|Online since 2002|
Causes of Itchy SkinAn itch can be generalized (itching all over) or it can affect only limited areas of skin. The most common areas affected by itch are:
Environmental Causes of Itch1. Dry Skin (xerosis, or winter itch) is common, especially in old people, and may be caused by cold weather, wind, sunburns, prolonged water exposure, frequent hot baths or just by using soaps such as washing powder and house cleansers. These products can reduce the protective layer of oil on the skin which increases water loss through evaporation thus drying the skin.
2. Sweating produces an itch in a different way. Normal skin has flora (microbes) that thrive on sweat (especially in armpits and groin). The waste products of these microbes cause the skin to itch. Excessive sweating can be caused by primary hyperhidrosis (increased activity of sympathetic nerves or secondary hyperhidrosis as in elevated thyroxine, tuberculosis, or malignancies.
3. Insect Bites and stings from mosquitoes, flies, tics, bees, wasps, ants, spiders, and scorpions can cause itching that ranges from minor localized itchy up to a painful skin infection that may be life threatening. Insect Bites and stings usually heal on their own after several hours or a few days. Some insect bites (especially bees) may cause severe allergic reactions with generalized skin itching and swelling. Any allergic reaction can become life threatening and require immediate medical attention.
4. Infections and Infestations
Some substances can cause the skin to itch by irritating the skin without causing any inflammation.
Cocaine, heroine, ecstasy and LSD abuse may all cause itching.
10. Toxic substances that produce poisoning may also be accompanied by itching.
Diseases that produce itching1. Often itchy skin is the result of a skin condition. The possibilities here include:
Any liver or biliary tract disorder that results in the accumulation of bile salts in the skin may cause itching. Diseases with this affect include hepatic carcinoma, hepatitis, cirrhosis, obstruction of biliary ducts with gallstones, biliary atresia, and cancer.
4. Kidney Failure and kidney disease that results in uraemia (an increased urea level in the blood), and accumulation of urate crystals in the skin may cause itching.
5. The following autoimmune diseases are known to be accompanied by itching.
9. Hormonal Disorders
What Can I Do?So what can you do to get rid of itching? Let's start with the simplest solution. Washing helps to relieve itching by getting rid of substances that irritate the skin. This is especially true after a sweaty work day or workout that produces excessive perspiration. It also helps with folliculitis, inflammation of a hair follicle.
Cooling the skin with ice cubs wrapped into a cloth and put over the itchy spot can help when the itching is caused by bacterial skin infection like folliculitis and contact dermatitis. You can avoid making the itch worse by not bathing in hot water, the excessive use of soap, and rubbing dry with towels. Instead of rubbing, pat the skin dry.
Other RemediesThere are many over-the-counter moisturizing creams and ointments (odorless and colorless ones like glycerin, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil) that when applied right after bathing can also help relieve the itching of dry skin. You may also coat the area that itches with menthol, calamine, camphor, chamomile, or eucalyptus.
Medications for ItchingWhen the itching is caused by allergies, oral medications such as hydroxyzine, cetirizine, loratadine, or diphenhydramine may help. Creams containing antihistamines can cause an allergic reaction so you may want to avoid them. For an itch that is caused by inflammation corticosteroid creams can decrease the inflammation and reduce the itch. When large skin areas are affected, oral corticosteroids might also be used. For itching caused by fungal, parasitic, or bacterial infections, antimicrobial ointments, or antibiotics by mouth or injection may be required.
Sometimes treatment is not possible or required. In such cases waiting for the disease or irritation to heal by itself is often recommended. This may apply for:
Scratching an ItchWhile scratching a minor itch can produce some relief, scratching can also irritate the skin and lead to more itching. Vigorous scratching can injure and may cause deep scrapes in the skin. In some people, even gentle scratching causes raised, red streaks that can actually increase the itch intensely. Avoid prolonged scratching and rubbing as this can thicken and scar the skin.
Note: Fingernails, especially children's, can be kept short to minimize damage from scratching.
This consumer advocate website is protected by copyright © 2002-2007 Askdocweb, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This is a layman's report on itching and is not intended to replace discussions with a health care provider. Do not use the information on this forum as a substitute for your doctor's advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any drug and follow your doctor's directions. Source material: Food and Drug Administration, Medline, Physician's Desk Reference, and the largest community of people in the world, those who are concerned about side effects and healthcare.