You might assume that itchy skin means you have a skin condition. But this might not be the case – there are other things that can make your skin itchy too. To try and work out what might be causing the problem, it helps to look at the bigger picture. Think about any other symptoms you may be experiencing as these may give you some clue as to what’s behind it.
There are many skin conditions that can cause itching. These include:
- inflammatory conditions like hives, psoriasis and dermatitis
- infestations, such as scabies
- infections, for example chickenpox
If you do have a skin condition, the itching will probably be accompanied by a rash. Exactly what this rash looks like can vary. For example, a chickenpox rash is very distinctive – starting with small, red spots that turn into blisters, and then scabs. Whereas an urticarial (hives) rash has small, red or white raised areas that appear very quickly, followed by blotchy skin.
If your itchy skin is accompanied by a rash, make an appointment to see your GP. They’ll be able to tell you if you have a skin condition, or refer you for further tests to find out.
Another major reason your skin might itch is if it’s too dry. You may notice a fine, white scale on the surface of your skin, or a ‘crazy paving’-like appearance, especially on the legs (eczema craquelé).
Your skin can dry out if:
- the weather is cold and dry
- you bathe frequently and use soap
- you spend a lot of time in air-conditioned environments
- you’ve been on a long-haul flight
If dry skin is your problem, you should be able to manage this yourself. Some of the following changes to your washing routine may help:
- If you take a shower more than once a day, try and cut down on these.
- If you take long baths, try and spend less time in the bath.
- Use cool or lukewarm water to wash, rather than hot water.
- Avoid soap, perfumed products and bubble bath. Instead, go for mild, alcohol-free products.
- Pat yourself dry with a towel, rather than vigorously drying.
There are other steps that could also help to reduce the dryness of your skin:
- Moisturise your skin frequently. Unperfumed ointments are better than creams.
- Avoid clothes with fibres that will rub against your skin. The main culprits are wool and synthetics.
- Keep your indoor environment cool to relieve the itch, but not too cold. Consider using a humidifier rather than an air-conditioner.
- Stay hydrated – most people need to drink around 8 to 10 litres of fluid per day.
If you don’t have a rash and your skin doesn’t appear to be dry, the itching could be caused by an internal illness. These include:
- Anaemia – often caused by a lack of iron in your diet. The most common symptom of anaemia is tiredness.
- Some liver problems, such as jaundice. This is noticeable by the skin turning a yellow-ish colour.
- Kidney disease. Although for most people this doesn’t have any symptoms, if they do appear, they commonly include itching.
- Hormone problems. For example, an overactive thyroid can cause skin itching, which may appear alongside things like fever, breathlessness, and hyperactivity. Underactive thyroid can cause itch as well.
If you suspect that your itchy skin is because of a non-skin-related illness, or are experiencing other symptoms as well, you should make an appointment to see your GP.
Women may develop itchy skin when they’re in the later stages of pregnancy, or going through the menopause. There are also certain drugs – such as statins and ACE inhibitors – that can cause itchy skin as a side-effect. If you’ve just started a medicine and have got itchy skin, speak to a pharmacist or your GP.
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