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Itchy skin, also known as pruritus, is an irritating and uncontrollable sensation that makes you want to scratch to relieve the feeling. The possible causes for itchiness include internal illnesses and skin conditions.

It’s important to contact a doctor for itchiness if the cause isn’t obvious. They can find the underlying cause and provide treatments for relief.

Several home remedies such as over-the-counter creams and moisturizers work well for itching.

Itchiness can be generalized (all over the body) or localized to one small region or spot.

The possible causes are numerous and varied. Itching may be a result of something very serious, such as:

Itchiness can also come from something less severe, such as:

Skin conditions

Many common skin conditions can cause itchy skin. The following can affect any area of skin on the body:

  • Dermatitis. Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin.
  • Eczema. This is a chronic skin disorder that includes itchy, scaly rashes.
  • Psoriasis. This autoimmune disease causes skin discoloration and irritation, usually in the form of plaques.
  • Dermatographia. With dermatographia, pressure on the skin leads to elevated levels of histamine that cause a raised, red, itchy rash.
  • Hives. These are itchy, raised, discolored welts on the skin that are usually caused by an allergic reaction.
  • Ringworm. Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin.
  • Shingles. This infection is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.
  • Allergies. Skin can become itchy due to an allergic reaction to something you ate or touched.

A few causes of itchy skin that are less common include:

  • Bullous pemphigoid. This is a blister-like skin issue caused by friction, viruses, and more.
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis. This itchy rash is often caused by gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
  • Lichen planus. A skin rash triggered by the immune system, lichen planus may be caused by infections, genetics, stress, allergens, and more.
  • Cutaneous lymphoma. This is a cancer that occurs in the lymph system.
  • Scleroderma. This autoimmune disorder affects the skin.

Infections that cause itching include:

Irritants and allergens

There are many substances that irritate the skin and make it itchy.

Some plants and insects produce substances that cause itching, including:

Some people get itchy when in contact with:

  • wool
  • perfumes
  • certain soaps or dyes
  • chemicals

Allergies can irritate the skin as well, including allergies to:

Internal disorders

Some internal diseases that may be very serious cause itching. The following diseases may cause generalized itching, but the skin usually appears typical:

Nervous system conditions

Other diseases can cause itching as well, especially those that affect the nerves. These include:

Medications

The following medications often cause rashes and widespread itching:

Pregnancy

Some pregnant people experience itching when pregnant. The National Health Service (NHS) says that it usually occurs on the abdomen. Sometimes this is due to a preexisting condition, such as eczema, that is made worse by the pregnancy.

Some causes of itching in pregnancy include:

There are many reasons your skin could itch. Here is a list of possible causes.

Dry skin

  • Some symptoms include scaling, itching, and cracking.
  • According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), it can be caused by outdoor temperature, certain medications, smoking, vitamin deficiencies, and more.
  • It can often be solved with lifestyle changes.

Read full article on dry skin.


Food allergy

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • This can occur when your immune system reacts inappropriately to common substances found in foods or drinks.
  • The symptoms range from mild to severe, according to the NHS, and include sneezing, itchy eyes, swelling, rash, hives, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.
  • Depending on your immune system’s response, symptoms may occur minutes to hours after consuming a food that causes an allergic reaction.
  • Common allergy trigger foods include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, and soy.

Read full article on food allergies.


Candida

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Candida rash in the skin fold of the buttocks. Nau Nau/Shutterstock
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that this usually occurs in skin folds, such as the armpits, buttocks, under breasts, and between fingers and toes.
  • It often begins with an itching, stinging, and burning discolored rash with wet appearance and dry crusting at the edges.
  • It often progresses to cracked and sore skin with blisters and pustules that may become infected with bacteria.

Read full article on candida.


