Itchy skin (pruritus)

Itchy skin is an uncomfortable, irritating sensation that makes you want to scratch. Also known as pruritus (proo-RIE-tus), itchy skin may be the result of a rash or another condition, such as psoriasis or dermatitis. Or itchy skin may be a symptom of a disease, such as liver disease or kidney failure.

Depending on the cause of your itchy skin, it may appear normal. Or it may be red or rough or have bumps or blisters.

Long-term relief requires identifying and treating the cause of itchy skin. Itchy skin treatments include medications, wet dressings and light therapy. Self-care measures, including using anti-itch products and taking cool baths, also can help.

Symptoms Causes Complications

You may have itchy skin over certain small areas, such as on an arm or leg, or your whole body may itch. Itchy skin can occur without any other noticeable changes on the skin. Or it may be associated with:

  • Redness
  • Bumps, spots or blisters
  • Dry, cracked skin
  • Leathery or scaly texture to the skin

Sometimes itchiness lasts a long time and can be intense. As you rub or scratch the area, it gets itchier. And the more it itches, the more you scratch. Breaking this itch-scratch cycle can be difficult, but continued scratching can damage your skin or cause infection.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor or a skin disease specialist (dermatologist) if the itching:

  • Lasts more than two weeks and doesn't improve with self-care measures
  • Is severe and distracts you from your daily routines or prevents you from sleeping
  • Can't be easily explained
  • Affects your whole body
  • Is accompanied by other symptoms, such as extreme tiredness, weight loss, changes in bowel habits or urinary frequency, fever, or redness of the skin

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