Pruritus

November 12, 2012

Pruritus

Pruritis, or itching skin, can create an irresistible desire to scratch your skin. It may appear normal, or may be accompanied by redness, bumps or blisters. The itch can go away after a short while, or become chronic.

Causes

  • Dry skin – Hot or cold weather with low humidity, excessive use of air conditioners or central heating systems and prolonged bathing can cause dry skin, or xerosis. Itching skin with no other apparent symptoms is often indicative of this condition.

  • Skin Diseases – Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, scabies, lice, chickenpox and hives can cause itching skin along with redness, bumps and blisters that affect specific areas of the body.

  • Systemic Diseases – Itching skin that affects the whole body may be caused by internal diseases such as liver disease, celiac disease, kidney failure, iron deficiency anemia, thyroid problems and certain cancers. The skin appears normal, although areas of excessive scratching may appear bruised.

  • Allergies – Allergies to certain chemicals, soaps, creams and wool can irritate the skin and cause itching. These reactions are mediated by the inflammatory chemicals released by the body¬ís immune system in response to certain trigger molecules in these substances. Food allergies may also cause itchy skin.

  • Nerve disorders – Nervous system disorders such as multiple sclerosis, diabetic neuropathy, shingles and pinched nerves may cause skin itching due to excessive stimulation of the nerves on the skin.

  • Drugs – Abnormal reactions to certain drugs including antibiotics, antifungals and narcotic pain medications can result in itching skin. Some plants such as the poison ivy may also induce itching of skin.

  • Pregnancy – Many women experience itchy skin on their abdomen, breasts, thighs and arms during pregnancy. Most experts blame the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy for the itching skin.

When to See a Doctor

Most cases of skin itches are temporary and disappear on their own, or with the application of a moisturizer. However, persistent scratching of the itchy skin can lead to scars, bacterial skin infections and neurodermatitis. You should, therefore, talk to a doctor if your itch:

  • Lasts for more than 2 weeks without any improvement.

  • Is severe or highly uncomfortable

  • Is without a reason

  • Affects the whole body

  • Is accompanied by other symptoms such as fatigue and weight loss.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may involve corticosteroid creams, topical anesthetics, creams, lotions and oral antihistamines to treat allergies and inflammation. Your doctor may also seek to treat underlying systemic or internal diseases such as kidney problems, iron deficiency or thyroid disease. Photothreapy, or exposing skin to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light, may help control the itching.

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