An itchy skin or pruritus causes an unpleasant sensation that triggers the urge to scratch. The itchiness might be localized to a certain region in the body or generalized. Once there is a rash that occurs along with the itchy skin, the cause is usually easy to pinpoint and treat. Nevertheless, the hard to deal cases of itchy skin are those that occur without any associated rash.
What are the causes of itchy skin?
It is important to note that itchy skin and pain are closely linked sensations since the similar nerves send out both signals to the brain. When an individual scratches the skin, the same area can become even more itchier, thus resulting to more scratching which is called as the itch-scratch cycle.
Essentially, itchy skin might be an associated issue with the skin itself or an underlying condition of the body. If the itchiness is focused to a particular region of the skin, it is not usually triggered by a systemic disorder.
Localized itchy skin
If the itchiness only occurs on one part of the body, it is likely triggered by an issue with the skin. The region of the body that becomes itchy might provide a clue to the cause.
- Scalp – head lice, psoriasis, contact dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis
- Nose – allergic rhinitis
- Eyelids – atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis and allergic conjunctivitis
- Ears – otitis externa (swimmer’s ear), allergic rhinitis and contact dermatitis
- Arms – itchy skin in the arm particularly at the elbow bend is due to atopic dermatitis. Other causes include brachioradialis pruritus or xerosis (dry skin).
- Chest and back – atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, folliculitis, psoriasis and scabies infection
- Legs – atopic dermatitis, pruritus and dermatitis herpetiformis
- Hands and feet – atopic dermatitis, scabies, contact dermatitis and tinea (ringworm)
- Armpit and groin – scabies, tinea (jock itch), contact dermatitis and candida infections
- Anus – pruritus ani
Among those who have generalized itchiness, a systemic disease might be the cause in almost half of the cases. The symptoms might be triggered by various infections, medications, kidney disease, iron deficiency, liver disease, high or low thyroid function and certain types of cancers.
The suitable way to treat itchy skin is to deal with the underlying cause as well as proper management of the specific skin condition. The non-specific treatment options for itchy skin such as oral antihistamines, topical steroid creams and proper skin care with moisturizing can provide relief to those with generalized itchiness.
It is vital that individuals who suffer from symptoms of itchiness particularly generalized pruritus to consult a doctor for further assessment and treatment.