Itchy skin is the tingling sensation or the irritation on the skin that causes a person to want to scratch the affected area. The itching may affect the whole body (systemic) or only a particular area of the body (localized). This will depend on the underlying cause of the itchy skin.
Itching is not a form of pain as it has a different pathway in the body. The exact pathway is still undetermined. Moreover, it does not have a protective factor unlike pain. This simply means that when a person initiates scratching, it further stimulates itch and therefore scratching. Although scratching can provide relief to some, continuous/ repeated scratching may lead to skin disruption leading to abrasions and worse, bacterial infections.
Itchy skin is usually associated with rashes, blisters and bumps, reddening and warmth of the skin. Itching is medically called pruritus.
Causes of Itchy Skin
There is a wide variety of causes that result to itchy skin. It may range from a simple insect bite to a chronic skin condition. Fortunately, most causes are not serious and can be treated at managed at home. The following are the most common causes of itchy skin:
- Insect bites or stings
- Parasites (e.g. pinworm, head live, body lice, pubic lice, etc.)
- Contact irritants
- Contact dermatitis
- Atopic dermatitis
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Skin conditions, such as psoriasis, pityriasis rosea, etc.
- Skin infections, such as impetigo, etc.
- Viral infections, such as measles, chickenpox, shingles, etc.
First Aid Management for Itchy Skin
The goal of applying first aid to itchy skin is to relieve the discomfort experienced by the person scratching. The following measures can be done to help reduce the discomfort from itchy skin:
- Avoid rubbing or scratching the itchy area.
- Apply cold compress over the itchy area. This may soothe itchy skin.
- Apply a topical over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream over the itchy area. These creams should be used in minimal amounts over the face and genitals.
- Take over-the-counter non-prescription oral antihistamines.
To learn how to relieve common symptoms, such as itchy skin, enroll in First Aid Courses.
Prevention of Itchy Skin
The following can be done to help prevent worsen itchy skin and to avoid complications from developing:
- Take a warm bath and limit the use of soap. Opt for a cornstarch bath or skin-soothing colloidal oatmeal. Envelop one cup of oatmeal in a cloth made of cotton and boil. This can be used as a sponge when bathing in lukewarm water in the absence of soap.
- After bathing, apply moisturizer to the skin. Dry skin often worsens itching.
- Keep fingernails short to avoid scraping the skin.
- Wear comfortable and preferably loose clothing to avoid itchy fabrics coming into contact with the skin.
- Wear gloves, especially before sleeping, to avoid scratching. For very dry hands, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly before wearing the gloves.
Itchy skin is the tingling sensation or the irritation on the skin that causes a person to want to scratch the affected area.