10 reasons your skin itches uncontrollably and how to get relief

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When your skin itches, you may have a rash; however, you can have intensely itchy skin and see nothing on your skin.

Mosquito bites, chickenpox, and poison ivy aren’t the only reasons for itchy skin. See what else may be causing your itch and what can bring relief.

  1. Very dry skin
    Extremely dry skin can be intensely itchy.

    How to get relief: Dermatologists offer these tips for relieving dry skin, Dry skin: Tips for managing.

  2. Bug bites
    When a mosquito bites you, the cause of your itchy skin is usually obvious, and the itch tends to go away quickly. When bugs live on your skin or feed on you every night, the itch can be long-lasting and uncontrollable. Bugs that can cause long-lasting itch, include bed bugs, lice, and mites (scabies).

    How to get relief: You can find out what these bug bites look like and how to get rid of the itch at:

  1. Itchy skin condition
    The list of skin conditions that can cause intense itch is long and includes:

How to get relief: To get relief, you must know which skin condition you have. The best way to get an accurate diagnosis is to see a board-certified dermatologist.

If you have been diagnosed with atopic dermatitis or psoriasis, relieving the itch can be a challenge. To help patients get relief, here’s what dermatologists recommend:

8 ways to relieve itchy psoriasis
What can relieve itchy eczema? (for atopic dermatitis)

  1. Skin cancer
    For many people, the only sign of skin cancer is a new or changing spot on their skin. Sometimes, that spot also itches and can be the only reason a person notices the spot.

    How to get relief: See a board-certified dermatologist to find out if you have skin cancer. If you have skin cancer, treating it can get rid of the itch.

  2. Warning sign of a disease inside your body
    Long-standing itch can be a sign of several diseases, including:
  • Blood disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • HIV
  • Overactive thyroid gland

Itch is common in people who have a disease that affects their blood, such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma or cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. It can also be a sign of advanced kidney disease and often develops in people who are close to needing dialysis or currently receiving dialysis. In these people, the itch can be widespread and especially intense on the back, arms, and legs.

Itch is also common in people who have liver disease, such as hepatitis C, cirrhosis, or an obstructed bile duct. When itch is a sign of liver disease, the itch often starts on the palms and soles and spreads to other parts of the body.

How to get relief: Getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment may relieve the itch. A dermatologist often plays a key role in diagnosing these diseases because itch can be the only symptom.

Here’s how one woman’s appointment with a board-certified dermatologist turned into a life-saving diagnosis:

Chronic itching triggers a hepatitis C diagnosis

  1. Allergic skin reaction
    Our skin can develop an allergic reaction to many substances. One of the most common substances that can cause an allergic skin reaction is nickel, which is found in many products that we touch every day. Products that contain nickel include cell phones, jewelry, eyeglass frames, zippers, and belt buckles.

    Other substances that can cause an allergic skin reaction include nail polish, fragrances, shampoos, latex, and cement.

    If you develop an allergic reaction, you’ll likely have a rash and an uncontrollable itch.

    How to get relief: You must find out what’s causing your allergy so that you can stop touching (or using) what’s causes the itchy rash. This can be challenging and often requires the help of a dermatologist or an allergist.

    Find out how board-certified dermatologists diagnose and treat these allergies at:

    Contact dermatitis: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome

  2. Reaction to a plant or marine life
    Plants: Poison ivy is famous for causing an itchy rash, but it’s not the only plant that can do so. If you’re unaware that a plant is causing your itch, the itch can be long-standing. Here’s a guide to plants in the United States that can make you itch:

    Plants that make you itch

    Marine life: You can also get an itchy rash after being in water, such as an ocean, lake, or  pond.

    Swimmer’s itch caused by parasites that live in ponds, lakes, or oceans. The parasites burrow into your skin while you’re in the water. Later, you will see tiny red spots on the skin that your swimsuit didn’t cover. Sometimes, intensely itch welts (hives) and blisters also appear.

    Seabather’s eruption is caused by newly hatched jellyfish or sea anemones getting trapped between your skin and your swimsuit, fins, or other gear.

    Because it can take time for the itchy rash to appear, some people are unaware of the cause. If you go in the water often, pay attention. If your rash tends to be more intense each time, it’s a good sign it’s something in the water.

    How to get relief: If you stay away from the plant or marine life that causes your skin to itch, the rash tends to go away on its own within a few days to a couple of weeks.

  3. You’re 65 or older. As we age, our skin changes. By the time we’re 65, our skin is thinner and has less moisture. Dry skin can itch.

    How to get relief: Because itchy skin has many causes, it’s best to see a board-certified dermatologist to find out why your skin itches. There could be more than one reason for your itchy skin.

    If the itch is due to dry skin, your dermatologist may recommend making some skin care changes and using generous amounts of moisturizer.

  4. Medication or cancer treatment
    Itch can be a side effect of taking some medications, such as aspirin, prescription-strength pain relievers called opioids, and some blood-pressure drugs. It can also be a side effect of cancer treatment.

    How to get relief: Ask the doctor who prescribed the medication or treatment if itch can be a side effect. It is it, your doctor may give you tips that can help reduce the itch and continue treatment. For example, here’s what dermatologists recommend when a patient needs radiation therapy to treat cancer:

    How to care for your skin during and after radiation therapy

  5. Nerve problem
    When a nerve isn’t working properly, it can cause itchy skin. If there’s damage along a nerve due to disease or injury, you can also develop itchy skin. This itch tends to occur in one place on your body and you don’t see a rash.

    Diseases that can cause this type of itch, include:
  • Shingles
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis

Long after the shingles rash clears, you can have pain, numbness, itching, and tingling that can last for months — or years.

How to get relief: Medications that treat nerve pain, such as gabapentin and pregabalin, are used to treat this itch.

Itching for answers?

Long-standing itch can affect your quality of life. It can disrupt your sleep, make it difficult to concentrate, and cause you to scratch until your skin bleeds. If you cannot figure out what’s causing your itch, a board-certified dermatologist can help.

Find a dermatologist

Additional related articles

8 reasons your groin itches and how to get relief
10 reasons your scalp itches and how to get relief


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References
Larson VA, Tang O, et al. “Association between itch and cancer in 16,925 pruritus patients: Experience at a tertiary care center.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018; doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2018.08.044.

Yosipovitch G and Kwatra SG. Living with itch: A patient’s guide. The Johns Hopkins University Press. United States, 2013.