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Itching is an unpleasant sensation that compels a person to scratch the affected area. Mild to moderate itching is a common symptom but occasionally may be severe and frustrating. The medical name for itching is pruritus.
Itching can affect any area of the body. It can either be:
Sometimes, there is a rash or a spot where the itching occurs.
Itching can be caused by a number of different conditions. For example:
Read more detailed information about possible causes of itching.
In many cases, treating the underlying condition will ease the itching. However, there are things you can do to relieve itching, including:
Read more about treatments to relieve itching.
Many cases of itching will get better over a short period of time. However, it is important to visit your doctor if your itching is not improving or is affecting your quality of life.
You should see your doctor if your itching is:
Also visit your doctor as soon as possible if your entire body itches and there is no obvious cause. It could be a symptom of a more serious condition.
Your doctor may carry out tests to determine the cause of the itching, such as:
There are many different possible causes of itching.
For example, itching can be a symptom of:
Each of these possible causes of itching is described in more detail below.
Skin conditions that can cause itching include:
Itching is sometimes caused by environmental factors, such as:
Itching can also be caused by the following pests:
Itching may also be a symptom of an infection, such as:
Fungal and yeast infections tend to cause itching in a specific area of the body. However, in untreated cases, or cases that do not respond well to treatment, itching may become generalised.
Systemic conditions are conditions that affect the entire body. Sometimes, itching can be a symptom of systemic conditions, such as:
In women, itching can sometimes be caused by hormonal changes.
Itching often affects pregnant women and usually disappears after the birth. A number of skin conditions can develop during pregnancy and cause itchy skin. They include:
Read more information about itching and obstetric cholestasis in pregnancy.
Pregnant women may also experience eczema and psoriasis.
Seek advice from your midwife or doctor if you have itching or any unusual skin rashes during your pregnancy.
Itching is also a common symptom of the menopause, which is where a woman’s periods stop, at around 52 years of age, as a result of hormonal changes. Changes in the levels of hormones, such as oestrogen, that occur during the menopause are thought to be responsible for the itching.
The type of treatment you receive for itching will depend on the cause.
If you are referred for further investigations, there are things you can do to give yourself some relief.
Using a cold compress such as damp flannel, or applying calamine lotion to the affected area may help relieve your itching.
When bathing or showering you should:
Regarding clothing and bed linen, you should:
With regard to medication, you can use:
Antihistamine tablets may also make you feel drowsy, therefore it's important you do not drive, use power tools or heavy machinery while taking them.
Some antidepressants such as paroxetine or sertraline can help relieve itching (if your doctor prescribes these, it does not mean you are depressed).
If you have itching in hairy areas, such as your scalp, lotions can be prescribed specifically for these areas, rather than using sticky creams.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.