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If you have anxiety and itchy skin, it’s possible that you’re dealing with two distinct issues. It’s also possible that these conditions are closely linked.

Anxiety disorders can cause some people to experience itchy skin and itchy skin conditions can lead to anxiety. One can exacerbate the other.

Each can be effectively treated, but it’s important to determine whether the anxiety and itching are connected. Itching due to anxiety is no less real than itching from other causes, but it may take a different approach to treatment.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States every year. More than 1 in 5 people experience chronic itch at some point in their lifetime.

It’s difficult to know how many people have anxiety-related itching, or psychogenic itch.

Continue reading to learn more about the association between anxiety and itching, and what you can expect of treatment.

Anxiety, especially if it’s chronic, can affect your health in many ways. Anxiety is related to a number of skin problems. Just think about how a brief moment of embarrassment can cause you to blush or how being nervous can make some people break out in hives.

The weight of mental or emotional stress can also lead to some serious itching.

Your brain is always communicating with nerve endings in your skin. When anxiety kicks in, your body’s stress response can go into overdrive. This can affect your nervous system and cause sensory symptoms like burning or itching of the skin, with or without visible signs.

You can experience this sensation anywhere on your skin, including your arms, legs, face, and scalp. You might feel it only intermittently or it could be quite persistent. The itch can happen at the same time as symptoms of anxiety or it can occur separately.

Even if the cause of your itching is anxiety, serious skin problems can develop if you scratch too much or too vigorously. This can leave you with irritated, broken, or bleeding skin. It can also lead to infection. Not only that, but the scratching probably won’t do much to relieve the itch.

On the other hand, the skin condition and relentless itching may have come first, prompting the anxiety.

You may indeed have two unrelated problems — anxiety plus an itch caused by something else entirely. Depending on your specific symptoms, your doctor may want to investigate some other causes of itchy skin, such as:

Most of these conditions can be identified upon physical examination. Itchy skin can also be a symptom of less visible conditions such as:

That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about:

  • your medical history, including pre-existing conditions, allergies, and medications
  • symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • any other physical symptoms you may have, even if they seem unrelated

This information will help guide the diagnosis.

Treatment depends on the specific causes of anxiety and itching. No matter the cause, unrelenting itching can have a negative impact on your overall quality of life. So, it’s worth seeking treatment.

Aside from your primary care physician, you might benefit from seeing a specialist or perhaps two. A mental health professional can help you learn to manage anxiety, which can alleviate that aggravating itch.

If your skin is seriously affected, you might also need to see a dermatologist.

Psychologists can also help with dermatological problems related to anxiety. This field is called psychodermatology.

Treatment for the itch may include:

  • corticosteroids or other soothing creams or ointments
  • oral selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a type of antidepressant that may ease chronic itching in some people
  • light therapy sessions may help get itching under control

Here are some things you can do on your own to help relieve itching:

  • Use hypoallergenic, fragrance-free moisturizer every day.
  • Run a humidifier to help keep your skin moist.
  • Avoid rough clothing, hot baths, harsh sunlight, or anything else that contributes to itchiness.
  • Try over-the-counter products such as corticosteroid cream, calamine lotion, or topical anesthetics.
  • When itching is impossible to ignore, put on some gloves or cover your skin to prevent yourself from scratching.
  • Keep your fingernails trimmed so that if you do scratch, you’re less likely to break the skin.

Since stress can aggravate the itch, you’ll also need to take steps to lower your stress levels. Here are a few things you can try:

A therapist can provide behavior modification therapy and other strategies to lessen anxiety. It’s also important to maintain a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep every night, and exercise regularly.

Any underlying medical conditions should also be addressed.

Anxiety and itching are both things that can come and go. If they’re fleeting and not causing any major problems, you may not need to see a doctor. If that’s the case, it’s still a good idea to mention it at your next appointment.

If anxiety and itching are interfering with your ability to function or causing visible skin damage or infection, see your primary care doctor as soon as possible. If necessary, you can get a referral to the appropriate specialist.

Untreated, the cycle of anxiety and itching can repeat over and over, ratcheting up your anxiety level. Frequent scratching can also lead to serious skin issues.

Anxiety and itching can be effectively treated, though. It may take some time, but with professional guidance, you can learn to manage anxiety, ultimately resolving the itch.

Regardless of which came first, anxiety and itching can be connected. With a combination of anxiety management and a good skincare routine, you can break the cycle and potentially rid yourself of persistent itch.