Itchy Skin: What Is It Caused by and How Is It Treated?
Itchy skin is an extremely annoying symptom that can really make you feel miserable. However, it can be cured, if its cause is identified correctly. Below, you will find some information about the causes and treatments of the itching that may help you to reduce the severity of the symptom.
Itchy skin or itching, whose medical term is pruritus, can be described as an unpleasant feeling causing the need to scratch. There are two types of itchy skin: localized and generalized. Localized itching occurs in a certain area of the body, while generalized itching affects the entire body.
Itching is often related to a rash. The latter can either cause your itchy skin or be caused by the scratching. However, itching may also occur without any visible rash.
Whether your itchy skin comes with a rash or not, this condition can be extremely disturbing and irritating.
How Does Itchy Skin Occur?
The signals of itching and pain are transmitted to brain by the same nerves, which makes the two sensations closely-related. Itchy skin is often accompanied by a condition called itch-scratch cycle, which implies repeated itches after scratching.
When itching affects your entire body, it usually indicates some problems with your skin or another underlying systemic disease. Localized itching, however, is not usually caused by a systemic disease.
What Can It Be Caused by?
As mentioned above, there are two types of itching – localized and generalized – and each type has its own causes. Thus, localized itches (only present on certain areas of the skin) are normally caused by certain skin problems. The cause may often be identified based on the area of the skin that feels the sensation.
Itches in the scalp area, for instance, may be caused by such skin diseases as seborrheic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, as well as head lice.
Generalized itching, on the other hand, may also be caused by systemic diseases. Conditions causing itchy skin through the entire body include urticaria, atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis.
Other potential causes of itching are medications, e.g. pain medications, infections, iron deficiency, liver disease, kidney disease, high or low thyroid function and certain types of cancer.
Skin Allergies as a Cause of Itching
Itches can be caused by three common skin allergies, which include atopic dermatitis or eczema, urticaria, as well as contact dermatitis.
Itching is one of the major symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis). Itches typically occur in such area of the skin as behind the knees and on the inner side of elbows. Eczema most commonly affects children and young adults.
Urticaria, better known as hives, also affects mostly children, though it may occur at any age. This skin disease causes an itchy rash that comes in the form of raised red bumps of varying sizes and shapes. The rash can last for a few minutes to a few hours. About a half people with hives may experience a condition called angioedema which is swelling of the skin around the eyes, mouth, tongue, hands, or feet.
Contact dermatitis is a skin disease that occurs after a contact between the skin and a certain chemical. It causes a rash looking similar to poison oak or poison ivy. In many cases, the condition is induced by substances contained in plants. For instance, plants of the toxicodendron family often cause contact dermatitis that results in an extremely itchy rash with oozing and crusting blisters.
Other potential causes of contact dermatitis include make-up products, sunscreen, hair dye, metals, topical medications and dental materials.
Treatment of Itchy Skin
Treatment of itchy skin mainly depends on the substance that is causing it – if you can identify and avoid or correct it, then the itching will most likely be cured. However, there are some general recommendations considering itching treatment options that may apply to the majority of cases.
Treating Itching with Products for Dry Skin
Dry skin is one of the most common causes of itching. There are thousands of various dry skin treatment products available on the market from over-the-counter moisturizers to prescription steroid creams. However, using such products may not be enough to treat the symptom.
Experts recommend a special technique that has been successfully used for the treatment of dry skin for a long time. The technique is called “soak and slather”: it implies soaking in a warm bath with plain water followed by the immediate application of a topical corticosteroid ointment to moist skin, which has to be done for a period of two weeks. You can then maintain your skin care using your daily moisturizer.
Steroid Creams for Itchy Skin
Many skin conditions are treated by topical steroids. These are anti-inflammatory medications used for reducing inflammation, itching, flaking and oozing. Topicals steroids should be applied daily one or more times a day. Most of them are only available by prescription. However, some creams such as hydrocortisone 1% cream can be obtained without a prescription.
Certain topical steroids including topical anaesthetics and topical antihistamines are not recommended for the treatment of itching, since they may be causing itchy rashes themselves.
Anti-Itch Creams for Face Skin
Not all topical steroids can be used on the face skin, since it is particularly sensitive and susceptible to the potential side effects of such medications. For instance, topical steroids may cause glaucoma or cataract formation, if they get into the eyes.
Specialists advise using only the lowest-potency topical steroids to treat itching of the skin on the face and for the period of time shortest as possible.
Oral Antihistamines for Itching
Antihistamine medications can be effective in treating only certain forms of itching. Thus, itchy skin caused by urticaria (hives) may respond to treatment with these medications, unlike itching caused by eczema or contact dermatitis. There are various choices of antihistamines available both by prescription and over the counter.
Moreover, some antihistamines are considered to help reduce itching only through their sedative side effects.