About itchy skin
Itching is an unpleasant sensation that compels a person to scratch the affected area. The medical name for itching is pruritus.
Itching can affect any area of the body. It can either be:
- generalised – where itching occurs over the whole body
- localised – where itching only occurs in a particular area
Sometimes, there may be a rash or spot where the itching occurs.
Mild, short-lived itching is common, but the problem can occasionally be severe and very frustrating to live with.
Common causes of itching
Itching can be caused by a number of different conditions, including:
- skin conditions – such as eczema
- allergies or skin reactions
- parasitic infestations – such as scabies
- insect bites and stings
- fungal infections – such as athlete’s foot or vaginal thrush
- hormonal changes during pregnancy or the menopause
- systemic conditions (one that affects the whole body) – such as liver or kidney problems, or an overactive thyroid gland
Further information on the causes of itching
Things you can do
If you experience troublesome itching, there are some things you can do that may help relieve it and prevent damage caused by scratching.
There are also medicines, such as antihistamines and steroid creams, that are available over the counter from pharmacies that may help relieve itching caused by certain skin conditions.
- pat or tap the itchy area, rather than scratching it
- hold a cold compress, like damp flannel, over the affected area to cool it down
- bathe or shower in cool or lukewarm water
- use unperfumed personal hygiene products
- avoid clothes that irritate your skin, like wool or man-made fabrics
- use a moisturiser or emollient if your skin is dry or flaky
Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:
- is severe
- lasts for a long time
- keeps coming back
- is associated with other symptoms – like redness and swelling or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- covers your entire body itches and there's no obvious cause for this
Further information on treatments for itching
What will happen at your GP appointment
Many cases of itching will get better over a short period of time.
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms – for example, if you have noticed whether anything makes your itch worse, or if your itch comes and goes. They will also examine your skin to look for any visible symptoms.
In some cases, they may take a skin scraping or a swab so it can be tested to help identify the cause of your itching. A blood test may also be carried out to look for underlying problems, such as thyroid or kidney disease.
Depending on what is found to be causing your itch, you may be referred to a hospital specialist for a further assessment and specific treatment.
Source: NHS 24
08 February 2023
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