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Anal Itching

(Pruritus Ani)

By

Parswa Ansari

, MD, Hofstra Northwell-Lenox Hill Hospital, New York

Last full review/revision Feb 2021| Content last modified Feb 2021
Click here for the Professional Version
Topic Resources

Itching of the anus (the opening at the end of the digestive tract where stool leaves the body) and the skin around the anus (perianal skin) is called anal itching or pruritus ani.

Causes of Anal Itching

The most common causes of anal itching are

  • Unknown (the majority)

  • Related to hygiene

Extremes in hygiene can lead to anal itching. For instance, inadequate cleansing leaves irritating stool and sweat residue on the anal skin. More commonly, overly vigorous cleansing, often with sanitary wipes and strong soaps, can dry or irritate the skin or occasionally cause an allergic reaction. Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids are dilated, twisted blood vessels located in the wall of the lower rectum and anus. The swollen vessels are caused by an increase in pressure. Lumps form inside or outside of the... read more Hemorrhoids can make it difficult for people to thoroughly clean themselves after a bowel movement. Some hemorrhoids produce mucus or cause leakage, both of which can cause itching.

Once anal itching starts, an itch-scratch-itch cycle can begin, in which scratching causes more itching. Often, people scratch and rub the itchy area so much that they scrape the skin open. The scrapes sometimes become irritated, which causes yet more itching. Also, people sometimes become allergic to the ointments or other treatments they use for the itching.

Evaluation of Anal Itching

Not every episode of anal itching requires immediate evaluation by a doctor. The following information can help people decide whether a doctor’s evaluation is needed and help them know what to expect during the evaluation.

Warning signs

In people with anal itching, certain symptoms and characteristics are cause for concern. They include

  • Pus draining from the anus or around it (draining fistula)

  • Bloody diarrhea

  • Bulging or protruding hemorrhoids

  • Perianal skin soiled with fecal material

  • Dull or thickened perianal skin

When to see a doctor

People who have anal itching plus bloody diarrhea or draining pus should see a doctor in a day or two. Other people should see a doctor if the itching has lasted for more than a few days, but the visit is not urgent.

What the doctor does

Doctors first ask questions about the person's symptoms and medical history. Doctors then do a physical examination. What they find during the history and physical examination often suggests a cause of the itching and the tests that may need to be done (see Table: Causes and Features of Anal Itching Causes and Features of Anal Itching Itching of the anus (the opening at the end of the digestive tract where stool leaves the body) and the skin around the anus (perianal skin) is called anal itching or pruritus ani. (See also... read more ).

The history is focused on when the itching started and how long it has lasted. Doctors ask about the following:

  • Ingestion of irritating foods, particularly acidic or spicy foods

  • Bowel habits, including use of wipes, ointments (even those used to treat itching), sprays, and soaps applied to the anus

  • Hygiene habits, particularly frequency of showers and baths

  • Known infections or disorders (such as diabetes, hemorrhoids, or psoriasis)

  • Recent use of antibiotics

The physical examination is focused on the appearance of the anus and the perianal skin. Doctors examine this area for

Table
icon

Testing

If doctors do not see any abnormalities on or around the anus, they usually do not do tests and simply treat the person's symptoms. If there are any visible skin abnormalities, doctors may examine a scraping of the perianal skin to rule out a fungal infection. Sometimes they give the person a local anesthetic and remove a small piece of tissue to examine under a microscope (skin biopsy).

If pinworms, which most often occur in school-age children, are suspected, eggs can be collected from the anal region using sticky transparent tape to confirm the diagnosis (see diagnosis of pinworm infection Diagnosis Pinworm infection is caused by the intestinal roundworm Enterobius vermicularis and usually affects children, but adult members of their households and caregivers, institutionalized people,... read more Diagnosis ).

Doctors may also examine the anus with a short, rigid tube (a procedure called anoscopy) to check for internal hemorrhoids.

Treatment of Anal Itching

  • Treatment of cause

  • Hygiene and symptom relief

The best way to treat anal itching is to treat the underlying disorder. For example, drugs can be taken for parasitic infections (such as pinworms), and creams can be applied for fungal infections (such as Candida, also called yeast).

Irritating foods can be eliminated from the diet or avoided for a while to see whether the itching lessens. If possible, antibiotics can be stopped or switched.

Hygiene and symptom relief

Proper hygiene is important. After bowel movements, the anal area should be cleaned with absorbent cotton or plain soft tissue moistened with warm water or a commercial cleanser made specifically for hemorrhoids. People should avoid using soaps and premoistened wipes.

Frequent dusting with nonmedicated cornstarch or talcum powder helps combat excess moisture.

Corticosteroid ointments (such as 1% hydrocortisone) often help relieve symptoms.

Clothing should be loose, and bed clothing should be lightweight.

Key Points about Anal Itching

  • Pinworms in children and hygiene-related issues in adults are common causes of anal itching.

  • Foods and detergents or soaps can cause anal itching.

  • Appropriate hygiene practices (careful but gentle cleansing, avoiding strong soaps and chemicals, and decreasing skin moisture) can help relieve symptoms of anal itching.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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