Pruritus or itching is the unpleasant sensation that causes the urge to scratch. And while there are many things that can make you itch such as a rash, skin condition or even underlying disease, there’s no denying its annoying. If you are dealing with itchy skin, here are some possible causes to consider.
1. Environmental Factors
Environmental factors such as hot or cold weather with low humidity, long term air-conditioning, wind, sunburn and excessive washing or bathing can cause dryness and itching. The skin will appear dry without a rash or other dramatic skin change.
2. Irritant Substances
Some substances such as wool, chemicals, soaps and detergents can irritate the skin and cause itching in people with sensitive skin, without causing skin inflammation.
3. Hypersensitivity Reactions
In susceptible individuals, some substances such as poison ivy, cosmetics, food or drugs can induce a hypersensitive reaction. The itch in this case is usually widespread and accompanied by a rash. The reaction may be isolated to the skin with an itchy rash or it may involve some swelling around the eyes or mouth.In severe cases of allergy, a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis may occur.
Foods which commonly cause hypersensitivity reactions include egg, peanut, milk and shellfish. Drugs, particularly antibiotics, antifungals, narcotic painkillers, vaccinations and chemotherapy can also cause hypersensitive reactions.
Seasonal allergies caused by sensitivity to pollen, is associated with itchy skin, accompanied by difficulty breathing, runny nose and irritated eyes. Hives (urticaria) is a type of allergic reaction with red raised itchy bumps of various shapes and sizes that usually last a few minutes to a few hours.
4. Insect Bites
Insect bites (from mosquitos, flies, ticks, bees, wasps, ants, spiders, scorpions) commonly cause a minor local itchy skin reaction, which resolves itself within a few days. Some insect bites, especially from bees, may cause a severe allergic reaction.
5. Infections and Infestations
Fungi thrive in moist environments and can cause an itchy skin rash between the toes, in the area of the groin, under the breasts or on the scalp. They typically appear as ring-like lesions.
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by varicella zoster virus and characterized by an intensely itchy skin rash that forms blisters that later scab over. Shingles is caused by reactivation of the same virus and is characterized by a unilateral, itchy and painful rash.
Parasitic skin infestations such as lice, scabies and mites also cause intense itch.
6. Skin Conditions
Many skin conditions are itchy. The itching usually affects specific areas and is accompanied by a skin change. Eczema or atopic dermatitis commonly occurs in children who also have asthma or allergies. It typically causes itching of the skin in the elbow folds and behind the knees. Scratching results in a dry, red, flaky rash that may be associated with blisters and oozing.
Contact dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition that occurs in response to an allergen or irritant. Psoriasis typically appears as scaly, painful plaques affecting the extensor surfaces of the knees and elbowsand the scalp.
Pityriasis rosea is a harmless skin condition associated with a characteristic rash of oval, pink patches with scaly, raised borders and a mild itch. It usually resolves within 6 to 8 weeks.
7. Internal Disease
Many systemic diseases are associated with generalized itching. Liver disease, celiac disease, kidney failure, iron deficiency anemia, thyroid disorders, leukemia and lymphoma can cause itchy skin. Usually the whole body is affected and the skin may look otherwise normal. Nervous system disorders such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus and a pinched nerve can also cause the skin to itch.
8. Pregnancy & Menopause
During the hormonal changes and stretching skin of pregnancy, some women may experience itchy skin particularly on their abdomen, thighs, breasts and arms. In addition, itchy skin conditions such as dermatitis can worsen during pregnancy. Itchy skin accompanied by a rash may be a sign of a liver condition in pregnancy called obstetric cholestasis.
During menopause, the reduction in estrogen and the changing ratio of hormones slows down the body’s oil production and reduces its ability to retain moisture, resulting in dry, itchy skin.
Itchy skin can be disruptive and affect quality of life. It has a negative impact on sleep and mood. Prolonged itching and scratching may lead to complications, including infection and scarring. It is important to address the problem and identify the cause. If you are affected by itchy skin and are unsure of the cause, seek advice from your doctor.