itching skin may occur with other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Body systems that are seemingly unrelated to the skin can also be affected.
For example, you may have flu-like symptoms if the itching is due to infection or inflammation.
Itching skin may occur with other skin-related symptoms including:
- Cracked skin.
Itching skin may occur with symptoms related to body systems other than the skin including:
- Decreased appetite.
- Flu-like symptoms (fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache, cough, aches, and pains).
- Irritability in infants and children.
- Joint pain.
- Red eyes.
- Sneezing and runny nose.
- Unexplained weight loss.
Itching can be caused by many conditions. A common cause of itch is psychological, that is, due to stress, anxiety, etc. Stress also can aggravate itch from other causes. Dry skin (xerosis) is another frequent cause of itch. Many people also report sunburn itch following prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
Other causes of generalized itching that may not produce a rash or specific skin changes include metabolic and endocrine disorders (for example, liver or kidney disease, hyperthyroidism), cancers
(for example, lymphoma
), reactions to drugs, and interruptions in bile flow (cholestasis), diseases of the blood (for example, polycythemia vera). Itching is common with allergic reactions. Itching can also result from insect stings and bites such as from mosquito or flea bites.
Infections and infestations of the skin are another cause of itch. Genital itching, which may accompany burning and pain, in men and women can occur as a result of genital infections such as sexually transmitted diseases (STD
s). Vaginal itching is sometimes referred to as feminine itching, and sexually transmitted diseases can also cause anal itching.
Other common infectious causes of itch include a fungal infection of the crotch (tinea cruris) commonly known as jock itch, psoriasis, and ringworm of the body (tinea corporis), as well as vaginal itching (sometimes referred to as feminine itching) and/or anal itching from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or other types of infections, such as vaginal yeast infections. Another type of parasitic infection resulting in itch is the so-called swimmer's itch.
Swimmer's itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, is a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to infection with certain parasites of birds and mammals that are released from infected snails in fresh and saltwater. Itch may also result from skin infestation by body lice, including head lice
and pubic lice.
Scabies is a highly contagious skin condition caused by an infestation by the itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei that is known to cause an intense itch that is particularly severe at night.
Itching can also result from conditions that affect the nerves, such as diabetes
, shingles (herpes
zoster), or multiple sclerosis
. Irritation of the skin from contact with fabrics, cosmetics, or other substances can lead to itching that may be accompanied by rash.
Reactions to drugs or medications can also result in widespread itching that may be accompanied by a rash orhives. Sometimes women report that they experience generalized itching during pregnancy or a worsening of the conditions that normally cause itching.
Most people who have itching, however, do not have a serious underlying condition.
Non-Steroidal Topical Medications
Many of these medications can be used in combination with a topical steroid cream to provide maximum relief, either with or without an oral antihistamine, like Benadryl.
Be careful not to mix topical and oral Benadryl together though. And watch your kids for reactions from medicines that have -caine type analgesics in them.
- Aveeno Anti-Itch Cream with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal.
- Band-Aid Anti-Itch Gel.
- Benadryl Itch Stopping Cream.
- Caladryl Clear Topical Analgesic Skin Lotion.
- Calamine Lotion.
- Domeboro Astringent Solution Powder Packets.
- Gold Bond Maximum Strength Medicated Anti-Itch Cream.
- Itch-X Anti-Itch Gel with Soothing Aloe Vera.
- Sarna Ultra Anti-Itch Cream & Skin Protectant.
- Wet dressings, compresses, or soaks with Domeboro solution mixed with water (modified Burow's Solution) or Aveeno oatmeal baths can be especially soothing for itchy rashes.
- These work well for most itchy rashes, including poison ivy, insect bites, and chicken pox, etc.
Anti-itch creams and lotions:
- Look for over-the-counter (OTC) remedies with these ingredients:
- Benzocaine (or one of the other "caine" anesthetics).