Do you feel like scratching your skin all the time? Itchy skin is a common problem that affects many people. Depending on the severity, it can be mildly annoying to intensely aggravating, disrupting your daily activities and sleep.
Itching is symptomatic of an underlying condition, which can range from mild to severe. Itching may present itself with an obvious manifestation such as in the case mosquito or bug bites, eczema, and allergic dermatitis.
In the case of mosquito or insect bites, the sting produces a skin reaction that causes redness and swelling along with intense itching in the affected area for a limited time.
Similarly, people with eczema or allergic contact dermatitis are prone to recurrent flare-ups characterized by the development of an itchy rash in the affected area. Because their itch symptoms tend to be relatively long term, people with such skin ailments learn to live with the itch and manage episodes by resorting to creams and ointments.
The cause of itching, however, can remain quite ambiguous if the sensation of itching is not accompanied by a rash or any other visible sign of skin irritation. In the absence of physically noticeable symptoms, it becomes especially difficult to reach a conclusive diagnosis.
Similarly, in the absence of proper diagnosis, the doctor may find it tricky to determine which treatment option will be best suited for your case.
What is an Itch?
Itchy skin, medically referred to as pruritus, is a relatively common complaint that can vary significantly in terms of intensity, duration, and frequency.
An itch usually sets in as a natural defensive response to any kind of skin irritation. This tingling sensation can either be limited or localized to a specific area of skin or encompass the entire body in a generalized manner.
The epidermis or surface layer of the skin functions as a protective barrier against environmental irritants. Even the slightest disruption or breach in this protective cover triggers our immune system into action.
In order to counter the source of the irritation, the skin cells take cover by releasing an inflammatory chemical called histamine, which leads to the onset of an itching spell. Consequently, the receptors in our skin relay a message to our brain that encourages us to scratch the itch.
The urge to scratch can be quite overwhelming and difficult to control or ignore, given that it’s the immediate natural reaction that our body is accustomed to. However, the resultant relief is almost always short lived.
In fact, frequent and incessant scratching can be counterproductive and further hamper the integrity of the skin barrier. The sharpness of your nails plus the rigorous friction against the skin can render it thick and leathery over time.
Additionally, when you scratch the itchy area, the skin cells feel they are still under attack and continue to send itch-inducing messages to the brain. Thus, scratching only leads to more scratching without any real relief from this itch cycle.
People with dry skin tend to be more vulnerable to external itch-inducing irritants. This is primarily because their protective barrier lacks the necessary moisture and skin lipids required for forming an effective shield against the culpable allergens.
Causes of Itchy Skin
The release of histamine, which is responsible for itchy skin, can be triggered by many possible causes, which include the following:
- Common skin conditions including eczema, dandruff, psoriasis, and prurigo
- Skin infestation by parasites such as lice or scabies
- Dry skin (xerosis) due to insufficient moisture or oils in the skin
- An allergic response to certain cosmetics, fabrics, metals, dyes, food, or medications
- Skin exposure to or contact with common allergens such as chemicals, poison ivy, stinging nettles, and detergents
- Hormonal changes or disorders
- Excessive perspiration
- A fungal infection such as ringworm, athlete’s foot, and thrush
- Getting bitten or stung by an insect
- Psychological conditions such as anxiety and stress
- Excessive sun exposure or sunburn
- Conditions that hamper the nervous system such as shingles, multiple sclerosis, pinched nerves, and diabetes
- Some chronic long-term ailments such as thyroid issues, liver disease, and certain forms of cancer
- Nutritional deficiencies including insufficient vitamin A and iron in the body
Diagnosis of Itchy Skin
In an effort to pin down the underlying reason for your itchy troubles, your healthcare provider will administer a physical examination and will ask you several questions about your symptoms.
By conducting an in-depth analysis and assessment of your condition, the doctor will be able to make an informed diagnosis and subsequently recommend the appropriate treatment strategy. You may be asked about the following:
- How long has the skin irritation persisted?
- Is the itch consistent or do you experience recurring episodes?
- Do you suffer from any active allergies?
- Which area of the skin appears to be most itchy?
- Are you currently on any medication or have you recently been on any medication? If so, what?
- Have you been exposed to or been in contact with any irritating substances?
If your answers and the results of the physical exam continue to be inconclusive, your doctor may order a few additional tests to determine the cause of your itching. These include the following:
- Your thyroid function may be tested to eliminate thyroid issues as the culpable cause.
- A skin test can help determine if the itching is due to an ongoing allergic reaction to something.
- Skin biopsy may be conducted to rule out an infection as the root cause.
- Blood test can point towards an underlying condition.
