Itch
(Itching)

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Itch facts

  • The medical term for itching is pruritus.
  • Infections, bites and stings, infestations, chronic diseases, sun exposure, and dry skin are among the numerous causes of itching.
  • Anti-itch creams and lotions containing camphor, menthol, phenol, pramoxine (Caladryl, Tronolane), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or benzocaine can bring relief.
  • Some cases of itching will respond to corticosteroid medications.
  • It is best to avoid scratching when possible to avoid worsening of the condition and disruption of the skin that could lead to bacterial infection.
  • If itching persists with time or worsens, or is associated with skin lesions, consulting a health-care professional is advisable.

What is an itch?

Itch is an irritation in the skin that elicits an urge to scratch. Itches are a problem that everyone experiences and can be localized (limited to one area of the body) or generalized (occurring all over the body or in several different areas). Sometimes, itching may be worse at night. In medical terminology, itching is known as pruritus.

Generalized itch is often more difficult to treat than localized itch. Itches can also occur with or without skin lesions (bumps, blisters, rash, or abnormalities that can be seen on the skin). An itch that is accompanied by a visible skin abnormality should be evaluated by a physician and, in some cases, by a dermatologist since the problem is likely to be a condition that requires specialized medical treatment (for example, eczema, scabies, etc.).

What are associated symptoms and signs of itching?

Depending upon the underlying cause, itching may be associated with other symptoms and signs. Most commonly, these associated findings include skin lesions such as rash, blisters, bumps, or redness of the affected area. Dryness of the skin is a common cause of itch. Itching of skin can lead to tears in the skin (excoriations) from scratching. Less commonly, generalized itching can be a sign of chronic medical conditions such as liver disease. In these situations, there may be no changes to the appearance of the skin.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/27/2014

Patient Comments

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Itching - Treatments Question: What treatment did you receive for your itching?
Itching - Cause Question: What was the cause of your itching?
Itching - Associated Symptoms Question: In addition to itching, what other signs or symptoms did you experience?
Itching - Scratching Prevention Question: How do you keep from scratching an itch? Please share helpful tips and suggestions.

Can Stress Cause a Rash?

Q: Before my wedding, before job interviews, and anytime I have a bit of stress, my arms, wrists, and hands break out in an itchy rash. Can stress cause a rash? How do I prevent this from occurring, and how do I treat it?

A: Stress is one of the known triggers of hives, an outbreak of raised, red spots (or welts) on the skin that often itch.


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