What Is Itchy Skin?

Itchy skin is an uncomfortable, irritating sensation that makes you want to scratch. You may have itchy skin over certain small areas, such as on an arm or leg, or your whole body may itch. Depending on the cause of your itchy skin, it may appear normal or it may be red or rough or have bumps or blisters. Itchy skin may be the result of a rash or another skin condition, or it may be a symptom of a disease, such as liver disease or kidney failure.

Long-term relief requires identifying and treating the cause. Itchy skin treatments include medications, wet dressings and light therapy. Self-care measures, including using anti-itch products and taking cool baths, also can help.

Causes

Several things can trigger itchy skin and lead to its cause: Dry skin, skin conditions and rashes, nerve disorders, internal diseases, allergic reactions and reactions to drugs, or pregnancy.

Itching skin can affect the quality of your life. Prolonged itching and scratching may increase the intensity of the itch possibly leading to skin injury, infection and scarring.

See your doctor if the itching:

  • Lasts more than two weeks and doesn’t improve with self-care measures
  • Is severe and distracts you from your daily routines or prevents you from sleeping
  • Can’t be easily explained
  • Affects your whole body

Treatments

Tracking down the cause of your itch can take time and involve a physical exam and a careful history. If your doctor suspects your itchy skin is the result of an underlying medical condition, he or she may perform tests, including blood tests, a chemistry profile, thyroid tests, and chest x-rays.

Once a cause is identified, treatments for itchy skin may include medications, such as corticosteroid creams, oral antihistamines, and other drugs. Other itch-relief methods also may be recommended such as light therapy.

If an internal disease is found — whether it’s kidney disease, iron deficiency or a thyroid problem — treating that disease often relieves the itch.

In some cases, you may be referred to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist).