Itchy skin is an uncomfortable, irritating sensation that makes you want to scratch. Dry itchy skin is also known as pruritus, and it is often caused by dry skin.
It is, therefore, more common in older adults as their skin tends to become drier with age. It is also more common in winter than in other seasons because the skin becomes drier with central heating.
Depending on the cause of dry itchy skin, the skin may appear quite normal. It can have slight bumps and then repeated scratching can cause raised, thickened areas of skin that can even bleed or become infected or it can be red and rough, or it can have blisters.
Very simple self-care measures are moisturising the skin well, using gentle over-the-counter anti-itch products and taking cool baths which can help relieve dry itchy skin. Some people even put bicarbonate of soda or oatmeal in the bath to help relieve the skin. However, long-term relief of itchy dry skin requires identifying and treating the cause.
You should see your doctor or a skin specialist dermatologist such as Dr Jennifer Crawley at Clinica London if the itchiness has lasted more than two weeks and has not improved with your self-care measures. You should also see a dermatologist if the itchiness is distracting from your daily routine or preventing you from sleeping.
Many people feel their skin itch a lot more when they are asleep. In particular, you must see a dermatologist if the itching comes on suddenly and cannot be explained. You should see a dermatologist if it is beginning to affect the whole of your body as this may be a more serious condition.
If your itchiness comes with other signs and symptoms such as tiredness, weight loss, change in bowel habit or urinary frequency, fever or redness of the skin, there may be a systemic medical cause which requires investigating.
I have already written a little bit about causes of itching in a previous blog post, but I would like to say more now in this blog post. Dry skin is an often overlooked cause of itchiness. If you do not see bright red bumps or other dramatic changes in the dry itchy skin, dry skin (xerosis) is the most likely cause.
Dry skin results from older age or environmental factors such as long-term use of central heating, air conditioning, wearing tight clothes over the legs and washing and bathing too much in hard water and with soap. Dermatological soaps should be used.
Many skin conditions will cause itchings, such as eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, scabies, lice, chicken pox and hives. In these situations, the itching usually affects specific areas, and the redness and bumps or blisters give specific signs in their distribution and appearance.
Many people are allergic to wool and get eczema from it or just a plain allergy with redness and itching. Chemicals, soaps and other substances can irritate the skin and can cause itching. Cosmetics can cause an allergic reaction, and food allergies can also cause the skin to itch. Other areas where itching could be due including systemic internal disease, nerve disorders, drugs and pregnancy that has already been mentioned in the previous blog.
Once the cause of itchy skin has been diagnosed by your dermatologist, they will recommend specific treatments for you. This can include medications such as corticosteroid creams, calcineurin inhibitors and antidepressants. Corticosteroid creams are often used under medical guidance if the skin is itchy and red from a mild contact dermatitis. In some cases, if the itchy area is not large calcineurin inhibitors such as tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel) can be used instead of corticosteroid creams in some cases. Other medications include antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac (Fluoxetine), and Zoloft (Sertraline) may help very types of itchy skin.
If your dermatologist detects an underlying medical disease causing your dry itchy skin such as kidney disease, iron deficiency or thyroid disease treating the underlying skin is often more helpful to relieve the itch. Other itch relief methods can be recommended.