Itchy skin, also called pruritus, is a common condition that causes you to want to scratch yourself to relieve some of the itchiness. Many cases of itchy skin go away on their own without treatment.
Most are caused by a skin irritation of some kind. For this type, you may notice a rash, bumps, or other kind of visible skin irritation.
However, in some cases itchy skin may occur without any visible signs.
The causes of itchy skin without visible irritation are sometimes harder to identify and may be a sign of an underlying organ, neurological, or mental health condition that needs treatment.
Here are 11 possible causes of itchy skin without a rash.
Dry skin is a common cause of itchy skin without a rash.
In most cases, dry skin is mild. It can result from environmental conditions, such as low humidity and hot or cold weather, and practices that can decrease moisture in the skin, such as bathing in hot water.
In these cases, itchy skin can be treated and prevented with regular use of a moisturizer and a humidifier during drier times of the year. Also, avoid using strong soaps or cleansers that can dry your skin further.
Causes of more severe cases of dry skin are often genetic and must be treated by a dermatologist.
Dry skin is more common as you age. It can also be brought on by certain skin conditions, such as eczema.
Many types of medication can cause itchiness on some or all parts the body without being accompanied by a rash.
Treatment of itchiness usually includes stopping use of the drug and replacing it with something else, or trying a lower dose.
Following are some of the medications that can result in itchiness without rash.
Statins and some other cholesterol-lowering medications, such as niacin, may result in all-over skin itchiness, including on the face and throat.
Statins may cause liver damage in some people, resulting in organ stress that leads to an itching sensation on the skin.
If you take a statin and you’re experiencing this symptom, talk to your doctor about adjusting your dose or trying a new medication.
Itchy skin without a rash is a side effect of niacin that can be eased by taking aspirin beforehand.
Blood pressure medications
Itchy skin can be a side effect of some blood pressure medications, such as amlodipine (Norvasc).
Stopping use of a medication that causes itchiness can quickly resolve the issue in most people.
Itchy skin is a common side effect of taking prescription opioids for pain relief. Using a medication called nalfurafine hydrochloride can help relieve itching in those taking opioids.
Many other medications may cause pruritus by damaging organs and body systems. This can happen when a medication is prescribed or used incorrectly.
Medications with a risk of pruritus include:
- blood thinners
- antimalarial medications
- diabetes drugs
The thyroid is an important type of organ called a gland. This gland is located in your neck. It releases hormones that regulate your growth and metabolism.
Having a thyroid disorder may cause itching without any rash. This is because the body’s cells, including those that make up the skin, stop working properly and dry out.
Often, thyroid disorders are linked to Grave’s disease, an autoimmune condition. For most people, taking antihistamines along with treatment for their thyroid issues can help relieve itching.
The kidneys work as filters for your blood, removing waste and water to produce urine. Itchy skin without a rash is common in people with kidney disease, especially if it’s left untreated.
This happens because kidney disease can cause:
- dry skin
- a reduced ability to sweat and cool off
- poor metabolism
- an accumulation of toxins in the blood
- new nerve growth
- coexisting medical problems like diabetes
Sticking to your treatment plan with dialysis and any medications is the best way to reduce itching.
The liver is also important for filtering blood in the body. As with the kidneys, when the liver is diseased, the body becomes less healthy overall. This can lead to conditions that can cause itchy skin without a rash.
- dark urine
- yellow eyes
- light-colored stool
- itchy skin
Pruritus is less common in people with alcohol-induced liver diseases and more common in people with autoimmune liver diseases, or in cases of hepatitis.
Sticking to your treatment plan is the best way to prevent itchy skin caused by liver disease. Some
The pancreas is an important part of the body’s digestive system. Like those with liver disease, people with pancreatic cancer and other pancreas issues may experience itchy skin caused by cholestasis and jaundice.
Treatment for any pancreas issues can help relieve itching, as can cholestyramine, colesevelam, or rifampicin.
The body needs iron to maintain healthy:
- body functions
Iron deficiency anemia is the name for the condition that occurs when a person’s body lacks enough iron to stay healthy. It’s common in:
- menstruating women
- people on vegan or vegetarian diets
- people who have lost blood from injuries
Itchy skin without a rash is a less-common symptom of iron deficiency anemia. However, it may occur due to the lack of iron in your blood, which takes a toll on your skin.
Iron deficiency anemia can be treated by taking iron supplements and eating more iron-rich foods.
In severe cases, iron can be given intravenously. Intravenous iron may cause even more itchiness, but this side effect is uncommon in most people.
In some people, the body’s nervous system may trigger itching sensations. According to experts, the same types of nerve disorders that cause pain in the body may also cause itching without a rash. These include:
Diabetes makes it more difficult for the body to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
Itchy skin without a rash is common in people with diabetes, and it often affects the lower limbs. It’s caused by prolonged levels of high blood sugar in the body, which lead to complications, such as kidney disease and nerve damage.
