How Do You Stop Itching That Won't Go Away?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 5/26/2022
You can usually stop severe itching with changes to your personal care habits, home remedies, and over-the-counter medicines. Depending on the cause, you might need to see your doctor and treat the underlying problem.
You can usually stop severe itching with changes to your personal care habits, home remedies, and over-the-counter medicines. Depending on the cause, you might need to see your doctor and treat the underlying problem.

There are many possible causes of itching. Sometimes it’s minor, and you can treat it at home, and sometimes it’s more severe and a symptom of another condition. You might wonder: how do I stop uncontrollable itching? You can use home remedies, creams, and over-the-counter medicines. If those don’t work, see your doctor for medical treatment.

What causes severe itching?

The medical term for itching is pruritus. Typically caused by a skin condition, it can be a symptom of a systemic disease that affects your whole body.

The sensation of itching happens in the free nerve endings just under the outermost layer of your skin. Certain chemicals in your body activate these nerve endings and signal your brain that there’s an itch to scratch.

Some of these chemicals include:

  • Histamine, a compound your body releases in response to allergies
  • Substance P, an amino acid complex that causes your body to release more histamines
  • Serotonin, a brain chemical that reacts with nerve cells and makes the itching sensation worse
  • Bradykinin, a peptide that plays a role in inflammation

Many other activities in your body can cause itching. Your body releases these chemicals in response to conditions or other factors. It can be a side effect of medications, a symptom of systemic disease like thyroid disease, kidney disease, or HIV, or an allergic reaction.

Some blood diseases, such as those caused by a lack of iron, can cause widespread itching. Rashes and itchy skin are also common during pregnancy.

But the most common cause is skin disorders, like:

What stops severe itching?

Itching can be annoying, but it can also be uncomfortable and interfere with your sleep and daily activities. You can usually stop severe itching with changes to your personal care habits, home remedies, and over-the-counter medicines. Depending on the cause, you might need to see your doctor and treat the underlying problem. 

Cool compresses and cold packs

When you have itchy skin, you want to scratch it, but scratching can damage your skin and cause tiny wounds. Bacteria can enter these sores and cause an infection. Instead, apply a cool compress or a cold pack to ease the sensation and help with inflammation. 

Lukewarm baths

Showers and baths that are too hot remove your skin’s natural oils and dry out your skin. Showering too often can also lead to dry, irritated, and itchy skin. If you already have dry skin, this can make it worse. Instead, take a lukewarm shower and bath once a day and limit it to between 5 and 10 minutes. Use a moisturizing and fragrance-free cleanser. 

Fragrance-free cream

Healthy skin has an outer layer of skin cells held together by natural oils, which act as protection. Your habits, the weather, and medical conditions can change this layer and lead to water loss, dry skin, and problems like itching. 

You can use a moisturizing cream to rehydrate your skin and lock in moisture. Look for a fragrance-free cream with ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or shea butter. These ingredients help attract moisture. Apply the cream after your shower to damp skin.

Loose cotton clothing

Tight clothing and certain fibers and fabrics can rub or scratch your skin, making itching worse. Wear loose cotton clothing to give your skin some room. Also, switch to cotton bed sheets and blankets.

Colloidal oatmeal bath and cream

Colloidal oats are an old skin remedy. They’re ground into a fine powder and mixed with water to make a barrier cream. The natural plant chemicals in oats are soothing to your skin and help ease itching, dryness, and irritation. 

You can add colloidal oatmeal to your bath under running water. Soak in the tub for 5 to 10 minutes, then pat yourself dry. Apply a colloidal oat cream on your skin right away.

Anti-itch cream

Low-dose steroid creams lower inflammation in your skin and can ease itchiness. You can get hydrocortisone anti-itch creams over-the-counter at your pharmacy, but only use them as a short-term treatment. 

Capsaicin cream is another short-term option. It desensitizes nerve cells in your skin and eases itching, but it can cause burning and irritation. Apply a topical pain cream before capsaicin and only use it for a few days.

Gel creams

Aloe vera gel is another old remedy for itchy skin, minor burns, and skin inflammation. Studies show it can help ease conditions like psoriasis and a very itchy rash called lichen planus. Aloe gel causes skin irritation for some people, though. 

Petroleum jelly is another hydrating option. If your skin is dry, apply a generous layer of petroleum jelly after your shower. The jelly seals in moisture and soothes your skin, which can help your symptoms.

Antihistamine medications

If you’re itchy because of allergies, antihistamine medications from your pharmacy might also help. If you’re having trouble sleeping because of your skin, a sedating antihistamine that makes you drowsy might help. These include medications like diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine, and chlorphenamine.  

Medical treatment

Sometimes your skin might feel very itchy, but there’s no rash or irritation. Or you might have intense itching that doesn’t go away no matter what you do. Sometimes this can be a sign of an underlying condition and might need medical treatment. 

Treatment might include antidepressants, prescription corticosteroid pills or creams, and prescription antihistamines. Depending on the cause, you might also need immune-suppressing drugs, light therapy, an iron supplement, or other treatments. 


Rosacea, Acne, Shingles, Covid-19 Rashes: Common Adult Skin Diseases See Slideshow

When to be worried about itching

It’s time to see your doctor when severe itching interferes with your life or causes emotional distress. Other symptoms occurring with itching can also be a concern. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following: 

You should also talk to your doctor if you’ve tried lots of remedies or changed your habits and nothing works. 

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 5/26/2022
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American Family Physician: “Pruritus.”

Harvard Medical School Harvard Health Publishing: “9 ways to banish dry skin.” “Showering daily – is it necessary?”

Indian Journal of Medical Research: “Skin barrier function.”

Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: “Pruritus.”

Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: “Colloidal Oatmeal Part I: History, Basic Science, Mechanism of Action, and Clinical Efficacy in the Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis.”

Middlesex Health: "Itchy skin (pruritus)."

Medscape: “Pruritus and Systemic Disease.”

National Health Service: “Antihistamines.”

National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Aloe Vera.”

Pirahanchi, Y., Sharma, S. StatPearls, “Physiology, Bradykinin,” StatPearls Publishing, 2021.