Pruritus, also known as itchy Skin in common terms, is an uncontrollable, irritating sensation that makes you want to itch and scratch the affected area to get relief. The itching can affect a part of the body or sometimes even the entire body may itch incessantly. The itching tends to increase with older age as the skin becomes more and more dry in nature. Depending upon the underlying cause, the affected skin may appear reddish with a bumpy-rough nature. The itching can also be accompanied with rashes and hives and sometimes constant itching can even thicken the skin, and lead to bleeding or infection.
Although a milder version may be self-treated using moisturizing cleansers and bathing with lukewarm water, a severe or chronic condition requires medical intervention as the doctor needs to rectify the medical condition underneath to provide a permanent solution.
Itchy skin can occur due to a variety of reasons. Some of these include:
Skin conditions: The continuous itching sensation can sometimes happen due to dry skin (xerosis), psoriasis, scabies, eczema (dermatitis), burns, scars, insect bites, parasites, and hives.
Allergic Reactions: Allergic conditions and irritation to certain substances when touched or eaten can also lead to itching on some parts or the whole body. This includes chemicals, soap, wood, varnishes, poison ivy, cosmetics, pollen grains, certain foods like brinjal, peanuts, sea fish, egg, or narcotics or other medications.
Parasitic Infection: Infectious conditions due to invasion of parasites like pinworms, scabies, head and body lice can also cause itching or rashes.
Diseased Conditions: Sometimes the constant itching throughout the whole body might be a sign of an underlying illness, such as kidney disease, anemia, diabetes, liver disease, thyroid problems, multiple myeloma, or lymphoma.
Nerve Disorders: Even neural issues can cause itching. For example: Pinched nerves, Multiple sclerosis, and Shingles (herpes zoster).
Psychiatric Anomalies: Psychological problems including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and even depression can lead to itching.
Although itching can occur in anyone. The people who are more susceptible to this uncomfortable sensation include:
- People with seasonal allergies like hay fever, asthma, and eczema
- People suffering from diabetes, HIV/AIDS or various types of cancer, like leukemia or lymphoma
- Pregnant women
- Elderly people
The itching sensation can be limited to the head, arms, legs or the abdomen or it can easily spread across the whole sometimes with noticeable signs and symptoms. These include:
- Scratch marks
- Dry, cracked skin
- Leathery or scaly patches
- Stinging and burning sensation
- Bumps or spots
- Raised skin
- Blisters and bleeding
Itchy skin can sometimes subside on application of home remedies. But if it continues for more than 6 weeks, it can affect the normal quality of life while causing disturbances during sleep, or when you are out. This is termed as chronic pruritus and needs immediate doctor consultation.
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms lasting more than a month, do visit a skin specialist to get diagnosed for the particular underlying cause that is triggering the itching sensation. The doctor usually does a thorough physical checkup, acknowledges the patient’s past medical history and conducts the following diagnostics. These include:
Blood Test: A complete blood count can help the doctor to analyze an internal health condition that causes the itching like anemia. Other blood tests for thyroid, kidney or liver function can find out abnormalities, such as hyperthyroidism, that may cause itching.
Imaging Technique: A chest X-ray to look out for enlarged lymph nodes, which can go along with itchy skin.
The primary treatment for pruritus is to provide relief from constant itching or to cure the underlying cause that may lead to itching. If home remedies don’t work, the doctor usually prescribes for the following:
- Corticosteroid creams and ointments
- Topical anesthetics
- Oral medications like antidepressants
- Phototherapy or light therapy
For a milder version of pruritus, the doctor may ask for some lifestyle changes or natural remedies. These include:
- Applying cold compresses
- Using humidifiers
- Using moisturizing lotions, gels or creams to soothe the skin
- Using sunscreens regularly to prevent sunburns and skin damage
- Taking lukewarm or oatmeal baths
- Using over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or antihistamines
- Avoiding scratching, wearing irritating fabrics, and exposure to high heat and humidity
- Reducing stress and anxiety