Biliary (bile duct) obstruction

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • It’s most commonly caused by gallstones, but it may also be caused by injury to the liver or gallbladder, inflammation, tumors, infections, cysts, or liver damage.
  • Symptoms may include yellowing of the skin or eyes, extremely itchy skin without rash, light-colored stools, and very dark urine.
  • It may cause pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
  • An obstruction can cause serious infection that requires urgent medical attention.

Read full article on biliary (bile duct) obstruction.


Cirrhosis

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By James Heilman, MD via Wikimedia Commons
  • The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that symptoms can include diarrhea, decreased appetite and weight loss, and swelling belly.
  • A person with cirrhosis may experience easy bruising and bleeding.
  • Small, spider-shaped blood vessels may be visible underneath the skin.
  • Other symptoms may include yellowing of the skin or eyes and itchy skin.

Read full article on cirrhosis.


Ragweed allergy

  • Itchy, watery eyes are primary symptoms.
  • Other symptoms may include a scratchy or sore throat.
  • Runny nose, sinus pressure, congestion, and sneezing are also common.

Read full article on ragweed allergies.


Diaper rash

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Diaper dermatitis in an infant. lavizzara/Shutterstock
  • The AAD says this rash is located on areas that have contact with a diaper.
  • The skin often looks red, wet, and irritated.
  • The skin is often warm to the touch.

Read full article on diaper rash.


Allergic reaction

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Red, raised bumpy rash on the forearms from a contact irritant causing contact dermatitis. vvoe/Shutterstock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • These rashes occur when your immune system reacts to allergens on the skin, according to the NHS.
  • Itchy, raised welts can appear minutes to hours after skin contact with an allergen.
  • Symptoms may include a red, itchy, scaly rash that can appear hours to days after skin contact with an allergen.
  • Severe and sudden allergic reactions may cause swelling and difficulty breathing that require emergency attention.

Read full article on allergic reactions.


Athlete’s foot

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Dry flaky skin between the toes caused by tinea pedis (athlete’s foot). Yopan90/Shuttertsock
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Red rash with scaly skin and skin maceration between the toes caused by tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) Zay Nyi Nyi/Shutterstock
  • The NHS says that symptoms include itching, stinging, and burning between the toes or on the soles of feet.
  • There may be blisters on the feet that itch.
  • A person may have discolored, thick, and crumbly toenails.
  • There may be raw skin on the feet.

Read full article on athlete’s foot.


Contact dermatitis

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Redness and inflammation on the lower abdomen from metal belt buckle causing contact dermatitis. RiverNile/Shuttertsock
  • According to the NHS, it appears hours to days after contact with an allergen.
  • The rash has visible borders and appears where your skin touched the irritating substance.
  • The skin is often itchy, discolored, scaly, or raw.
  • A person may experience blisters that weep, ooze, or become crusty.

Read full article on contact dermatitis.


Flea bites

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Flea bites of the lower leg causing red bumps and scabbing. Angela Hampton Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
  • They are usually located in clusters on the lower legs and feet.
  • The bites can be itchy, and look like a red bump surrounded by a red/discolored halo.
  • The symptoms begin immediately after being bitten.

Read full article on flea bites.


Hives

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Created by Samuel Freire da Silva, M.D. in homage to The Master And Professor Delso Bringel Calheiros. Image obtained from Dermatology Atlas
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  • According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, hives are itchy, raised welts that occur after exposure to an allergen.
  • They can be red, warm, and mildly painful to the touch.
  • They can be small, round, and ring shaped, or large and randomly shaped.

Read full article on hives.


Allergic eczema

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  • The National Eczema Association says that this skin issue may resemble a burn.
  • It is often found on hands and forearms.
  • The skin is often itchy, discolored, scaly, or raw.
  • A person may experience blisters that weep, ooze, or become crusty.

Read full article on allergic eczema.


