Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Pruritus: Why Am I Itching?

 

Am Fam Physician. 2022 Jan ;105(1):online.

  See related article on pruritus

What is pruritus?

Pruritus (proo-RYE-tis) is itchy skin or a feeling that you need to scratch. It might hurt and can cause sleep problems and depression if it becomes severe.

What causes it?

Many conditions cause itching; some common causes:

  • Skin conditions like dry skin or eczema

  • Allergic reactions to food, detergents, cosmetics, soaps, medicines

  • Parasites or bugs like lice and scabies

  • Insect bites

  • Certain cancers

  • Liver, kidney, and thyroid disease

  • Nerve issues

  • Pregnancy

How is pruritus treated?

Some of the following home care measures may help:

  • Avoid items that may be causing the itching, like perfumes, soaps, or detergents.

  • Limit water exposure. Try to keep baths and showers short, less than 20 minutes. Avoid hot water; use lukewarm water instead.

  • Use gentle moisturizing creams or ointments (such as petroleum jelly) often, especially after bathing.

  • Apply cool compresses to itchy areas.

  • Keep your bedroom cool at night while you sleep.

When should I see my doctor if I am itching?

  • You have severe itching with no obvious cause

  • Itching does not get better with home care measures

  • Your skin is red, swollen, warm, or leaking fluid

  • You are older than 65 years

  • You have fevers or weight loss

What will happen at my doctor's visit?

Your doctor will ask you about the itching and will examine you. You may need skin tests to help figure out why you are itching.

Your doctor may prescribe a cream, ointment, or pill to stop the itching or treat a skin infection.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

https://familydoctor.org/condition/pruritus

MedlinePlus: Itching

https://medlineplus.gov/itching.html

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/what-makes-us-Itch


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

 

Copyright © 2022 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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