Treatment for Itchy Skin
The only way to banish itchy skin for good is to address the underlying skin condition or systemic disease which is causing it in the first place.
In the meantime, the treatment options mainly focus on mitigating the itch-scratch cycle and the intensity of the itch. These preliminary treatments for itching include topical steroid creams, oral antihistamines, and adequate.
How to Prevent and Cope with Itchy Skin
Adhering to the following dermatologist-recommended tips can help prevent skin itchiness to a significant degree:
- When buying lotions, soaps, and detergents, always check out their composition to rule out any known skin allergens and always opt for the fragrance-free variants.
- Avoid taking long hot baths or showers. Excessive and extensive exposure to hot water strips away the natural oils and moisture of your skin and renders it utterly dry and prone to itchiness. Thus, it’s always better to bathe with lukewarm water. Also, limit the duration of your showers or baths to not more than 10 minutes.
- Because coarse fabrics such as wool can rub against your skin and cause irritation, it is advisable to wear loose-fitting clothes made of skin-friendly fabrics such as cotton and linen.
- Cut back on your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food as they might end up aggravating your itch.
- Make sure that you do not subject your skin to drastic temperature fluctuations. Keep your living environment comfortably cool and humid. If you happen to suffer from dry skin or eczema, your skin condition is likely to worsen during winter on account of the arid air. Using a sterile humidifier can make up for the lack of moisture in the air and keep your skin adequately lubricated.
- If your dermatologist prescribes any topical medication for your itchy or dry skin, always follow his/her stipulated directions for application. It is generally recommended to apply medicated skin creams and ointments to the affected areas before applying moisturizer to your entire body, including areas treated with medication.
- File your nails regularly and keep them clean, short, and smooth.
- Given that stress contributes to making your itch worse, managing your stress levels is imperative.
- If the urge to scratch is particularly overwhelming, you might do well by patting the itching skin instead of scratching it.
When to See a Doctor
A visit to the doctor skin specialist/dermatologist is warranted if:
- The itching fails to subside despite adequate self-care measures and persists for more than 2 weeks.
- You experience severe itching that it hampers your daily routines or causes sleep disruptions.
- You experience unexplained and sudden episodes of itching that come on out of the blue.
- Your entire body turns itchy.
Because certain distressing symptoms can be indicative of a far more serious underlying cause, it is essential to get prompt medical treatment if your itchy skin is accompanied by the following:
- Pain in the abdomen or yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin can signal a liver or gallbladder ailment.
- Feeling unusually weak, numbness, or tingling sensation may point towards a nervous system disorder.
- Excessive thirst, weight loss, and an abnormally frequent need to pee can be signs of diabetes.
- Unexplained weight loss, feelings of exhaustion, and night sweats can be indicative of a serious infection or a tumor.
Home Remedies to Relieve Itching
Itching can have varied causes including allergic reactions, insect bites, skin infections, dry weather, soaps and detergents, and even some medications.
While scratching gives momentary relief, it can also lead to injuries and infections. Many effective home remedies can give you relief from itchy skin and prevent complications caused by excessive scratching.
Here are some time-tested and natural ways to banish itchy skin. Unless otherwise noted, use these remedies for as long as needed to get adequate relief.
1. Apply Baking Soda
Baking soda is the most common home remedy for itchy skin as well as skin rashes. Baking soda has a soothing effect due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, it acts as a natural acid neutralizer that helps relieve itching.
- Add 1 cup of baking soda to a bathtub filled with cool water. Stir it well to distribute the baking soda thoroughly. Soak in this water for about half an hour. Pat yourself dry instead of rubbing the skin with a towel. Do this once daily.
- For more localized itching, prepare a paste by mixing 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 1 tablespoon of water. Apply the paste on the affected areas and leave it on for about 10 minutes. Do this once daily.
2. Colloidal Oatmeal Helps Relieve Dryness and Itching
Colloidal oatmeal (oats ground into an extremely fine powder) helps soothe and comfort itchy skin. It contains anti-irritating, anti-inflammatory, and soothing properties that provide instant relief from itching.
A study found that extracts of colloidal oatmeal diminished pro-inflammatory cytokines in vitro and the colloidal oat skin protectant lotion showed significant clinical improvements in skin dryness, scaling, roughness, and itch intensity.
- Add 1–2 cups of colloidal oatmeal to a bathtub filled with lukewarm water. Soak in this water for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Never use hot water as it may irritate your skin more. You can take an oatmeal bath up to three times a day, depending on the severity of your condition.
- Add a little water to 2 tablespoons of colloidal oatmeal and leave it until it thickens to a paste-like consistency. Apply this mixture on the itchy skin, cover it with a cloth, and leave it on for half an hour. Follow this remedy once daily.