Rashes

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This condition may be considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • A rash is defined as a noticeable change in the color or texture of the skin.
  • According to a 2015 study, rashes may be caused by many things, including insect bites, allergic reactions, medication side effects, fungal skin infection, bacterial skin infection, infectious disease, or autoimmune disease.
  • You can manage many rash symptoms at home. But severe rashes, especially those seen in combination with other symptoms such as fever, pain, dizziness, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, may require urgent medical treatment.

Read full article on rashes.


Body lice

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Photo DermNet New Zealand
  • Different from head or pubic lice, body lice and their tiny eggs can sometimes be seen on the body or clothing, according to the CDC.
  • This rash is caused by an allergic reaction to body lice bites.
  • Symptoms may include red, itchy bumps on the skin.
  • Thickened or darkened areas of skin are common in irritated areas.

Read full article on body lice.


Impetigo

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  • The CDC says that this issue is common in babies and children.
  • The rash is often located in the area around the mouth, chin, and nose.
  • A person may experience an irritating rash and fluid-filled blisters that pop easily and form a honey-colored crust.

Read full article on impetigo.


Head lice

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  • A louse is about the size of a sesame seed, according to the CDC. Both lice and their eggs (nits) may be visible in the hair.
  • A person may experience extreme scalp itchiness caused by allergic reaction to louse bites.
  • A person may develop sores on their scalp from scratching.
  • It may feel like something is crawling on your scalp.

Read full article on head lice.


Bites and stings

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • The NHS says that people may experience redness or swelling at the site of a bite or sting.
  • There may be itching and soreness at the site of the bite.
  • There may be pain in the affected area or in the muscles.
  • A person may feel heat around the bite or sting.

Read full article on bites and stings.


Jock itch

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By Robertgascoign, via Wikimedia Commons
  • There is usually redness, persistent itching, and burning in the groin area.
  • Other symptoms include flaking, peeling, or cracking skin in the groin area.
  • The rash in the groin area may worsen with activity.

Read full article on jock itch.


Ringworm

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Ringworm on the front of the knee. Aiman Khair/Shutterstock
  • According to a 2020 review, ringworm looks like circular scaly rashes with raised borders.
  • The skin in the middle of the ring appears clear and healthy, and the edges of the ring may spread outward.
  • Ringworm is typically itchy.

Read full article on ringworm.


Eczema

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Care_SMC | Flickr
  • Eczema will often appear yellow or white with scaly patches that flake off.
  • The affected areas may be discolored, itchy, greasy, or oily.
  • Hair loss may occur in the area with the rash.

Read full article on eczema.


Latex allergy

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Photo DermNet New Zealand

This condition may be considered a medical emergency in the event of a serious reaction. Urgent care may be required.

  • A rash may occur within minutes to hours after exposure to a latex product.
  • Symptoms may include warm, itchy, red wheals at the site of contact that may take on a dry, crusted appearance with repeated exposure to latex.
  • Airborne latex particles may cause cough, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes.
  • A severe allergy to latex can cause swelling and difficulty breathing.

Read full article on latex allergies.


Scabies

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  • Symptoms may include an extremely itchy rash that may be pimply, made up of tiny blisters, or scaly.
  • There are typically raised, white, or flesh-toned lines around the rash.
  • Creams can typically clear up the scabies.

Read full article on scabies.


Measles

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  • Symptoms include fever, sore throat, red watery eyes, loss of appetite, cough, and runny nose.
  • Discolored rash spreads from the face down the body 3 to 5 days after first symptoms appear.
  • Tiny red spots with blue-white centers appear inside the mouth.

Read full article on measles.


Psoriasis

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  • A psoriasis rash is often a scaly, silvery, and sharply defined patch of skin.
  • It’s commonly located on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back.
  • Psoriasis may be itchy or asymptomatic.

Read full article on psoriasis.


Dermatographia

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Photo DermNet New Zealand
  • Dermatographia is a rash that appears soon after rubbing or lightly scratching the skin.
  • Rubbed or scratched areas of skin turn red, become raised, develop wheals, and may be slightly itchy.
  • The rash usually disappears within up to 30 minutes.

