Soothing Your Sensitive Skin

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10 Medical Conditions That Can Cause Itchy Skin

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Caucasian woman scratching back of neck

Everyone experiences itchy skin, also known as pruritis, occasionally. Depending on the cause, itchy skin can occur in one location or affect your whole body. It’s possible for you to itch without any other noticeable skin changes, like dry skin, bumps, rashes, or redness. Some people even experience another type of itching, one that won’t go away even with scratching or other self-care measures. This type of itch can be intense, and it can get worse the more you scratch it.

While some itchy skin is completely normal, it can also be a sign of other medical conditions you may not even be aware of. Itchy skin can be a symptom of a skin condition, or it may be one of the first signs of a more complex medical condition occurring inside your body. If your skin itches for more than two weeks, or your itch doesn’t get better with at-home care, it’s important to see your doctor to rule out other medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms. While many medical conditions cause itchy skin, some are more common than others.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Sensitive Skin

1. Dry Skin

In many cases, skin itching is caused simply by dry skin. For most people, dry skin occurs as a result of getting older or living in dryer, colder climates. You can also develop dry skin if you take frequent baths, especially if you use bathing products that are harsh on your sensitive skin.

2. Psoriasis

People living with psoriasis develop thick, scaly patches (plaques) on one or many locations on their bodies. These patches cause a variety of symptoms, including itching, stinging, and burning.

3. Eczema

Itchy skin is one of the main symptoms of eczema, an inflammatory skin disorder that usually causes a scaly, red rash on the body. Eczema is especially common in younger people, but this condition can affect people of any age.

4. Contact Dermatitis

In many cases, itchy skin is caused by your skin coming in direct contact with allergens or other irritants. These irritants may include certain soaps, plants, chemicals, or even body fluids like saliva.

5. Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease is a serious condition causing your kidneys to stop functioning over time. When your kidneys don’t work properly, waste products build up in your body, causing itchy skin. Other factors, like widespread inflammation or damage to nerves, may contribute to itching.

6. Liver Disease

Liver diseases like cholestasis make it difficult for bile to flow out of the liver. In some cases, bile is completely blocked from leaving the liver. When bile builds up, symptoms like itching are likely to occur.

7. Thyroid Problems

Your thyroid gland produces many of the hormones your body uses to control activities and processes within cells. Certain thyroid problems, like hyperthyroidism or thyroid cancer, may affect the rate at which your body produces certain hormones, leading to itchy skin.

8. Diabetes

People living with diabetes mellitus are more likely to have itchy skin resulting from poor circulation, dry skin, or certain fungal infections.

9. Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a nervous system disorder in which the body’s own immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord nerves. When these nerves are damaged, skin itching is likely to occur.

10. Certain Cancers

While not as common as other conditions, certain cancers, like lymphoma or leukemia, cause itchy skin in some people. Itch is usually accompanied by other noticeable symptoms, like unintentional weight loss, night sweats, or fatigue.

Itchy skin can be annoying, but you can take steps to soothe your skin. Ask your doctor about recommendations for certain skin care products, like moisturizers or lotions, that help combat dryness. Other treatments, like oatmeal baths or a cold, wet cloth applied to your itchy skin for several minutes, may help you find relief. If you try self-care measures at home, but your itch still won’t go away, ask your doctor about prescription medications, like topical anesthetics, that may help relieve your itch. With your doctor’s help, you can find the best way care for your skin and prevent itching.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 15
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  6. About Psoriasis. National Psoriasis Foundation. https://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis
  7. Contact Dermatitis. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/dermatitis/contact-dermatitis
  8. Pruritus in Kidney Disease. Seminars in Nephrology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5497472/
  9. Itching. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Itching
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