Skip to main content

Itchy skin (pruritus)

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jan 17, 2024.

Overview

Itchy skin is an irritating sensation that makes you want to scratch. It's also called pruritus (proo-RIE-tus). Itchy skin is often caused by dry skin and is common in older adults, as skin tends to become drier with age.

Depending on the cause of your itchiness, your skin may look no different than usual or it may be inflamed, rough or have bumps. Repeated scratching can cause raised thick areas of skin that might bleed or become infected.

Many people find relief with self-care measures such as moisturizers, gentle cleansers and lukewarm baths. Long-term relief requires identifying and treating the cause of itchy skin. Common treatments are medicated creams, moist dressings and anti-itch medicines taken by mouth.

Symptoms

Itchy skin can affect small areas, such as the scalp, an arm or a leg. Or it can cover the whole body. Itchy skin can occur without any other noticeable changes on the skin. Or it may come with:

Sometimes itchiness lasts a long time and can be intense. As you rub or scratch the area, it gets itchier. And the more it itches, the more you scratch. Breaking this itch-scratch cycle can be difficult.

When to see a doctor

See your health care provider or a skin disease specialist (dermatologist) if the itching:

If the condition persists for three months despite treatment, see a dermatologist to be evaluated for skin disease. You may also need to see a doctor who specializes in internal medicine (internist) to check for other diseases.

Causes

Causes of itchy skin include:

Sometimes the cause of the itching can't be determined.

Complications

Itchy skin that is severe or lasts more than six weeks can affect the quality of your life. This type is called chronic pruritus. It might disturb your sleep or cause anxiety or depression. Prolonged itching and scratching can increase the intensity of the itch, possibly leading to skin injury, infection and scarring.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing the cause of itchy skin starts with a physical exam and questions about your medical history. If your health care provider thinks your itchy skin is the result of a medical condition, you might have tests, including:

Treatment

Itchy skin treatment focuses on removing the cause of the itch. If home remedies don't ease your symptoms, your health care provider may recommend prescription medicine or other treatments. Controlling itchy skin symptoms can be challenging and may require long-term therapy. Options include:

Lifestyle and home remedies

For temporary relief of itching, try these self-care measures:

Preparing for an appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your primary care provider. Or you may be referred to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist).

Here is information to help you get ready for your appointment and to know what to expect from your health care provider.

What you can do

List your symptoms, when they occurred, and how long they lasted. Also, list all medicines, vitamins and herbs you're taking. Or take the original bottles and a written list of the dosages and directions.

List questions to ask your health care provider. For itchy skin, questions you may want to ask include:

Don't hesitate to ask any other questions you have.

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care provider is likely to begin with your medical history and to ask you some questions, such as:

© 1998-2024 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use.

Learn more about Itchy skin

Treatment options

Care guides

Medicine.com guides (external)