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Pruritus is the medical term for itch. Itching is a common problem that can affect one area of the body or multiple areas at once.
Usually, an itch only lasts for a limited period of time. If an itch lasts for more than six weeks, it is considered a chronic itch, which is more likely to disrupt your life. Board-certified dermatologists are trained to evaluate itching, identify the cause and provide treatment.
See a board-certified dermatologist if you have any of the following:
WHAT CAUSES ITCHING?
There are many reasons for itchy skin. As people age, itch becomes a common complaint. Dry skin, often related to changes in weather, can lead to itching.
Other causes of itchy skin include reactions to medication and bites from mosquitoes or other bugs. You also may experience itching as the result of irritation caused by items like clothing, jewelry, soap, cosmetics or over-the-counter products.
Many skin diseases, including eczema, hives and psoriasis, can begin with an itch. The most common cause of itching in babies and children is eczema. Itch may also be a sign of a contagious disease like scabies or ringworm. If you had chickenpox earlier in life, an itchy rash could be the first sign of shingles; damage to nerve fibers after a shingles outbreak can cause itching as well.
An itch also may be the first symptom of a disease occurring inside the body, including kidney or liver disease, diabetes, and some cancers, such as lymphoma. The sooner these diseases are diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis will be.
HOW CAN I RELIEVE ITCHY SKIN?
Follow these tips from board-certified dermatologists to soothe itchy skin:
HOW CAN I PREVENT ITCH FROM FLARING?
Avoid scratching as much as possible, as this will further irritate your skin and could increase your risk of infection. You also can take the following dermatologist-recommended steps to prevent itching:
SHOULD I SEE A DOCTOR ABOUT MY ITCH?
If your itch does not go away with home treatment, see a board-certified dermatologist. Your dermatologist can determine the cause of your itching and help you relieve it.
HOW DOES A BOARD-CERTIFIED DERMATOLOGIST DIAGNOSE PRURITUS?
To find out what is causing your itch, your dermatologist will ask you some questions and examine your skin. He or she may use a special lighted magnifier. In some cases, additional testing, such as a blood test or skin biopsy, may be necessary.
Your dermatologist also may scrape your skin and examine the scraping under a microscope to help make a diagnosis of a contagious skin disease, such as ringworm or scabies.
If your dermatologist suspects that your itching is caused by an underlying disease, he or she may refer you to another doctor for further evaluation.
HOW DOES A BOARD-CERTIFIED DERMATOLOGIST TREAT PRURITUS?
The treatment your dermatologist recommends will depend on what is causing your itch. It is usually best to treat the underlying cause of the itch, rather than just taking steps to relieve the symptoms.
If you have a skin condition that is causing your itch, your dermatologist will prescribe medicine to treat that skin condition. This may include oral medications that you take by mouth, topical medications that you apply to your skin or medications that are injected via a shot. Ultra-violet light therapy may be recommended as a treatment for some conditions.
Oral antihistamines can relieve the itch caused by some skin conditions, particularly hives. These medications, which sometimes cause sleepiness, are not helpful for all types of itch. Your dermatologist can tell you if they’re right for you.
Your dermatologist also may recommend medications that target the nerves or neurotransmitters that are involved in itch. These may include antiepileptic/anti-seizure drugs or antidepressants.
Pruritus treatment can take time to work, so your dermatologist also may recommend a home skin care regimen to help relieve your itch. For additional help and education, ask your dermatologist about patient advocacy organizations that can provide additional tips and resources for your specific types of itch.
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of skin, hair and nail conditions. To learn more about pruritus or to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/itch or call toll-free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
American Academy of Dermatology
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