Revealed! What Causes Itchy Skin?

Dryness...Flaky Skin...Redness...Blisters...Rashes... 

Do you find yourself scratching all day and not getting any relief? It's time to find out what causes your itchy skin. Only then can you treat the source and determine the appropriate treatment to stop all the scratching and irritation. 

What causes skin to itch can range from environmental causes to side effects from certain drugs or medical conditions. 

Itches Related to Dry Skin 

Environmental factors are generally to blame for dry, itchy skin. Changing weather conditions that dry out the skin and steal its moisture may be a possible culprit. 

Certain soaps, shampoos and other bathroom products can dry and irritate the skin as well, leaving it dry and itchy. Avoid alcohol-containing products, which can deplete the skin of moisture. And while the heat and steam may feel soothing, scorching hot showers also leave the skin drier than a desert. 

Dry skin is prevalent in the winter months when going from one extreme temperature to another. Indoor heating is a common cause when it comes to dry, cracked skin. Don't forget to slather on plenty of a good, high-quality moisturizer and drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid becoming dehydrated. 

Skin Conditions That Cause Itchiness 

Rashes can be short-term or chronic, depending on their cause. Poison ivy, for example, can be excruciating but short-lived, while psoriasis can be an ongoing issue that causes long-term symptoms. Rash, bumps, redness and irritation may be symptoms of various skin conditions, including: 

  • eczema;
  • scabies;
  • lice; and
  • hives. 

Of these, eczema is the most common skin condition. It affects 17.8 million Americans, the equivalent of 6 percent of the U.S. population. Sometimes people are only affected occasionally, but the condition can be chronic. In a Q&A with the New York Times, Dr. Gil Yosipovitch, a dermatologist at Wake Forest University and the founder of the International Forum for the Study of Itch, reports, "[T]here is a sub-population...in the millions, who suffer from quite significant itch from chronic eczema." He continued, "I would say that 10 percent of all eczema patients have this kind of severe itching." 

Medical Conditions Could Cause Itchy Skin 

In addition to skin conditions, other medical conditions could be associated with itchy skin. The Mayo Clinic lists several internal diseases that might cause itchy skin, including: 

  • liver disease;
  • celiac disease;
  • kidney failure;
  • iron deficiency anemia;
  • thyroid issues; and
  • certain cancers. 

Allergic Reactions Could Cause that Itch 

Other possible causes of itchy skin are allergic reactions to toxins, outdoor stimulants, detergents and cleansers, food, medicine, or makeup. These can trigger an immune system response that causes itchy skin. Learning your triggers is the first step to avoiding flare-ups. Pinpointing the cause can help clear it up and avoid the symptoms. 

Stress-related Itch 

An often-overlooked cause of itchy skin is stress. Emotions can have a negative impact on your skin's health. Consider how being nervous can make your skin break out. According to MedicineNet.com, stress and anxiety can cause a host of problems, including skin problems, like itching. 

Neurological Causes of Itchy Skin 

Yet another overlooked reason for itchy skin is neurological disorders known to dry out the skin, mouth and eyes. They include: 

  • multiple sclerosis;
  • pinched nerves; and
  • inflammatory conditions. 

A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation from American and Chinese researchers shows a link between uncontrolled chronic itching and pain. Dr. Zhou-Feng Chen, the director of Washington University's Center for the Study of Itch, explained, "In normal itching, there's a fixed pathway that transmits the itch signal. But with chronic itching, many neurons can be turned into itch neurons, including those that typically transmit pain signals. That helps explain why chronic itching can be so excruciating." Their research suggests that pain medicines could be used to help control itching. 

Dealing with the Itch 

Targeting symptoms and the cause of the itch are key to treating itchy skin. Less severe symptoms may be treated with over-the-counter topical creams to return moisture to the skin and alleviate the itchy feelings. More severe conditions, however, may require a different treatment strategy. Treating the root cause of the itch is often the best route. If medication causes the problem, then changing medications may be in order. If the itch is due to a medical condition, controlling the symptoms of the disease may do the trick. Also do your best to stay hydrated, moisturized and out of the sun to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy. 

Determining the causes of your itchy skin may require seeing your doctor. Your physician may ask about the severity of symptoms, other symptoms you've experienced and even any possible triggers that could help indicate the source of the problem. 

As research continues and experts from various medical fields come together to discuss the possible causes of itchiness, new treatment plans can be developed to help patients overcome annoying itchy skin without having to scratch all day, which potentially could break the skin and put the patient at risk for infection.