Pruritus is another name for itchy skin. There are many possible causes, ranging from eczema and dry skin to bed bugs, fungal infections, liver disease, and anxiety.

Itchy skin can be the result of a rash or another skin condition. It can also be a symptom of a more serious condition such as liver disease or kidney failure.

It is important to identify the problem and treat the underlying cause to get relief.

This article examines the potential causes of itchy skin and suggests how to ease the itching and treat the underlying condition.

Skin serves a vital purpose as the barrier that protects the inside of the body. It is filled with special cells of the immune system that can protect the body and skin from viruses, bacteria, and other hidden threats.

Once the skin cells detect any type of suspicious substance, they trigger a reaction that causes the area to become inflamed. Medical professionals refer to this inflammation as a rash or dermatitis. This can lead to itching.

Immune cells can react to something that touches the skin, a whole-body infection, or an illness. Some rashes are inflamed, painful, and irritated, while others can lead to blisters or patches of raw skin.

Itching is a symptom common to many skin complaints. Skin can itch all over the body or only in specific areas.

Here are some specific causes of pruritus:

Dry skin

When the skin loses too much water, it can become dry. Those with excessively dry skin can experience a nearly constant itch.

Common signs and symptoms of dry skin include:

  • rough, scaly, or flaking skin
  • excessive itching
  • gray or ashy-looking skin in people with dark skin
  • cracks in the skin that are prone to bleeding
  • chapped or cracked skin or lips

Environmental factors leading to dry skin include excessively hot or cold weather with low humidity. Washing too much can also cause dry skin.

A good moisturizer can usually help relieve symptoms of dry skin. Extremely dry skin can be a warning sign of dermatitis, so it may be necessary to see a dermatologist to help get relief and keep the condition from worsening.

It is important to seek help to treat very dry skin because cracks in the skin can allow germs to enter and lead to an infection. Inflamed, sore spots on the skin are often an early sign of a potential infection.

A skin specialist may prescribe a special moisturizer to apply throughout the day or a topical medication to apply directly to the skin.

Learn about what causes patches of dry skin.


Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common cause of skin rash in children.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) reports that eczema affects 10–20% of children but only 1–3% of adults.

A person’s genes and immune system may play a role in the development of eczema.

With eczema, there are gaps in the skin barrier. These gaps in the skin barrier allow:

  • moisture to escape from the skin, which leads to dryness
  • dust mites and fragrances to enter the skin, leading to inflammation
  • viruses and bacteria to enter the skin, leading to infection

A person can work with a dermatologist to develop a treatment plan to control eczema. A treatment plan will involve a skin care plan and ways to manage triggers. Treating eczema can help to:

  • ease symptoms
  • reduce flare-ups
  • prevent eczema from worsening
  • reduce the risk of infection
  • keep the skin hydrated
Learn more

Learn more about how to treat eczema:


Irritation and allergic reactions can also cause itchy skin. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin directly comes into contact with an allergen.

A person with irritant or allergic contact dermatitis will develop an inflamed, itchy rash that can include small blisters or bumps. The rash arises whenever the skin comes into contact with the allergen, a substance the immune system attacks. There can be a time delay between exposure to the allergen and when the rash occurs.

Touching clothing, pets, chemicals, soaps, and substances such as poison ivy or cosmetics can trigger allergic reactions. Food allergies can also cause the skin to itch.

Nickel allergies are quite common. When someone comes into contact with jewelry that contains even a small amount of nickel, they can develop inflamed, bumpy, itchy, and swollen skin at the point of contact.

For a person with an allergic reaction to a particular substance, one of the easiest things to do is to avoid that product or substance. Over-the-counter creams or medicated creams can help clear up a rash.

Learn about how allergies develop.


Not getting enough fluids puts the body in a state of dehydration. Dehydration can result in dry skin, which can lead to itching.

A dehydrated person’s skin may look dry, dull, or sunken. Other symptoms of dehydration include headaches, fatigue, and muscle cramps.

A dehydrated person will also notice a reduced amount of urine that might also be darker yellow and stronger smelling. Their mouth will feel dry, and their skin will not bounce back as well when squeezed.

A person can treat mild cases of dehydration by drinking more fluids, especially water. Serious cases require medical attention.


Hives are a type of skin inflammation caused by the release of a chemical in the body called histamine. This release causes small blood vessels to leak, which causes the skin to swell. Hives can cause uncomfortable itching and be painful. However, they are not contagious.

While hives are not typically dangerous, swelling reactions affecting the lips, tongue, throat, or breathing require emergency medical attention.

There are two kinds of hives:

  • Acute hives: These can occur after coming into contact with an allergic trigger, such as a particular food or medication. Non-allergic causes, such as excessively hot or cold weather, sun exposure, or exercise, can also serve as a trigger.
  • Chronic hives: Some long-term conditions are associated with hives. In other cases, knowing what is causing a person’s hives is difficult. They can come back regularly for months or even years. Even when a doctor cannot determine the cause, the condition often improves over time.

