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Finding the cause of your big itch

itchy skin

Itching skin; that crawling, tingling and sometimes burning sensation that makes you want to scratch. Whether it is localised in one area or generalised all over the body, it is an annoying and unpleasant sensation that everyone has experienced.

Itching skin, also known as pruritus, is a curious affliction. You might have a rash. There may be bumps. Your skin could be red. You might have itchiness with no visible signs.

Itchy skin symptoms vary, as do the causes.

What causes itching skin?

Dry skin

One of the most common causes of itching skin is dryness. Age, seasonal changes and other factors can aggravate dry skin and cause it to be itchy. Relief from itching skin caused by dryness can be found in simple lifestyle changes. Shortening the time you spend in the shower or bath, making the water temperature warm rather than too hot or cold, and using a natural, unscented soup is a good start. Immediately afterwards, treat dry skin with a lathering of oil-based moisturiser. For extremely dry skin, choose a moisturizer that contains lactic acid, urea or both.

Skin conditions

There are several skin conditions that cause itching skin. Some of the more common ones are,

Eczema

Eczema is a chronic condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. It can affect any part of your body but eczema mostly affects the back or front of the knee, around the neck, the hands, cheeks, scalps and elbows. Treatments for eczema include using an emollient or oil-based moisturiser, topical corticosteroids, and avoiding triggers. Read more about how

Psoriasis

A chronic skin condition, psoriasis causes red, flaky and crusty patches of skin typically on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. While there is no cure for it, there are ways to reduce symptoms with topical vitamin D ointments or topical corticosteroids. Psoriasis can severally impact quality of life for some people in which case a doctor might suggest other treatments such as phototherapy.

Hives

Hives is a very itchy, raised rash that can be localised on one part of your body or widely spread. This bothersome condition happens when a trigger causes high levels of histamine to be released in the skin. Triggers can include allergic reactions to bites, food, medicines or something in the environment. In most cases, you don’t need to treat hives because the rash usually goes away in a few days. An over-the-counter antihistamine can help if the itchiness causes discomfort.

Dandruff

A common cause of itching skin in the scalp or hair is dandruff. Mild cases can be treated with a gentle daily shampoo but if that doesn’t help, consider a medicated shampoo. Dandruff isn’t serious nor is it contagious but it can be tough to treat. Read more about what causes dandruff.

Allergies and reactions

Allergies could be behind what causes itching skin. Things like wool, rubber (especially latex), chemicals, harsh soaps, medicines or contact with an allergen such as poison ivy can cause skin reactions that are itchy. Hot and humid weather can also cause an itching skin reaction called prickly heat, while sunburn can also cause itchiness that is painful when you scratch. Your skin can also react to insect bites, causing itchiness.

Internal diseases

Itching on the entire body could be a symptom of an underlying illness like liver disease, anaemia, diabetes, thyroid problems, lymphoma or kidney disease.

When to worry about the cause of itching skin

Talk to your pharmacist if you are unsure what could be the cause of itching skin. A pharmacist will be able to suggest over-the-counter treatments to help ease your itch. When itching skin won’t go away with self care and impacts your quality of life, affects your sleep, or makes you feel embarrassed, it is a good idea to see a doctor to get to the bottom of what is causing your itching skin. Some conditions will require prescription medicine.