If you have diabetes, you can help relieve itching by keeping your blood sugar in target range as much as possible. This includes treating diabetes with medication and lifestyle changes, as well as moisturizing the skin and using anti-itch creams.
Shingles is a viral disease affecting the body’s nervous system.
It causes burning, pain, tingling, numbness, and itching. This itching often occurs one to five days before you notice a blistering rash on your body. This happens because the shingles virus kills off some of your sensory neurons.
While there’s no cure for shingles, taking antiviral drugs can help your itchiness and other symptoms clear up more quickly.
Pinched nerves can’t function properly, so they often cause random sensations of pain, numbness, weakness, and in some cases itchiness without a rash.
Treating the underlying cause of your pinched nerve through physical therapy, surgery, or lifestyle changes can help relieve pressure on your pinched nerve, and any itchiness that results.
In rare cases, itchy skin without a rash is a sign of cancer. Though experts aren’t sure exactly why this happens, it could be that some cancers cause itchy skin as a reaction to substances inside of tumors.
Other types of cancers affecting the skin, such as melanoma, commonly cause itching. This itchiness most often occurs on the legs and chest.
Usually this itching resolves with treatment for your cancer, such as chemotherapy.
But in some cases, cancer treatments may also cause itchiness without a rash. Some treatments, like the drug erlotinib (Tarceva), bring on itchiness when they are working.
Itchiness with other cancer treatments may be a sign of an allergy to a specific drug. If you are undergoing cancer treatment, it’s important to bring up any itchiness you may have with your doctor.
Certain mental health issues may cause itchy skin without a rash. While experts aren’t exactly sure why mental health disorders cause itching, they believe it’s linked to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.
Anxiety and depression are often linked to random pain and itching without a rash, while those with psychosis and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) may imagine reasons for why their skin is itching.
To resolve itching, it’s important to treat the underlying mental health issue with talk therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Itchiness with or without a rash is a common symptom in people with HIV. Because HIV reduces the immune system’s ability to fight infection, people with this disease are more prone to skin conditions that may cause itchiness.
Common complications causing itchiness in people living with HIV include:
- dry skin
In some cases, HIV drugs may also cause itchiness.
To reduce itchiness, it’s important to adhere to an HIV treatment plan. Treating any skin conditions and taking sedating antihistamines may also reduce itching.
In some people, phototherapy (exposing the skin to light) may also help reduce itchiness.
If you’re worried about your itchy skin without a rash, you should schedule an appointment with your general doctor. They’ll give you a physical exam and ask questions about the history of your itching.
They may also recommend blood tests, a urine sample, and X-rays, or other imaging tests. The results of these tests can help your doctor try to understand if there’s an underlying health condition causing your itchy skin.
If your doctor finds you have an underlying medical disorder that’s causing your itch, they’ll recommend a treatment plan or send you to a specialist who can treat you.
For example, you’d see a neurologist (nerve specialist) for a nerve disorder, a psychologist or psychiatrist for a mental health condition, an oncologist (cancer doctor) for cancer, and so on.
If your doctor is unable to identify any underlying medical issues that could be a cause, they may refer you to a dermatologist.
A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.They may be able to help get to the bottom of what’s causing your itchiness by taking a skin biopsy, asking more questions, and visually examining your skin.
While the most effective way to stop your itchy skin is to address the underlying cause, certain home remedies may provide you with instant, short-term itch relief.
Here are a few home remedies to try:
- Apply hypoallergenic and unscented moisturizers to your skin regularly (at least once a day).
- Apply over-the-counter (OTC) anti-itch creams, such as calamine lotion, nonprescription corticosteroid creams (use for short periods of time only), menthol or capsaicin cream, or topical anesthetics.
- Take an OTC allergy medication containing antihistamines (but note that these drugs may cause drowsiness).
- Add a humidifier to your house to help keep indoor air moist.
- Take a lukewarm or cold bath with Epsom salt, baking soda, or colloidal oatmeal to help soothe itchy skin.
- Avoid scratching your skin. Covering up itchy areas, wearing gloves at night, and trimming your nails short can help you avoid worsening the itching and prevent possible infection from scratching.
- Wear lightweight clothing to avoid aggravating itchy skin, as tight clothing may cause sweating that makes itching worse.
See a doctor about your itchiness without a rash if it:
- affects your entire body or sensitive parts of your body
- is happening along with other changes in your body, such as fatigue, weight loss, and changes in bowel habits
- lasts two weeks or more and doesn’t feel better after trying home remedies
- occurs suddenly without any clear cause
- is so severe that it disrupts your everyday routine or sleep
Itchy skin is a common issue that’s not usually a cause for concern. Often it occurs along with a rash and has a clear cause, such as an insect bite or sting, or a sunburn. This type of itchiness usually goes away on its own.
However, sometimes skin may itch without a rash. In these cases, an underlying condition could be the cause. It could be something as simple as dry skin or as serious as cancer.
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned. Both medical treatment for your condition and home remedies can help ease your itching.