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Itching (pruritus) can be more than a small annoyance. It can cause a lot of discomfort and may even become a distraction. You may be wondering when itching is serious and how you can cure your itchiness at home.

Your skin can itch for a variety of reasons. For example, you may have touched a certain type of plant, like ragweed or poison ivy. Psoriasis and eczema are two types of skin issues that can cause dry skin and itching. Illness, an insect bite, or healing from a burn or cut can also cause you to feel itchy.

Read on to learn about the best remedies for itchy skin and when it’s time to see your doctor.

Anti-itch cream is one way to soothe itchy skin. You may consider trying a cream that contains hydrocortisone. This drug inhibits inflammatory responses in the body and can help calm inflamed, itchy skin.

If over-the-counter (OTC) versions don’t help, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream to reduce inflammation. By reducing underlying inflammation in certain skin conditions, like eczema, you may be able to find relief from itchiness.

Hydrocortisone and corticosteroid creams should be used for the shortest period possible (usually 1 to 2 weeks) and then discontinued. This is because they can lead to side effects, like thinning skin and possible addiction. Hydrocortisone creams should never be applied to your face unless directed by a doctor.

Applying topical antihistamines directly to the affected area of skin first may be preferable over oral antihistamines to avoid side effects associated with oral antihistamines.

Anti-itch creams may include Cortisone-10 and Benadryl topical.

Colloidal oatmeal isn’t something you eat for breakfast. This type of oatmeal is made from oats that have been ground into a very fine powder. A natural product used in many soaps and lotions, it can also be added to a cool bath.

One 2016 study found that this product is safe and helps treat itchiness and moisture loss while also helping to improve the skin barrier.

A 2020 study found that adding 1 percent colloidal oatmeal to a topical cream improved skin. Out of 61 patients, 30 received the 1 percent colloidal oat eczema cream, while 31 received a standard moisturizer.

The study showed that the group that received the 1 percent colloidal oat cream showed significant improvement in skin barrier function, skin hydration, and skin pH. The group that received the standard moisturizer showed improvement only in hydration.

You can find colloidal oatmeal at many pharmacies or make your own by grinding oats into a fine powder.

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Try a plant-based product like aloe vera gel, which can help skin retain moisture, or cooling menthol for simple itches caused by sunburns or mosquito bites.

Menthol, which produces a cooling effect, is made from the peppermint plant. Topical menthol should be used with caution due to the possibility of it being an irritant to the skin if not diluted. Both of these products can be purchased at most drug stores.

Good quality moisturizers hold water in the outermost layer of your skin. This can help your skin feel hydrated and less dry and itchy. Apply to damp skin for better absorbency, like immediately after bathing.

There are different moisturizers that help with different causes of skin dryness. Some moisturizers, like those made with beeswax, coconut oil, and mineral oil, work to prevent water loss by creating a barrier. Other moisturizers, like those made with glycerin, can help repair the skin barrier.

Before choosing a moisturizer, contact a dermatologist to discuss which option may be best for your skin.

One possible solution for immediate itchy skin relief is also a simple one: a cold pack or a bag filled with ice.

The key, as you might have noticed, is cold. Avoid exposing the affected area to hot water as much as possible. It will further irritate the itching skin.

Histamines are chemicals in the body that cause allergy symptoms, including itching.

An antihistamine is a common treatment for allergic reactions. But many antihistamine drugs can make you sleepy, so they’re best used before bed.

Also, oral antihistamines tend to work best if your itchy skin is caused by allergies. These may not be the best remedies for acute itchiness due to dry skin or other non-allergic causes.

Talk with your doctor before using any OTC oral antihistamines, especially if you’re currently taking any other medications.

If you have extremely dry, cracked skin along with itchiness, you may consider using a petroleum jelly-based product, like Vaseline or Aquaphor.

These are even gentle enough to use on your face, including more delicate areas like the eyelids and lips. But you should avoid using petroleum jelly on your face if you have oily skin, as this could lead to breakouts.

While petroleum jelly works best on damp skin, you can still reapply these products on dry skin throughout the day as needed.

According to some studies, antidepressants might be able to help with itching, too. Some of these drugs cause a release of serotonin that can relax the receptors in your body that provoke the itchy feeling.

This treatment is typically used in more chronic cases of itching. But more research and evidence are needed.

When you have an itch, scratching is the natural response. But it won’t help the problem. In fact, it may tear up the skin and prevent it from healing. It may even cause infection.

Try extra hard not to scratch your skin. Wear comfortable clothes that don’t irritate the skin, and keep your fingernails properly trimmed. It may also be helpful to wear cotton gloves at night to help prevent scratching your skin while you sleep.

Unfortunately, your favorite body lotion could be aggravating your itchy skin due to added fragrances in the product. It’s important to read product ingredients carefully and choose products specifically labeled “fragrance-free” to help prevent further irritation. This is especially important if you have eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea.

Consider the following steps to help relieve itchy skin quickly, using some of the above remedies:

1. Apply cool treatments

Apply a cold compress or a wet washcloth to small areas of skin that may be itchy due to a rash, bug bite, or burn. You may use this method for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. For a widespread area of skin, you may consider taking a cool bath instead.

2. Take an oatmeal bath for additional relief

For a more severe, widespread rash or to help treat sunburn or hives, you may consider taking an oatmeal bath. Use lukewarm water and slowly add in colloidal oatmeal, stirring it occasionally, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the tub.

Make sure your bathing time doesn’t exceed 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Apply moisturizer to damp skin

Follow up any cooling treatment or oatmeal bath immediately with moisturizer. Damp skin will absorb any lotions or emollient creams more effectively. If you’re using a medicated ointment, apply this before your moisturizer.

4. Consider combination therapies for chronic itchy skin

Depending on the cause of your itchy skin, you may benefit from using more than one treatment. This may be especially needed in cases of chronic itching.

For example, chronic itchiness related to skin conditions like eczema may benefit from colloidal oatmeal baths, topical emollients, and anti-itch creams.

Before using a combination of therapies, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Additionally, certain lifestyle changes can also help relieve itchy skin. Consider the following:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid trapping moisture in your skin.
  • Wear natural fabrics, like cotton.
  • Avoid extreme changes in temperatures, especially during the summer and winter months. Keep your house cool and humid, respectively.
  • Use lukewarm water while bathing, and avoid hot tubs.
  • Manage stress as much as possible. Stress can increase skin inflammation and itchiness.
  • in addition to using fragrance-free lotions, make sure that your soaps and detergents are fragrance-free, too

Regardless of the cause, schedule an appointment with your doctor if you’re itching consistently for three or more days.

While itching usually doesn’t indicate a serious problem, general itchiness all over can sometimes be a sign of a serious condition, including thyroid, kidney, or liver disease, or even cancer. Talk with your doctor if you’ve been experiencing itchy skin for 6 weeks or longer.

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience severe itchiness without any bites, wounds, or rash.