Read full article on dermatographia.


Chickenpox

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Grook da oger, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Chickenpox looks like clusters of itchy, discolored, fluid-filled blisters in various stages of healing all over the body.
  • The rash is often accompanied by fever, body aches, sore throat, and loss of appetite.
  • It remains contagious until all blisters have crusted over.

Read full article on chickenpox.


Pinworms

  • It is highly contagious, according to a 2019 review.
  • Symptoms include intense itching and irritation in the anal area, restless sleep, and discomfort due to anal itching.
  • They may be diagnosed using the “tape test” to collect eggs for your doctor to examine under a microscope.

Read full article on pinworms.



Poison oak, poison sumac, and poison ivy

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DermNet New Zealand
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Photography courtesy of CDC
  • It is caused by skin contact with urushiol, which is an oil found on the leaves, roots, and stems of these plants.
  • Rash appears within hours after contact with the plant and may last up to 1 month after exposure.
  • There may be intense itching, redness, and swelling as well as fluid-filled blisters.

Read full article on poison oak.

Contact your doctor if:

  • You don’t know what’s causing your itching.
  • It’s severe.
  • You experience other symptoms along with the itching.

It’s important to contact your doctor for a diagnosis when the cause isn’t obvious, because some of the causes of itching are serious, yet treatable, conditions.

Your doctor will give you a physical examination and ask you several questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • How long have you had the irritation?
  • Where on the body is the itching occurring?
  • Does it come and go?
  • Have you been in contact with any irritating substances or new scented products?
  • Do you have allergies?
  • Where is the itching most severe?
  • What medications are you taking, or have recently taken?
  • Do you have any other symptoms such as fatigue, unusual sweating, chronic cough?
  • Have you traveled recently?

You may need more testing if your doctor can’t determine the cause of your itching from your answers and a physical exam.

Tests include:

  • Blood test. This may indicate an underlying condition.
  • Test of your thyroid function. Thyroid testing can rule out thyroid issues.
  • Skin test. This test can determine if you’re having an allergic reaction to something.
  • Scraping or biopsy of your skin. Your doctor may use these tests to determine if you have an infection.

When or if your doctor has pinpointed the cause of your itchiness, they can treat the cause of your itching. They may also recommend a topical medication to decrease your itching. If the cause is a disease or infection, your doctor will suggest the best course of treatment for the underlying problem.

When the cause is more superficial, you may receive a prescription for a cream that will help relieve the itching.

Treatment options for itchy skin can vary depending on the cause. Oral medications, topical medications, lifestyle changes, and other natural remedies may be beneficial.

Oral medication

Oral medications could provide relief from itchy skin caused by several conditions, including:

  • allergies
  • fungal infections
  • autoimmune disorders
  • cirrhosis
  • insect bites or stings
  • impetigo
  • eczema
  • dermatographia
  • hives and rashes

According to a 2016 review, medications that may be beneficial include:

  • Antihistamines. Oral antihistamines are used to treat allergic reactions and itchy skin or rashes caused by insect bites or stings, hives, eczema, dermatographia, and contact dermatitis.
  • Oral steroids. Also known as corticosteroids, these drugs help alleviate inflammation and may be used to treat conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), chronic hives, eczema, psoriasis, and severe allergic reactions.
  • Immunosuppressants. This type of medication lowers immune activity. Immunosuppressant drugs may be useful to treat flare-ups caused by inflammatory conditions like SLE, chronic hives, and eczema.
  • Antifungal medications. These medications treat fungal infections and could reduce itching caused by athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, or diaper rash. Some examples of antifungal medications include griseofulvin (Gris-PEG), fluconazole (Diflucan), and itraconazole (Sporanox).
  • Antibiotics. These drugs stop infections caused by bacteria. According to a 2019 study, some specific types of antibiotics, like rifampicin (Rifadin), are also used to control itching caused by liver disease. Oral antibiotics like amoxicillin/clavulanate (Augmentin) or clindamycin (Cleocin) can also treat severe cases of impetigo.
  • Beta-blockers. These medications are used to treat cirrhosis and portal hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the vein that carries blood to the liver.
  • Bile acid sequestrants. Medications like cholestyramine (Prevalite) help remove bile salts from the body, which can treat cirrhosis.
  • Antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac) are often used to decrease itchy skin caused by liver disease.
  • Antiparasitic drugs. Medications like mebendazole (Vermox) and albendazole (Albenza) are sometimes prescribed for pinworm infection.
  • Diuretics. This type of drug can help lower fluid buildup to alleviate symptoms of cirrhosis.

