With the recent return of winter-like weather conditions, many people's skin can become dry and itchy. However, not everyone with itch may be suffering from a simple case of dry skin, as itching (also known as pruritus) is a common symptom of many skin conditions. In some cases, itching may be localized and only occur in certain areas, while in others, it may be generalized or affect the whole body. Here are some common causes of itchy skin and suggestions on how to manage them.
Common causes of itchy skin
Atopic dermatitis is a common childhood condition that makes your skin red and itchy. Although some may outgrow this chronic condition, it may persist through adulthood. To help prevent flare-ups, avoid triggers (e.g. stress, heat, sweat) and moisturize your skin at least twice a day and after bathing or showering. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to help relieve your symptoms. For example, prescription medications like corticosteroid creams (e.g., hydrocortisone) and calcineurin inhibitors (e.g., tacrolimus or pimecrolimus) may control itching and inflammation, and help treat the underlying causes of atopic dermatitis. Over-the-counter sedating allergy medications, like diphenhydramine, may help promote sleep if itching is severe at bedtime.
Another common cause of itchy skin is contact dermatitis where swelling of the skin occurs when it comes into contact with an irritant or allergen. These causes may include soaps, cosmetics, fragrances, jewelry, and plants, such as poison ivy or poison oak. If you start reacting to these irritants or allergens, wash your skin or clothing after exposure. Using a cool wet compress for 20 minutes, 4 to 6 times daily may also help reduce swelling and soothe the area. Medications like topical hydrocortisone and oral antihistamines may also help to relieve symptoms. Most importantly, in order for treatment to be effective, you need to identify and avoid the cause of your reaction.
Fungal infections may cause annoying itching as well. Ringworm causes a ring-like red rash to develop on the smooth skin areas of the body while athlete's foot causes itching in between the toes. In order to prevent these infections, it is best to keep these areas clean and dry. Also, wearing clean socks and avoiding walking barefoot in public places can help prevent athlete’s foot. Both of these infections are treated with topical antifungal medications, such as clotrimazole or miconazole. Dandruff is a condition that can also cause itch and affects the scalp with dry white or grey flakes of dead skin. Treatment for dandruff includes the use of non-medicated and medicated shampoos.
Ask your pharmacist
Since there are many different causes of itching, when in doubt, speak to your pharmacist to determine what can be done to reduce your symptoms or prevent them from coming back. We are here to help. And remember… don’t scratch that itch!