There are many reasons for itchy skin, but it may be especially common and pertinent during the cold, dry winter season. According to Dr. Cameron West, a Board-certified dermatologist at U.S. Dermatology Partners in Wichita, Kansas, “Winter weather and dry, itchy skin go hand in hand, but drier weather is not the only cause of itchiness. The good news is that most underlying causes of skin itching can be easily managed with changes in skincare routines and basic dermatologic treatments in one of our local dermatology offices.” In this blog, Dr. West walks through some of the most common causes of skin itching and recommended treatment options.
Why Does Skin Itch?
When it comes to the underlying causes of itchy skin, Dr. West says, “There are numerous potential causes of itchy skin, which is referred to as pruritus. It’s important to establish the direct causes of itch in order to ensure the right treatments are utilized. If the itch is caused by something in the environment, determining the underlying cause can also help to eliminate factors that lead to itch.”
Some of the most common causes of skin itching are outlined below, but it’s important to consult with a dermatologist to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
Those who have dry skin or sensitive skin are more prone to itching compared with other skin types. If you have naturally dry or sensitive skin, it’s essential to choose the right skincare products as well as use cosmetics and cleansers with greater care as compared to those with other skin types.
As we age, our skin becomes naturally thinner and drier. That means it’s more likely to be itchy and irritated. Taking additional steps to keep skin hydrated can prevent inflammation and itch as well as reduce the appearance of aging signs like fine lines and wrinkles.
Chronic Skin Conditions
Skin Health Concerns
Damage to the skin like burns, scars, and rashes can also cause itching. Additionally, skin health issues like scabies, insect bites and stings, hives, rashes, and infections can also lead to itching. When the skin heals following a wound or skin health issue, itching may occur. Even after healing, those who develop scars may find the scarred skin feels dry or itchy compared to the surrounding skin.
Seasonal allergies can trigger skin itching, but in most cases, the allergic response that leads to itch is triggered by an allergen or irritant that makes direct contact with the skin. Every person will experience allergic reactions to different elements in their environment, but some of the many common causes of allergic skin response include:
- Chemicals, including dyes, preservatives, fragrances, and other ingredients that may be found in cleaners, hygiene products, and cosmetics, can cause itching and irritation.
- Contact with plants like poison oak, ivy, sumac, and other things in nature can lead to rashes and hives.
- Certain materials like latex or metals may cause skin itching for some people.
- Sun exposure can cause an allergic response in people with photosensitivity.
Fabrics like wool that are naturally rough or scratchy and don’t allow the skin to breathe may lead to itching and irritation. In most cases, switching to clothing with softer and more breathable fabric can alleviate skin itching.
Medical & Mental Health Conditions
Itching can also be a warning sign of certain medical conditions, including diabetes, kidney or liver disease, thyroid issues, and anemia, among others. Fungal infections like athlete’s foot can cause severe itchiness. Additionally, shifts in hormones may be linked to itching. This is common for women during pregnancy and menopause. Certain nerve disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS) and shingles trigger skin itch. In addition to medical concerns, some mental health disorders are linked to itching skin, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Finally, an improperly functioning nervous system may lead to an itchy skin condition called neuropathic itch.
Some medications, including those for blood pressure regulation, can lead to skin reactions and itching. In many cases, there are steps you can take to prevent itching related to these medications, or your doctor can help you find an alternative medication that does not cause itching. For some, the itch is only a temporary side effect of medications, and it will decrease over time.
How Do Dermatologists Help with Itchy Skin?
According to Dr. West, “If you’re experiencing itchy skin, talk to a dermatologist to ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis of the underlying causes. Then, they can help you develop a strategy to address itchy skin and prevent further flare-ups. Specifically, it’s important to avoid whatever caused the itch to begin with, and in order to do that, you need to identify the underlying cause.”
Each patient’s treatment plan to address itch will be specific to their needs and directly related to the underlying causes of itching, but some of the most recommended dermatologic solutions for itchy skin include:
- Topical ointments – Corticosteroids and other medicated creams and ointments may be applied topically to the affected area to alleviate itchiness and aid in avoiding scratching. These ointments may be purchased over the counter or in prescription-strength formulas, depending on severity.
- Oral medications – Corticosteroid pills may be taken to alleviate itching. In most cases, these pills are taken for a short time. Additionally, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory medications, and allergy medications, either over the counter or prescription, may be taken to alleviate symptoms of skin itch and prevent itchy skin.
- Biologics – For chronic skin conditions like eczema, contact dermatitis, and psoriasis that are linked to inflammation and overactive immune response, biologics may be beneficial to reduce itch and improve skin health and general well-being.
- Phototherapy – Light therapy can be used to address red, inflamed, and itching skin. It’s usually only recommended for those who have severe and treatment-resistant skin itch, or those who wish to see faster results.
In addition to these dermatologic treatments, Dr. West says, “It’s important to take the right steps to adjust your daily skincare routine to promote healing and reduce the itch. Specifically, it may be beneficial to streamline your skincare routine temporarily. Use a gentle cleanser each day to thoroughly and gently cleanse the skin. Then, apply a good moisturizer morning and evening to keep the skin hydrated. In the morning, apply sunscreen. If you have skin damage, burns, scarring, or other injuries causing itch, you may want to use a healing skincare serum like the ALASTIN Restorative Skin Complex with TriHex Technology. This product offers relief from itch and promotes healing. You should avoid scratching, which can lead to an increased risk of scarring and infection. If you do experience intense or severe itch, you can use a cool compress to deliver immediate relief.”
Need to Visit a Dermatologist?
If you experience itchy skin regularly or you currently have a rash, hives, or other skin health concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to the U.S. Dermatology Partners team. We make getting started working with our local practices quick and easy. Simply, take a few moments to complete our online scheduling request form. Once you do, one of our local dermatology offices will be in touch to finalize the details of your upcoming appointment.
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