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Diagnosis of Itchy Skin

Overview

Itchy skin can be generalized or affect limited parts of the body. Itching can be the result of many causes, including insect bites, dry or aging skin, sunburn, irritations or superficial skin infections not requiring medical attention. However, some skin problems causing symptoms of itching might need professional consultation for treatment.

Basics of Itching

Itch receptors are present in the epidermis, or top layer of skin, and mucous membranes in the mouth and throat, eyes, ears, nose and genitalia. No receptors are in the muscles, joints and internal organs. A substance called histamine is released in response to stimuli that might originate from the skin, peripheral nerves or central nervous system.

Dermatitis

Dermatitis, also referred to as eczema, means inflammation of the skin. Many types of dermatitis can occur in many forms and cause swollen, reddened and itchy skin. Contact dermatitis can be caused by contact with a particular substance. Atopic dermatitis can be caused by allergies. Nummular dermatitis can be seasonal. Generalized exfoliative dermatitis can result from certain medications and disease. Stasis dermatitis can result from varicose veins or edema, according to Merck Manuals.

Parasites

Several kinds of parasites can invade your body and cause intense itching. Lice are difficult to see because they are tiny, wingless parasites. Lice feed on your blood and are easily spread through close physical contact. Scabies is caused by another tiny, eight-legged burrowing parasite. Scabies is contagious and causes itching in the area of the mite's burrow.

HomeTreatment

If itching skin is not persistent or severe, you can deal with the condition by trying to avoid scratching the itchy areas. Instead of wearing rough clothing, especially wool, over an itchy area, choose cool light and loose bedclothes. Lukewarm baths without excessive soap or a skin-soothing oatmeal or cornstarch bath may relive itching. Apply a moisturizer or soothing lotion after the bath to soften the skin and moisturize. Prolonged exposure to heat and humidity may worsen the condition. Cold compresses can help alleviate the itch. Over-the-counter oral antihistamines or hydrocortisone creams may be needed but it is best to consult your health care provider because of possible side effects to these drugs.

When to Call the Doctor

When the cause of itch is not obvious, occurs with other unexplained symptoms or persists and worsens, tests by a dermatologist may be warranted. A skin biopsy may be required and stool tests may reveal intestinal parasites. Blood work may help diagnose causes by testing for conditions such as red and white cell count, deficiencies or heavy metal toxicity to determine an allergy. Because skin conditions are often associated with diseases such as celiac and Crohn's disease, an abdominal ultrasound may be required. Diet trials may reveal food intolerance or allergies while discontinuation of medications may indicate drug side effects.

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