The ACAAI says that hives affect about 20% of people at some point in their life.

Learn more about treating hives.

Bug bites

Bug bites often cause a person’s skin to flare up, resulting in itchiness. Mosquito and spider bites will often produce an inflamed, swollen bite mark.

Bites from bed bugs and scabies may be grouped across larger areas of skin and can cause itchiness all over the body. If a person suspects they have scabies, they should contact a doctor.

Bed bugs are difficult to eliminate. If a person suspects a bed bug infestation, they should consult a pest control professional.

Learn more

Learn more about bug bites:


People may experience an itching feeling that has no physical cause. Some mental health conditions have associations with itching. Excessive scratching can lead to skin damage.

Compulsive scratching may be the result of conditions such as:

Other causes

Itching can also result from conditions caused by parasites, such as pinworms or lice. Fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, can also cause itching between and around the toes. Tinea, or ringworm, can also cause an itchy red rash.

Itchy skin could also be due to more serious medical conditions. Nerve conditions caused by diabetes, pinched nerves, and shingles can cause severe itching.

Psoriasis, a skin condition, causes changes to the skin that can also produce itching and discomfort.

Chronic kidney disease can also cause itching. Doctors refer to this condition as uremic pruritus, renal itch, or chronic kidney disease-associated pruritus.

Uremia is a broad syndrome that occurs when the kidneys are severely damaged and cannot filter toxins from the body.

The following home remedies may help reduce itching:

  • drinking more water to help keep skin hydrated
  • using a high quality moisturizing cream on the skin and applying it generously
  • applying a cool, wet compress to the affected area
  • applying an anti-itch cream to relieve symptoms, such as nonprescription hydrocortisone cream
  • taking a lukewarm bath
  • choosing mild soaps without dyes or perfumes
  • using mild or unscented laundry detergent
  • for people with allergies or sensitivities, avoiding specific substances that cause a skin reaction, such as nickel, jewelry, and wool

People should also avoid scratching. Scratching can lead to further inflammation and damage to the skin and can worsen the itching.

It is important to contact a doctor or dermatologist if:

  • over-the-counter creams do not work
  • a rash spreads
  • someone experiences additional symptoms beyond itching

Learn more about 8 natural and home remedies to relieve itching.

The treatment plan will depend on the cause of the itching. For people experiencing dry skin, a good moisturizer may be all that is required.

For those with conditions such as psoriasis, a doctor may recommend alternative treatments if there are reasons to avoid medication therapy. Light therapy, or phototherapy, is one such treatment method. The treatment involves exposing the skin to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light to help get the itching under control.


Drinking too little water can cause chronic dehydration. Keeping water nearby throughout the day can help.

Eating fruits and vegetables also increases fluid intake. Consider electrolyte drinks when sweating heavily due to exercise or heat or losing fluid due to vomiting or diarrhea.

Eczema, dermatitis, and hives

To treat these conditions, a dermatologist may recommend corticosteroid creams. A person can apply these directly to the skin to help with itching.

For atopic dermatitis or eczema, a doctor may prescribe a biologic medication such as Dupixent.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend topical calcineurin inhibitors or oral antihistamines.


Oral antihistamines are common anti-allergy medications. Some over-the-counter (OTC) examples include cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Prescription options are also available.

Fungal infections

A person can treat ringworm, athlete’s foot, and other fungal infections with antifungal treatment. Topical treatments include creams and shampoos.

For severe infections, a doctor may prescribe oral medication. Terbinafine (Lamisil) is commonly used.

Insect bites and stings

Topical antihistamines can relieve itching. To prevent mosquito bites, a person can use an insect repellant, keep window screens in good repair, and keep the body covered with clothing.

The following are frequently asked questions about itchy skin.

How does a person treat pruritus?

Medical treatment for pruritus depends on the underlying cause. A person should contact a doctor to determine the underlying cause. However, a person may be able to relieve itchy skin at home by:

  • applying a cool compress for 5–10 minutes at a time or until the itching eases
  • applying a moisturizer free from fragrances, perfumes, and additives
  • taking an oatmeal bath or applying a moisturizer that contains colloidal oatmeal
  • applying cooling agents, such as calamine

What vitamin deficiency causes itching?

Some vitamin deficiencies can cause itching. For example, among other symptoms, a vitamin A deficiency can result in the skin becoming dry and scaly, leading to itching.

Is pruritus a chronic condition?

Pruritis can be acute or chronic, depending on the underlying cause.

For example, a person can ease itching as a result of dry skin by applying moisturizer. However, if pruritus continues for longer than 6 weeks, doctors consider it to be chronic.

Itchy skin has many causes, ranging from dry skin to more severe conditions like kidney disease.

If itchy skin causes problems over time or comes with other symptoms, a person should speak with a doctor. Medical treatments and home care strategies can often provide relief from skin itch.

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