Chronic Itching: When You Should be Concerned
Everybody gets an itch at some point during the day. Usually, a moment’s attention will take care of it, but for a surprisingly large number of people, that’s just a dream. Around 22% of us will suffer from a chronic itch – one that goes on for 6 weeks or longer – at some point in our lives.
Many itches are nothing to be worried about. They’re caused by several common and treatable conditions. But sometimes, itching is a sign that something else is going on in the body that needs further investigation.
Let’s take a closer look at the causes of itching and when you should see your doctor about it.
Common Causes of Itching
Itchy skin is known medically as pruritus. It can seem to come from nowhere, but the most common causes are skin problems.
Sometimes skin irritation takes a very obvious form. The skin may be dry, leathery or scaly. In these cases, using moisturizing creams to hydrate the area can help.
Other times, you may develop a rash, bumps or spots. A pharmacist may be able to help you find an over-the-counter medication to treat the underlying issue. There are also oral anti-itch medications that can help to take the edge off the itchiness.
But sometimes, there are no obvious signs of inflammation on the skin at all, and the source of the itch may be a mystery.
The most common skin conditions that cause itching are:
- Dry skin
- Insect bites
Allergic reactions can also cause skin irritation and itching. Common allergens include:
- Perfumes and aftershaves
- Cleaning products
These allergens usually cause an intense itch when you have been exposed to them that fades over time. In the meantime, you can treat itchy skin with calamine lotion, cool compresses or hydrocortisone cream.
Changes in Medication
Some medications can cause itching as a side effect. If you’ve recently changed your prescription and have started itching, the new medication could be to blame. Common drugs that cause itching include:
- Allopurinol (prescribed for gout)
- ACE inhibitors (for hypertension)
- Diuretics (for fluid retention)
If you suspect that your itching may be caused by your medication, don’t stop taking it without talking to your doctor first. The symptoms may settle down in time, or your doctor may be able to switch you over to a different treatment.
Internal Conditions that Cause Itching
Although most itching can be traced back to skin problems, internal conditions can also be the root cause.
If you’re experiencing itching all over, with no obvious skin irritation, it may be caused by an internal condition. Have you tried removing allergens and using over-the-counter treatments and still can’t get any relief? It’s important to get checked out by your doctor.
Internal diseases that can cause itching include:
- Liver disease
- Thyroid diseases
- Multiple myeloma
Chronic itching can also be traced back to several nerve disorders. This can include multiple sclerosis and shingles. Sometimes psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder can also be at play.
When an itch has no obvious cause and does not respond to treatment, don’t suffer in silence. Consult a doctor who will help to get to the root of the problem and treat any underlying conditions before they get worse.
Is Scratching the Answer?
Every time we itch, we experience an overwhelming urge to start scratching. The problem is that scratching, especially chronic scratching, may only make the problem worse.
When we scratch, it feels good for a moment. In some cases, the body releases serotonin when we scratch. This can actually make the itch feel even itchier! Some people also find that when they scratch one itch, another part of their body starts to itch.
It’s a cycle that’s tough to break. But chronic scratching can lead to breaks in the skin. These wounds can become infected and lead to scars.
Rather than scratching an itch, it’s better to lightly tap, rub, or pat the affected area. A cold compress can also help with some forms of itching. But the best thing to do is find out and treat the root cause.
Your doctor can advise you on what’s causing the itch, so you know how to treat it. It may be as simple as using moisturizer more frequently to stop your skin from drying out. In some cases, you may need a prescription medication to treat the underlying problem.
When Should You See a Doctor?
You may be able to shrug off itchy skin that lasts for a day or two, but chronic itching can take over your life.
If your itching lasts for more than two weeks and is not getting better, it’s time to see a doctor. He or she will help you to identify the root cause and the most suitable course of treatment.
You should also see a doctor if your itch is so severe that it’s disrupting your sleep or daily life, regardless of the length of time you’ve had it. Also, see a doctor if the itch affects your whole body, comes on suddenly with no explanation, or is accompanied by other symptoms.
These scenarios could indicate that an internal condition is responsible. Your doctor will be able to make an initial diagnosis and refer you to either a dermatologist or an internist for further investigation.
Treat that Itch
Chronic itching is no joke. It can make everyday tasks overwhelming and take the joy out of life.
Most of the time, a common skin condition is to blame. But sometimes, it’s a sign of something internal that needs to be investigated.
Whatever you suspect the cause of your itch to be, it’s good to seek expert help. At Brown & Toland Physicians, we connect Bay Area residents with the best health care providers.
Search for a doctor today or call us at 800.225.5637 for more information.
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The content of this Website or Blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website or Blog.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately, call your doctor, or go to the emergency room/urgent care.