Pruritis

Overview

What is pruritis?

Pruritis is itchy skin that makes you want to scratch. It can be caused by many things. Normally, itchy skin isn’t serious, but it can make you uncomfortable. Sometimes, itchy skin is caused by a serious medical condition. However, most itchy skin can be treated at home with lotions, moisturizers, and over-the-counter medicines.

Causes & Risk Factors

What causes pruritis?

Many different things can cause itchy skin. For example, it may be caused by allergies, infections, certain medicines, or skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. Many times itchy skin just happens when your skin is dry. This pattern is very common in the winter.

Treatment

How do I treat itchy skin?

Moisturizers work well to treat dry, itchy skin. Choose a moisturizer that is hypoallergenic (it should say so on the label). This means that this type of moisturizer is less likely to cause an allergic reaction on your skin. The best moisturizers are also the most "greasy." Ointments (or oils) are best, followed by creams, and then lotions.

Put a moisturizer on your skin 3 or 4 times during the day. Put moisturizer on right after you wash or bathe. This will hold in the moisture from the water. If you have very dry hands, put petroleum jelly (one brand name: Vaseline) on them before you go to bed at night and sleep with your hands in cotton-lined gloves.

Changing your bathing habits can also help. If you bathe too often, it may dry out your skin. Try to take short, lukewarm baths or showers. Oatmeal baths (one brand name: Aveeno) may be soothing to dry skin. Use a mild soap every day to clean your genital area and under your arms. Use soap on other parts of your body 2 or 3 times a week only.

Some people use bath oils to help make their skin less dry. However, these oils can make your tub slippery. To avoid slipping and falling, put the oil on your skin after you get out of the bathtub.

How can I relieve itching?

A moisturizer might be all you need to relieve itching. If a moisturizer does not help enough, you could try using 1% hydrocortisone steroid skin cream for a week. If this is not helpful, your doctor may prescribe stronger steroids or antihistamine pills.

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you are using a steroid cream or ointment to treat your itching. Do not use steroid creams to treat itching for longer than 1 to 2 weeks unless your doctor recommends it. Do not put a steroid cream on your face or genital area. Steroid creams may make your skin get very thin and may cause other skin problems.

When should I see my doctor because of itchy skin?

Dry, irritated skin is more likely to get infected. Infected skin is red, warm and swollen. It may ooze fluid. You may need antibiotics to get rid of this kind of infection.

Severe itching or pain, especially in older adults, sometimes is caused by a serious medical problem. Call your doctor if you are an older person who has severe itching or pain that doesn’t have an obvious cause and doesn’t get better within 2 weeks.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Why is my skin so dry?

  • Should I use a humidifier in my house?

  • Will my skin be less dry and itchy during the summer?

  • What moisturizer would you recommend?

  • Should I use a prescription lotion?

  • If my skin starts to crack and bleed, what should I do?

  • Should I change my soap?

  • Should I change the detergent I use?

  • Should I wear gloves when I work in the water?

  • Is there something I can use to stop my skin from itching?

Citations

  • Pruritus by S Moses, M.D.( 09/15/03, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030915/1135.html)