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How to Treat Itchy Skin? Common Causes & Treatments Explained by Leading Dermatologists

boy with itchy skin

It is that time of the year again when the temperature outside is low, the humidity levels have hit rock bottom and everything feels dry. This dryness is not just reflected in the atmosphere but also on the surface of our skin. With this dryness comes the familiar seasonal concept of itching and flaking of the skin. Itchy skin can be very irritating. It makes you want to scratch non-stop. So out comes the bottles of moisturisers and body lotions that can help soothe the itch. 

Itchy skin can be intense. The more you rub or scratch, the itchier it becomes, leading to the urge to scratch. Up to a certain extent we all end up with an itch or scratch. But breaking this itch-scratch cycle becomes difficult. In such cases, you need to get proper medical attention to solve the problem from the root cause. Depending on the cause, and the frequency of scratching, your skin may appear normal, rough, bumpy or red. Sometimes the skin might end up bleeding or become infected. None of which is desirable. So to understand what needs to be done and how to cure itchy skin

What Do You Mean by Itchy Skin?

Medically, itchy skin is also known as pruritus (proo-RIE-tus). It can happen to anyone. It all depends on the cell regeneration speed of the individual. Dry skin problems are very common in older people since skin tends to dry faster with age owing to slower cell regeneration.

However, most of these instances deal with various self-care measures that we keep adopting from time to time. When you seek long-term relief you need to get it reviewed by a dermatologist. They will help treat the problem using medicated creams, oral medicines and moist dressings.

What are the Symptoms of Itchy Skin?

Skin is universal in our bodies. So dryness-induced itchy skin can affect the smallest areas, like our scalp, arms or legs, or in worst-case scenarios the whole body.
With itchy skin sometimes there are no noticeable changes or symptoms apart from itchiness. However, other visible signs can be redness, cracks, scratch marks, leathery/scaly patches, bumps, spots or blisters.

You must show your condition to a dermatologist when

  • Itchiness lasts over 2 weeks despite home care remedies.
  • Itchiness distracts you from sleeping or daily activities.
  • The urge to itch is sudden and cannot be explained.
  • Itch is accompanied by fever, weight loss or night sweats.
  • Itch does not disappear in 3 months following proper treatment.

If it does not respond to a dermatology treatment, it has to be forwarded to an internal medicine expert to understand the underlying concerns that are leading to this dryness.

What are the Causes of Itchy Skin?

There can be various causes due to which you can end up with itchy skin. These are:

  • Dermatological reasons: Different skin conditions can cause itchiness. For eg: xerosis, eczema, psoriasis, burns, scabies, scars, insect bites, parasites and hives.
  • Internal diseases: Itching throughout the body can be linked to liver or kidney diseases, diabetes, thyroid problems, anaemia or lymphoma.
  • Nerve disorders: When nerves send out the wrong stimuli the body ends up itching incessantly. For eg: multiple sclerosis, shingles, pinched nerves etc.
  • Mental health causes: Conditions like anxiety, OCD and depression can often trigger unexplained itching.
  • Allergies and reactions: Skin irritation that can lead to itchiness can occur from wool, soap, chemicals in cosmetics and other seemingly harmless causes. It can also be a reaction to opioids which are primarily pain medications.

Any other cause might just be incidental to any side effects caused by medication or hand-foot-mouth disease which is triggered by consuming chemical compounds your body is not friendly with.

Complications & Treatment Options

Prolonged itching and persistent scratching can increase the severity of the itch, leading to infection and scarring.

Cause Effect Relief
Extremely dry skin  Intensely itchy  Medicated moisturiser 
Bug bites (mosquito, bed bugs, lice, ringworms and mites)  Itch can be long-lasting and uncontrollable, except in the case of mosquitoes Topical itch relief ointments 
Diseases like dermatitis, chickenpox, eczema, folliculitis, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, psoriasis, neurodermatitis, hives, ringworm, (herpes) shingles, and others Prolonged uncontrollable itching and rashes Depending on the cause the relevant disease specialist needs to be consulted for the right treatment

How to Prevent Itchiness (Pruritus)?

To understand the various modes of prevention, we need to first profile the group of people who are more susceptible to getting the problem in the first place. While anyone can suffer from pruritus, the following need to be extra careful:

  • Those who suffer from allergies, eczema, hay fever or asthma.
  • Those with blood sugar imbalance.
  • Those with life-threatening diseases like aids and cancer, especially leukaemia.
  • Pregnant women undergoing hormonal changes.
  • Elderly people with lower speed of cell regeneration.

Now that we know who is most at risk, we can approach each concern independently. The entire treatment depends on the cause. If it is a drug reaction then itching will be accompanied by rashes. But all other itches are mostly dependent on our skin’s hygiene. So here is a checklist that will keep you protected for longer.

  1. Practise a healthy skincare regime: Keep your skin hydrated with skin creams and moisturising lotions to prevent dryness.
  2. Apply sunscreens: Using sunscreens is not just a summer thing. Regular usage will prevent irritation due to skin damage by the sun.
  3. Use mild bath soap: Soap contains chemicals that induce dryness and irritants that make the skin itchy. Choose a mild soap with proper ph balance and opt for a lukewarm bath instead of hot water as it causes dryness too.
  4. Avoid direct contact with wool or synthetics: Don’t expose your skin to woollen fabric directly as that can cause unwanted itching. Same with synthetics due to a static created with the skin hairs. Opt for cotton on the safe side.
  5. Other: In case it starts itching, avoid scratching and put ice or a cold washcloth over the affected area.

If these kinds of things keep happening to you often and/ or you have similar symptoms that keep affecting your skin in the long term, then it is advisable to seek medical intervention from a professional dermatologist. At the CK Birla Hospital, our derma specialists are known to isolate each case and give customised treatment plans to relieve derma problems in the long term. If there are other aspects involved, the internal medicine team will also be involved. But it all starts with you reaching out to us. Walk in or book an appointment here.


1. What Are the Different Types of Pruritus?

  • Brachioradial pruritus: In this type, the itching starts in the upper arm and is linked to nerve damage problems.
  • Nocturnal pruritus: Itching is caused as a reaction to a medication, or by contact with a skin irritant. This itch usually starts at night and increases throughout the night.
  • Pruritus ani: Itching around your anal area is usually caused by haemorrhoids.
  • Senile pruritus: Itching due to parched degenerated skin that increases with age.
  • Uremic pruritus: Those undergoing any kidney-related disorder and receiving dialysis also get itching which in this case is a symptom of the underlying disease.

2. What’s the Difference Between Pruritus and Urticaria?

Pruritus is itchy skin which can be linked to a variety of different causes, both severe and trivial. Urticaria on the other hand is a skin condition that ends up causing hives and gives a tickling or burning sensation in some areas of your skin. Therefore urticaria is a bigger concern of which a symptom is pruritus.

3. How to Handle Unexplained Itching All Over the Body at Night?

  • These are symptoms of an underlying disease. So the first step is managing or treating the condition.
  • Opt for a clean and hygienic skincare routine that involves a bath and overall skincare before going to bed.
  • For an existing itch try using a dermat prescribed anti-itch cream or an over-the-counter ointment that does the same.
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