What is itching?

Itching is an irritating feeling that makes you want to scratch your skin. It may be in just one part of your body or it may be all over your body.

What causes it?

Itching can be caused by:

  • Insect bites, lice, sunburn, or poison ivy
  • Fungal infection, such as athlete’s foot or jock itch
  • Scratchy clothes, such as wool
  • Dry skin or rash
  • Something lightly touching your skin
  • Stretching of the skin as a woman’s belly grows larger during pregnancy

Itching all over the body may be caused by:

  • Kidney, liver, or thyroid disease
  • Diabetes
  • Some kinds of cancer
  • An allergic reaction
  • Anxiety, depression, or stress
  • Some medicines

If you are pregnant and itch all over, especially your hands and feet, contact your healthcare provider right away. This condition requires special attention for you and your baby.

How is it treated?

Try not to scratch the itchy areas. Scratching may relieve the itch, but it can cause more irritation and swelling. If scratching breaks the skin, it can cause an infection.

For relief from itching, you can:

  • Press your hands firmly on the itchy area or gently rub the area with the palm of your hand.
  • Keep the area moist and cool. A cool washcloth works well.
  • Soak in a lukewarm bath with cornstarch (1/2 cup) or an oatmeal product made for skin conditions (available at drugstores) added to the water to help ease the itching. Hot water often makes itching worse.
  • Use unscented moisturizing creams or ointments, rather than water-based lotions. Moisturize your skin regularly, several times a day, if possible. Helpful ingredients are petroleum jelly, lanolin, and glycerin. Use calamine lotion for rashes.
  • Put a nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone ointment or cream on small itchy areas. Follow the directions on the package. Do not use hydrocortisone too often or on large areas of your body. It can irritate the skin and make itching worse. Check with your healthcare provider before you use hydrocortisone on babies.
  • Try a nonprescription antihistamine pill or cream, such as Benadryl, especially at bedtime if itching keeps you awake at night. Use it according to the package instructions. Do not use antihistamine pills and creams at the same time.
  • Keep your fingernails short and wear gloves at night to keep from injuring the skin by scratching.
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing. Avoid scratchy clothing.
  • Avoid getting hot and sweaty.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.

Itching caused by fungus infections such as athlete’s foot and jock itch can be treated with antifungal powders and creams. Itching from lice can be treated with anti-lice medicines.

Several medicines can be used to treat itching during pregnancy. Ask your healthcare provider for advice before you take any medicines while you are pregnant.

Contact your healthcare provider if you have itching that lasts for several days without getting better. You may need tests to check for medical problems that may be causing the itching.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-30
Last reviewed: 2014-10-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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