Information on the Causes and Symptoms of Pruritus, including itching, itchy or dry skin.

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  1. What is Pruritus?
  2. What Causes Pruritus?
  3. Diagnosing Pruritus
  4. Help for Pruritus
  5. More Information on Pruritus

What is Pruritus?

Pruritus is also known as itching and may be defined as a tingling sensation of the skin that causes a strong desire to scratch the area to obtain relief. Itching can either be confined to a certain part of the body (localized) or develop all over the body (generalized).

It may due to skin diseases, internal disorders, external factors or as a result of the faulty processing of the itch sensation within the nervous system. This irritation of the skin can cause immense discomfort and distress, sometimes even leading to anxiety, depression and loss of sleep.

What Causes Pruritus?

Pruritus may be the caused by several things. Common causes include fungal infections such as jock itch, athlete’s foot, thrush and candidiasis. Chicken pox, hives, pruritus ani, and parasitic infestations such as lice and scabies are also very itchy. Internal conditions such as kidney failure, liver and thyroid disease hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, blood disorders or iron deficiency anemia can cause itchiness.

Neurologic conditions such as pinched nerves and infectious diseases like HIV can result in severe itching. Skin diseases or conditions such as dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, and sunburn also cause the skin to itch and become distressed. It may even be due to hormonal factors – often occurring during pregnancy and menopause. Pruritus that occurs as a result of exposure to certain external factors includes allergic reactions, irritation from chemicals or plants, insect bites and some medications. Psychological factors such as stress or anxiety can also exacerbate itching.

Diagnosing Pruritus

The diagnosis of pruritus is based on the symptoms presented as well as a physical examination. Certain tests may be ordered and include:

  • Blood tests
  • Skin scraping
  • Biopsy

Help for Pruritus

Treatment generally depends on the cause and severity of the itch. Various topical medications such as calamine lotion, menthol or camphor lotion or mild corticosteroids may be used for symptomatic relief. Oral antihistamines or ultraviolet light therapy may also be prescribed to treat the itch. Cool the skin with damp dressings or a lukewarm shower to relieve itch and use emollients regularly to keep the skin hydrated.

More Information on Pruritus

Tips to relieve Pruritus
  • Bathe in a tub of warm water added with baking soda or oatmeal to relieve discomfort and itching
  • Avoid using soap when washing, instead use fragrant free cream bars or aqueous cream
  • Apply cold compresses to the itchy area so that it may be kept cool and moist
  • Avoid exposure to heat and humidity – keep as cool as possible because heat increases itching
  • Apply moisturizer or calamine lotion to the skin while it is damp
  • Cut your nails short to avoid scratching
  • Take warm baths or showers, avoid hot water
  • Wash clothing with a mild detergent and rinse thoroughly with an un-perfumed fabric softener
  • Avoid synthetic or wool fabrics, wear cotton or silk clothing
  • Learn to relax by practicing meditation, yoga or visualization exercises
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