Topical medication

Several types of topical creams can also help reduce itching caused by conditions such as:

  • allergies
  • fungal infections
  • hives and rashes
  • autoimmune disorders
  • eczema
  • lice infestation
  • insect bites or stings
  • scabies

Some of the most common topical medications that are used to treat itchy skin include:

  • Topical steroids. Steroid creams are applied to the skin to lower swelling and inflammation. They may be purchased over the counter or prescribed for conditions like eczema, scabies, psoriasis, neuropathic itching, SLE, contact dermatitis, insect bites, allergic reactions, and rashes.
  • Antifungal creams. These creams are often recommended to reduce itchy skin caused by fungal infections like ringworm, athlete’s foot, diaper rash, and jock itch.
  • Topical antidepressants. Doxepin (Zonalon) is a tricyclic antidepressant that is applied topically. According to a 2014 review, it is sometimes used to treat issues like eczema.
  • Topical anesthetics. These include pramoxine lotion, hydrocortisone-pramoxine cream, and other topical anesthetics. They’re used to provide temporary relief from pain and itching caused by conditions like scabies, insect bites or stings, hives, and rashes.
  • Scabicide. Permethrin cream is a type of topical scabicide prescribed for the treatment of scabies.
  • Zinc oxide. Available as either a cream or a paste, zinc oxide can decrease skin irritation caused by diaper rash or other types of rashes. It’s also found in products like calamine lotion.
  • Pediculicide. This type of topical medication is sometimes used to treat lice infestation.

Lifestyle changes

In addition to using oral or topical medications, some lifestyle changes may also help soothe itchy skin caused by:

  • allergies
  • dry skin
  • eczema
  • fungal infections
  • autoimmune disorders
  • cirrhosis
  • dermatographia
  • pinworm infection
  • lice infestation
  • impetigo

Here are a few lifestyle changes that could help prevent itchy skin:

  • Keep skin moisturized. Applying moisturizer daily, limiting your time in the bath or shower, staying hydrated, and using a humidifier can soothe itching caused by dry skin or eczema.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. This can alleviate skin irritation and allow your skin to breathe, which may prevent fungal infections.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. A 2020 review suggests that making changes to your diet could help control symptoms of psoriasis, lupus, cirrhosis, and eczema.
  • Reduce stress. According to a 2018 review, stress reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises could prevent flare-ups of conditions like eczema, psoriasis, dermatographia, and SLE.
  • Avoid hot water. Hot water can irritate the skin and may worsen hives or dry skin.
  • Practice proper hygiene. Showering regularly, laundering clothes and bedding, and changing your clothing every day could protect against pinworm infection and lice infestation. It may also help stop the spread of other conditions, like impetigo and ringworm.
  • Use mild, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free soaps and wipes. This can prevent irritation caused by dry skin, eczema, and diaper rash.
  • Avoid allergens. Identifying and avoiding foods, products, and environmental allergens that trigger symptoms for you can be beneficial.

Home care for itching

At home, you can do several things to help prevent and relieve itchy skin. Try:

Most itching is treatable and doesn’t indicate a serious problem. However, it’s best to check with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and treatment.