This can be a tricky question to answer because there isn’t a single cause for itchy skin. Many itchy skin conditions can create this signature annoyance that gets under your skin and makes you want to crawl out of it.
This article will explore the causes of itchy, irritated skin and suggest methods for easing your suffering. As always, it’s good to have a doctor look at the affected area to be sure your itch isn’t part of something more serious.
Itchy Skin Symptoms
Itchy skin conditions cause — well, itchy skin. Duh! But that’s only a part of it. Along with the uncomfortable buzz, you might find localized redness, swelling, blisters, flaking skin, rough patches, welts, and raised bumps. If you’re scratching the area a lot, you might also find breaks in the skin accompanied by oozing, weeping, or bleeding.
Most of these symptoms are a natural reaction to either internal or external stressors. Histamines are the most common cause of itchy skin conditions. When our body is exposed to an antigen — a substance that can provoke an immune response — like an allergen, pathogen, or synthetic chemical, our body releases histamines. These compounds help the body shed whatever’s not agreeing with it, inducing a runny nose, watery eyes, swelling, and, of course, itchy skin.
What Is Itchy Skin a Sign Of?
That bothersome itch that’s keeping you up at night, forcing you to buy terrible products you don’t need from bad infomercials at 3:00 AM, could have a range of causes. Some of these include:
- Bug bites like those from mosquitos, lice, mites, bed bugs, scabies, and pinworms
- Skin contact with plants like poison ivy, oak, and sumac
- Infections such as impetigo and folliculitis
- Skin conditions like eczema (atopic dermatitis), psoriasis, and xerosis
- Psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression
- Allergies, hives, and contact dermatitis
- Irritation caused by chemicals, cleansers, and rough fabrics
- Nervous system conditions like shingles, multiple sclerosis, and nerve damage
- Health conditions such as kidney or liver disease, iron deficiency, and thyroid problems
Soothing Itchy Skin
Some of these causes require a doctor’s visit to diagnose correctly. If your itchy skin isn’t severe, you can start by eliminating possible causes. Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing and moisturize your skin frequently with a hypoallergenic skin cream to stop itchy skin. Stop using skincare products that feature lanolin, parabens, dyes, and fragrances.
If you think you might be allergic to something, avoid it for a period of time and see if your itchy skin conditions improve. You can also try over-the-counter antihistamines to batten down your body’s natural histamine reaction.
A good treatment routine is to take a lukewarm shower or bath with an irritant free shampoo and body wash designed for people with itchy skin conditions. Towel off, and then immediately apply a moisturizing cream.
Whatever you do, resist the urge to scratch. Scratching can exacerbate existing sensitivities and make your itchy skin worse. In extreme cases, it can cause the skin to rupture, bleed, and get infected. If you’re prone to scratching, trim your nails as short as possible and consider wrapping the affected area in a soft cotton cloth to help protect it from the worst damage your nails can inflict.
Remember, the more you think about it, the more it will itch. Try to put it out of your mind. Sometimes that’s enough to reduce itchy skin conditions.