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What Are the Causes of Widespread Itchy Skin?

What Are the Causes of Widespread Itchy Skin? What Are the Causes of Widespread Itchy Skin?

The skin is the largest organ in the body and its major functions include body temperature regulation, maintenance of water balance and protection. When the composition of the skin cells is disturbed or an outside irritant comes into contact with the skin, it can cause an immune response that involves widespread itching.

Dry Skin

Healthy skin cells are plump and fully saturated with water. Dry skin, or xerosis, occurs when the skin cells lose a significant amount of moisture and become shriveled and flaky. Most cases of dry skin are caused by environmental factors, such as cold weather, air-conditioning, central heating, prolonged hot showers and excess sun exposure. In some cases, however, dry skin can be caused by underlying medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism or psoriasis. Although dry skin is not a serious condition, it can be extremely bothersome. Those with dry skin experience widespread itching, a feeling of skin tightness, flaky or scaly skin, cracks in the skin, and skin redness. Dry skin can usually be treated with regular use of moisturizers and avoidance of environmental irritants. If dry skin is severe and causes deep cracks in the skin, hydrocortisone creams may be needed to repair the skin.


Scabies is a skin infection caused by minuscule mites that burrow into the top layer of skin and lay their eggs. When the mites lay their eggs, small itchy bumps and blisters develop on the skin in short wavy lines called burrows, according to These burrows can cause intense widespread itching and scratching that eventually leads to areas of extremely dry, scaly skin. Scabies is extremely contagious and is usually transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. KidsHealth notes that the condition is most common in crowded areas, such as classrooms or nursing homes. Treatment for scabies consists of a prescription cream that kills the mites and cortisone creams to relieve itching. The itching associated with scabies usually goes away within one to two days after treatment, but it is advised to stay away from others until the burrows have completely disappeared.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that is caused by direct contact with an irritant or allergen. Common irritants and allergens include poison ivy, poison oak, certain medications, chemicals in soaps and lotions, detergents, and perfumes, according to MedlinePlus. When the skin comes into contact with these substances, it can result in widespread itching, redness and inflammation. Skin lesions and blisters may also form and begin to ooze as the reaction progresses. Initial treatment involves washing the area and cleansing it of any traces of the irritant. Corticosteroid and hydrocortisone creams may reduce itching and inflammation. In severe cases, oral steroids may be needed to reduce swelling of large areas of the body.

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