If there is one symptom which is common to all these skin conditions it is itching. There is nothing worse than that burning or tingling sensation on your skin which causes an urgent desire to scratch even though it can make things worse. But it is very hard to resist.

What is itching?

Itching or to use the medical term pruritus, is a sensation that occurs on any part of the body and is extremely frustrating! There are 2 types of itching:

  • Localised: this itching occurs on one part of the body
  • Generalised: itching which happens over the entire body

Both are equally as annoying.

Causes of itching

Itching occurs for any number of reasons which include:

  • Stress
  • Skin complaint, e.g. psoriasis
  • Insect bite, e.g. midges
  • Fungal infection, e.g. athlete’s foot, thrush
  • Systemic condition, e.g. underactive thyroid gland
  • Dry skin
  • Sunburn
  • Prickly heat
  • Allergies, e.g. nickel in jewellery
  • Pregnancy or the menopause (hormonal fluctuations)
  • Medical conditions, e.g. hepatitis, leukaemia, chronic kidney failure.

You may notice a spot (or spots) which have appeared the same time as the itching. Itching is also a common sign of a skin rash.

Do you need to see your GP if you have itching?

In some cases itching will resolve itself but visit your GP if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as a skin rash, headache and fever as these are signs of an illness.

Also see your GP if you have severe itching; it is recurrent or lasts for a long period of time.

Your GP will examine you and refer you for tests if he/she suspects that you may have an underlying condition. These will include a blood test, skin biopsy, small swab from an infected/itchy area and a skin scraping. Scans and x-rays may also be carried out if necessary.

Treatment for itching

Once your GP knows what is causing your itching he/she will then recommend a suitable course of treatment. This may include prescription medicine such as antihistamines, antibiotics or corticosteroids.

But there are few steps you can take to ease your itching such as wearing loose, cotton clothing, switching to a mild washing powder, avoiding cosmetics and other scented bathroom products and using a moisturiser.

Calamine lotion is a popular treatment which is available over the counter from your pharmacist. This is a cool lotion which is applied to the skin. But a damp cloth works equally well.

No scratching

Try to avoid scratching itchy skin as this often worsens things, for example, damages the skin causing pain and inflammation. It also sets up a vicious circle where you scratch an itch which causes it to itch again which you then scratch and so on…

Once you start it is very difficult to stop. But if you can’t resist then scratch your skin through your clothing, e.g. rub the itchy area rather than directly scratching your skin. Keep your nails short and rub the affected area after your have scratched it.