Itching is an uncomfortable feeling on your skin that makes you want to scratch.
Itching can be caused by many different skin problems
Itching can also be caused by an allergic reaction or a disorder that affects your whole body
You may itch in only one spot or all over depending on the cause
Scratching can make itching worse and damage your skin
Bathing less often, using lotions or creams, and using a humidifier at home or work may help you itch less
Other treatments depend on the cause
What causes itching?
Itching is usually caused by skin problems, such as:
Dry skin, especially in older people
Allergic reaction to things that touch the skin, such as poison ivy Contact Dermatitis Dermatitis is a general term for common skin irritation and inflammation. Contact dermatitis caused by contact with a particular substance is characterized by a rash at sites of contact. In... read more
Skin infections caused by a fungus or parasite
Sometimes, itching is caused by problems inside your body, such as:
Liver or gallbladder problems that make your eyes and skin yellow (jaundice Jaundice in Adults Jaundice is a yellow color to your skin and the whites of your eyes. Jaundice is caused by a buildup of a substance called bilirubin Bilirubin is a yellow substance your body makes when it breaks... read more )
When should I see a doctor about itching?
See a doctor right away if you have itching and any of these warning signs:
Pain in your belly
Yellowing of your skin and eyes
Feeling very thirsty, urinating (peeing) a lot, and losing weight
Call an ambulance or go to the emergency room right away if you have trouble breathing or feel faint. That could mean you're having a serious allergic reaction Anaphylactic Reactions Anaphylactic reactions (sometimes called “anaphylaxis”) are the most serious, sudden, and life-threatening allergic reactions. You develop severe symptoms such as an itchy rash over your entire... read more .
See a doctor in a week or so if you have:
A rash that's getting worse or spreading
Itching and weight loss, extreme tiredness, or sweating in bed at night
What will happen at my doctor visit?
Doctors will ask about your symptoms and look at your skin. Most of the time, doctors can tell what's causing your itching without doing tests.
Sometimes doctors may do tests such as:
Taking a sample of your skin to look at (a biopsy)
Tests to see if you have a problem in another part of your body that's causing the itching
How do doctors treat itching?
Doctors treat the problem that causes you to itch. Doctors may also tell you to:
Avoid anything that may be causing the itching or making it worse
Bathe less often and use cool water instead of hot
Use moisturizing lotions or creams
Humidify the air in your home or work
Not wear tight or wool clothes
Take antihistamine pills (medicines that help relieve itching)
Antihistamine pills can make you sleepy, particularly if you're older. Be careful about using them if you have to drive or use power tools. On the other hand, antihistamines may help you sleep at night.
You can buy some creams for itching without a prescription. But talk to your doctor before you use them. Corticosteroid creams, such as hydrocortisone, can help some kinds of itching but are bad for others (for example, itching caused by a skin infection). Antihistamine creams and skin-numbing creams that contain benzocaine sometimes cause a skin reaction, so doctors usually don't want you to use those.