Over the course of our lives, almost everyone will experience pruritus – the itchy, irritating sensation that makes us want to scratch.
Pruritis tends to get worse when the skin is dry, so many people find that environmental factors may play a role – for example, during the winter months, when the heating is on. As the skin naturally becomes drier with age, people who are older may find that their skin is itchier than usual, even if they previously did not notice any dryness.
Many people can soothe their itching skin, either by using widely available products that help to moisturise the skin; switching their cleansing routines to include more gentle cleansers; and bathing with lukewarm, not hot, water. If pruritis is chronic, it may require the expert help of a doctor or pharmacist.
Symptoms of Pruritus
Pruritis can appear anywhere on the body, whether it is a small, localised site; a wider area (such as an arm or leg); or widespread, occurring all over the body.
The skin can be itchy without any other visible change, or it may be itchy and present with one or more of the following:
Pruritus can vary in intensity and may get better or worse depending on environmental, or other, factors.
Causes of Pruritus
There are many possible causes for pruritus, but additional symptoms – like a rash, or visible swelling – may be helpful in determining the cause.
While some pruritus may be the skin’s reaction to an allergen or to heat, such as urticaria; other itchiness may be due to chronic skin conditions, like eczema or psoriasis. Certain fungal skin infections can cause itching, such as ringworm or athlete’s foot. Pruritus may occur as a result of parasites or microscopic insects living on the skin, like scabies, head lice or pubic lice. Chronic skin conditions, fungal infections and parasites all require treatment, and the latter two can be communicable – meaning if they are not treated effectively, they can spread to other people.
Some women may experience pruritus as part of the hormonal changes during pregnancy or after the menopause. In most cases, this will resolve on its own.
Itchiness may also develop as part of psychological or emotional factors, like stress; or it can present as a manifestation of a chronic or acute mental health issue, like a panic attack, anxiety disorders or OCD.
It can also be difficult to stop scratching an itch, since scratching may offer temporary relief – but pruritis can actually become more aggravated when it is scratched.
In some rare cases, pruritis can indicate a more serious underlying condition that affects the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and shingles; or disease, such as thyroid, liver or kidney problems.
Some other factors that may contribute to pruritus include:
Scratching or otherwise interfering with pruritis may cause the skin to bleed, and even if the skin does not appear to break, excessive scratching of itchy skin may lead to infection, so it is important to seek medical advice if the condition persists or worsens.
Treatment for Pruritus at Derma
While your GP can be very helpful in diagnosing and treating many cases of pruritus, we are more than happy to see patients who prefer to consult a private dermatology specialist.
Your appointment will begin with a skin check and medical history, which will allow the dermatologist to diagnose any skin conditions that may be co-occurring.
Together with the dermatologist, you will discuss the latest and most effective treatments and explain all potential side-effects, enabling you to select the best option for you.
It’s possible that pruritus may be controlled using topical treatments available from chemists, but depending on your condition, prescription creams may be necessary. The dermatologist will let you know whether it is beneficial to continue with any over-the-counter treatments, or if it is advisable to stop.
In some patients where there is a suspected allergen, it may be necessary to confirm a trigger by testing. This may be referred to as a ‘patch test’ and is carried out by the application of patches to the skin which contain extracts of the substance that may be causing the allergy.
Whatever your needs, you can rest assured that Derma will provide the very best care for your skin, with access to the latest research and treatments.