Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Itching is a symptom we have all experienced. Nevertheless, itching can be difficult for a person to describe to others. While itching symptoms vary, it typically leads to a peculiarly uncomfortable skin sensation. It may feel as if something is crawling on (or in) your skin. Itching can be diffuse (generalized all over the body) or localized -- all over or confined to a specific spot -- and there are many causes of diffuse and localized itching. Itching symptoms can be associated with
- dry skin,
- cracked skin,
- flaky skin,
- flaky scalp,
- skin redness,
- bumps on the skin,
- blisters, or
- spots on the skin.
Itching may be most noticeable at night (nocturnal), during the day, or both. When there are itching symptoms, there can be a leathery or scaly texture to the skin depending on the cause.
Itching can be caused by toxins on the skin (contact dermatitis, such as from poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, or grass oils), medications, liver disease, kidney disease, insect bites, hives (urticarial), rare forms of skin cancer (mycosis fungoides and T-cell lymphomas), infections (including chickenpox and fungal infections such as athlete's foot and jock itch), irritation from clothing, eczema, dermatitis herpetiformis, hemorrhoids, and many other conditions, or it can remain unexplained. Infectious causes of itching include sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), parasites (such as scabies, fleas, bedbugs, pinworms, and lice), and viral rashes.
Perhaps the best definition of itching is by the response it evokes -- it is a feeling that makes you want to scratch. Rash or redness can be present with itching from scratching or from the underlying condition. Medically, itching is known as pruritus. Something that is itchy is said to be pruritic.
A review of our Patient Comments indicated that people with itching may also have coexisting symptoms. One patient reported a sensation of something crawling on her skin, while another mentioned a feeling of something moving in his blood. Sometimes cramping and blistering accompany the itching. A couple of patients noted that taking certain medications caused itching while other medications calmed their itching. Read on to learn more about itching symptoms in our Patient Comments.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Causes of Itch
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Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis)
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Is Poison Ivy Contagious?
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Is Ringworm Contagious?
A fungus causes ringworm. Ringworm can be transmitted from person to person. Animals may also spread ringworm. Ringworm causes an...
Is Scabies Contagious?
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Scabies are itch mites that burrow under the skin and produce intense itching that's usually worse at night. Symptoms of scabies...
Scalp Psoriasis (Psoriasis of the Scalp)
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Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition. Symptoms and signs include a red, scaling rash on the scalp, face, ears, and...
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Other Causes of Itch
Diffuse (Generalized) Itching:
- Drug Reactions Such As to Aspirin
- Infectious Diseases
- Medications (Both Prescription and Nonprescription)
Examples of Medications for Itch
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