Overview and Definition

Itching or pruritus in medical terms refers to a skin sensation that triggers a reflex to scratch a certain area of the body. It has a wide variety of causes, which range from dry skin to a number of diseases. While mild to moderate cases of itching can be resolved by using topical ointments or lotions, severe cases that affect a large portion of the body requires treatment.

Most cases of itching do not require medical attention. Simple home treatments such as anti-itching creams and ointments should be enough to relieve the sensation. However, if itching persists and affects a wide area, it could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. It would be best to consult your family physician who will determine the exact cause of the itch and provide the best treatment. However, if itching is due to underlying medical condition, you will be referred to a specialist.

For instance, if the cause of itching is a skin disease, such as eczema, you will need to be referred to a dermatologist. If it is determined that the cause is a disease in one of the organs, like the liver, you’ll need to see a hepatologist.

When do you need to see a doctor?

The initial reaction to an itch is to scratch it. However, doing so can create skin lesions that result in scars. It can also result to infections, so it’s best to apply home remedies if the itch is persistent. Medications such as antihistamines are also effective in treating an itch, but these should not be taken during driving or in situations where you’ll need to be fully alert, as they cause drowsiness.

If home remedies are not effective in curing the itch, it’s best to consult your physician. You will likely to undergo a series of tests to determine the exact cause so that the right treatment can be provided.

You should also see a doctor if itching occurs in the genitals as this could be a symptom of a genital infection or an STD.

If there is no apparent cause for the itch, there is a possibility that you have a condition called brachioradial pruritus. This is a neurologic condition caused by a pinched nerve in the neck area. In these conditions, intense itching occurs starting from the arms and extends to other parts of the upper extremities.

Itching is also common during pregnancy, so you’ll need to talk to your doctor about the types of ointments, creams, or lotions that are safe to use. It is advisable not to take any medications for the itch unless they’ve been prescribed by the physician.

What are the common home remedies for an itch?

If you feel that you require medicines for the itch, you can try over-the-counter anti-itch products that have one or more of the following ingredients:

  • Pramoxine
  • Menthol
  • Camphor
  • Benzocaine
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Phenol

Ice packs or cool water can also help relieve an itch by numbing the nerve fibers. Using cold applications is better than resorting to hot water. A hot shower will only provide temporary relief, but there is a higher chance that the itch will intensify once the effects of the hot water has subsided.


  • Psoriasis Org Managing Itching: www.psoriasis.org/life-with-psoriasis/managing-itch
  • Itching: National Library of Medicine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003701/
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