Everyone recognizes itching (pruritus) as an annoying feeling that encourages you to scratch your skin. In many cases, itching is caused by dry skin. Sometimes there’s another cause. In this article, we will tell you which conditions can lead to itching, what you can do yourself and when it is best to contact your doctor.

The itching can be local, such as with an itchy scalp or an itchy leg. But itching can also affect the entire body. In addition, itching may or may not go hand in hand with other changes in the skin, such as:

  • redness;
  • bumps, spots or blisters;
  • dry, cracked skin;
  • flakes or crusting.

Itching that persists for more than six weeks is called chronic itching (chronic pruritus).

What can you do yourself against itching?

Although itching provokes scratching, this is not the best way to deal with prolonged itching. By scratching or rubbing, the itching in the area increases. This will make you scratch even more and end up in a cycle of itching and scratching. In addition, frequent scratching can lead to wounds and infections. Many people with itching can benefit from:

  • the use of moisturizing creams;
  • mild cleansing agents for the skin;
  • bathing in lukewarm water;
  • avoiding the ‘trigger’ that provokes your itching;
  • reducing stress;
  • a humidifier, if the air in your house is too dry.

When should you go to the doctor for itching?

It is advisable to contact your DOCTOR if the itching:

  • persists for more than two weeks and does not improve with the self-care options described above;
  • disrupts your daily life or sleep;
  • comes out of nowhere and cannot be explained;
  • affects your whole body;
  • associated with other health problems, such as fever, fatigue or night sweats.

What conditions can lead to itching?

The causes of itching are numerous and diverse and include:

  • skin problems, such as: dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, insect bites, parasites, scar tissue, burns, hives and scabies;
  • internal disorders: liver diseases, kidney diseases, anemia, diabetes, multiple myeloma (type of blood cancer), lymph node cancer and thyroid abnormalities. In these internal disorders, the itching is usually spread throughout the body;
  • disorders of the nervous system, for example: multiple sclerosis, nerve entrapment and shingles;
  • psychiatric disorders, such as: depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia;
  • allergic reaction and irritations: some substances can provoke irritation of the skin or an allergic reaction. This can lead to itching. Think, for example, of wool, soap, paint, certain medicines and water.

Diagnosis and treatment

Since itching can be caused by many different conditions, it is not always easy for the doctor to determine the origin of the itching. In addition to the doctor’s own examination, he or she can use blood tests, organ function tests or X-rays to determine the cause of the itching.

The doctor has several options to get the itching complaints under control. These options include: medical creams, light therapy and pills (oral medications). In addition, the doctor will want to treat the underlying cause of the itching. Addressing the cause offers the best solution against the itching complaints in the long term.

Cassidy Perry

A certified dietician specializing in diabetes care, Cassidy has over a decade of experience working with diverse patient backgrounds. She writes health-related articles for the Scientific Origin.