Itch (Itching or Pruritus)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideRosacea, Acne, Shingles: Common Adult Skin Diseases

Rosacea, Acne, Shingles: Common Adult Skin Diseases

What causes itching?

Pruritus can be caused by many conditions. Stress, anxiety, or other emotional problems can cause itching. Stress also can aggravate itch from other causes. Dry skin (xerosis) is perhaps the most frequent cause of itch without a rash. Many people also report sunburn itch following prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Other causes of generalized itching that may not produce a rash or specific skin changes include metabolic and hormone disorders (for examples, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism), cancers (for example, lymphoma), reactions to drugs, interruptions in bile flow (cholestasis) from liver disease, and diseases of the blood (for example, polycythemia rubra vera). Itching is common with allergic reactions. Itching can also result from insect stings and bites such as mosquito or flea bites.

Infections and infestations of the skin are another cause of itch. Genital itching, which may accompany burning and pain, in men and women can occur as a result of genital infections such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Vaginal itching is sometimes referred to as feminine itching, and sexually transmitted diseases can also cause anal itching. Vaginal yeast infections are another cause of vaginal itching. Other common infectious causes of itch include a fungal infection of the crotch (tinea cruris) commonly known as jock itch, psoriasis, and ringworm of the body (tinea corporis). Another type of parasitic infection resulting in itch is the so-called swimmer's itch. Swimmer's itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, is a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to infection with certain parasites of birds and mammals that are released from infected snails in fresh and saltwater. Itch may also result from skin infestation by body lice, including head lice and pubic lice. Scabies is a highly contagious skin condition caused by an infestation by the itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei that is known to cause an intense itch that is particularly severe at night. Continue Reading

Reviewed on 4/20/2016
References
REFERENCES:

Butler, David F. "Pruritus and Systemic Disease." Medscape.com. Aug. 21, 2014. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1098029-overview>.

Mann, Julianne. "Brachioradial Pruritus." Medscape.com. May 15, 2014. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1355312-overview>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Cercarial Dermatitis." Jan. 10, 2012.<http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/swimmersitch/faqs.html>.

United States. National Cancer Institute. "Pruritus." Feb. 5, 2014. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/pruritus/Patient/page1>.

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