If colloidal oatmeal is not available, you can use unprocessed oat flour or whole oats that have been ground in a food processor.
3. Use Gentle Cold Therapy for Relief
The sensations of both cold and itching travel along the same nerve fibers in the body, so applying cool water on the affected skin can bring instant relief from itchiness. There are many ways to use cool water for itchy skin.
- Run cool tap water over the affected skin for as long as necessary.
- Rub an ice cube wrapped in a cloth over the affected area.
- Take a cool shower or bath.
- Apply a cold compress or a cloth wet with cool water to the affected area.
4. Olive Oil Helps Your Skin Heal Better
Olive oil helps in healing and promotes skin renewal given it is packed with vitamin E and antioxidants. It also soothes the skin and reduces itching.
- Rub extra-virgin olive oil or a combination of olive oil and honey on your rash a few times daily until it heals.
- Also, add a pinch of turmeric powder to olive oil and apply the mixture two or three times a day for a few days. Turmeric is rich in antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which soothe rashes and relieve itching.
Aside from olive oil, castor oil and coconut oil also help heal rashes naturally. A combination of vitamin E oil and cod liver oil also makes for a therapeutic mix.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar is a Skin-Friendly Ingredient
- Add 1 or 2 cups of apple cider vinegar to lukewarm bath water. Soak in this water for 15 to 30 minutes. Then, pat your skin dry and apply a light moisturizer. Do this daily.
- To treat a more localized itching, mix equal amounts of apple cider vinegar and water, and apply on the affected areas using a cotton ball. Leave it on for 20 minutes, and then rinse it off with lukewarm water. Do this once or twice daily for a few days.
6. Apply a Therapeutic Paste of Juniper Berries and Cloves
Juniper berries and cloves used together qualify as an excellent home remedy for itchy skin. Juniper berries have great anti-inflammatory properties, while cloves contain a powerful essential oil that helps numb the nerve endings in the aggravated skin and thereby tone down the itching sensations.
- Melt 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a saucepan.
- In another saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of beeswax.
- Add the melted butter to the melted beeswax and stir well.
- Stir in 5 tablespoons of ground juniper berries and 3 tablespoons of ground cloves.
- Allow the mixture to cool.
- Apply the mixture on the affected skin and leave it on overnight.
- In the morning, take a cool shower or bath.
- Do this daily.
7. Use Aloe Vera for Healthy Skin
Your skin cannot ask for a better friend than aloe vera. The clear, viscous gel in the aloe vera leaves is nothing short of a skin-healing salve.
It contains excellent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, all of which are a boon for itchy, irritated skin. Plus, it is generously supplied with vitamin E that helps keep the skin sufficiently moisturized and thereby reduce itching.
- Extract the gel from 1 aloe vera leaf. Apply the gel on the affected area. Leave it on for 15 minutes and then rinse it off with lukewarm water. Follow this simple remedy once daily.
- Alternatively, make a paste by adding 1 tablespoon of aloe vera gel to 2 tablespoons of green clay. Apply the paste on the affected area and allow it to dry on its own. Rinse it off with lukewarm water. Do this once daily.
8. Basil Helps Numb the Itching
Basil is a useful herb for mitigating skin itchiness as it contains a high amount of eugenol, which is a potent essential oil that also serves as a topical anesthetic. Plus, it has compounds called camphor and thymol that effectively combat itching.
- Add 1 tablespoon of dried basil leaves to 2 cups of boiling water. Cover the pan for a few minutes. Allow the mixture to cool and then apply it on the affected area using a cotton cloth. Save the remaining solution in a jar for later use. Repeat the process as often as necessary.
- Alternatively, crush a few basil leaves and rub them directly on the affected skin. Allow it to dry for some time before rinsing it off with lukewarm water. Do this as many times as needed for relief.
9. Use Peppermint Oil for its Soothing Effect
Peppermint oil has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, analgesic, and soothing properties that help relieve itching caused by dermatitis, scabies, or stress.
In a study, the use of peppermint oil for treating pruritus of hepatic, renal, and diabetic origin was found to be significantly helpful in alleviating the condition.
- Add several drops of peppermint oil to a bathtub filled with lukewarm water. Soak in this water for half an hour. Pat your skin dry and then apply a moisturizing lotion. Do this once daily.
- Add 3 or 4 drops of peppermint oil to 1 tablespoon of carrier oil such as coconut, olive, and almond oil. Apply the diluted peppermint oil to the affected skin area. Massage the area gently so the oil penetrates deep into the skin. Follow this remedy once or twice daily.
Next time you suffer from itchy skin, simply try one of these home remedies instead of scratching like crazy.
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