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Itchy skin, or pruritis, can feel unpleasant and make you want to rub or scratch the area constantly. You may have a burning or prickling feeling. It can be uncomfortable and even affect your sleep.

Summary introduction

In many cases, the itching will go away by itself, or you can easily treat it with an over-the-counter cream or ointment. If it doesn’t get better in a couple of weeks, you should ask your GP for advice, especially if you’re itching all over and have a rash.

Causes of itchy skin

There are many itchy skin causes. These can include an allergic reaction to something you’ve touched (contact dermatitis), such as a chemical or metal, or a response to something you've swallowed, such as food or drugs.

Other common causes include:

  • Dryness or irritation caused by long-term (chronic) skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema), dandruff or psoriasis
  • Fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot or ringworm
  • Parasites on the skin, such as scabies or lice
  • Rashes, such as hives or prickly heat
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy or after the menopause

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Conditions related to itchy skin

There are many underlying conditions which can sometimes cause itchy skin. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Leukaemia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Psychological problems
  • Thyroid, liver or kidney problems

Getting a diagnosis for itchy skin

Your GP will ask you about anything you think may have caused your itchy skin, as well as any other symptoms you may have. They’ll examine the area and may wipe a cotton bud over it to send for testing.

In some cases, your GP may arrange for you to have some blood tests to check your liver, kidneys, thyroid, and iron levels. They may also suggest you have a fasting blood glucose test (to check for diabetes).

In some cases, they may refer you to see a consultant dermatologist who specialises in diagnosing and treating skin conditions.

Treatments for itchy skin

There are some simple things you can try yourself to relieve your symptoms. These include:

  • Taking cooler showers and using unperfumed soap and shampoo
  • Patting your skin dry rather than rubbing it
  • Wearing loose cotton clothes that don't rub against the itchy area
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol or spicy foods, which can make it worse

They may also prescribe some cream or lotion to treat the discomfort.

If dryness or irritation cause your itchy skin, your doctor will recommend using an unperfumed moisturiser at least twice a day.

Further treatments will depend on your diagnosis.