Itching Skin

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is itching skin?

Itching skin is an inflammatory reaction of the skin. Itching is a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. Itching is also called pruritus. Itching or itchy skin may or may not be associated with a rash. Itching skin can affect a small area of the skin or the full body, and it differs in severity, frequency and duration, depending on the underlying cause.

Itching skin can indicate mild to severe conditions and can also occur in some serious, even life-threatening conditions, such as severe allergic reactions that include anaphylaxis and allergic purpura. Itching can result from infection, inflammation, allergy or sensitivity, insect bites, and other abnormal conditions.

Depending on the cause, itchy skin can be short-term and disappear quickly, such as when itching occurs due to a buildup of dead skin cells. For example, if you feel itchy all over and live in a dry climate, you may have “winter itch,” which is caused by the lack of moisture in your skin.

Itching can also occur in sudden episodes, such as itching that happens when a person is exposed to an allergen that causes a rash. Itching can also occur over a relatively long period of time, such as when itching is due to chronic eczema.

Itching can occur by itself or in conjunction with other symptoms, including rash, runny nose, and sneezing. In addition, excessive scratching can introduce bacteria or fungus into the layers of the skin, resulting in infections. Tell your health care provider about any symptoms that occur with itchy skin. This information may help your health care provider diagnose the condition.

Itching skin accompanied by difficulty breathing and swelling of the tongue or face may be due to an allergic reaction and anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening emergency that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms. Seek prompt medical care if you do not have symptoms of anaphylaxis, but the itching is persistent or causes you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with itching skin?

Itching skin may occur with other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Body systems that are seemingly unrelated to the skin can also be affected. For example, you may have flu-like symptoms if the itching is due to infection or inflammation.

Skin symptoms that may occur along with itching skin

Itching skin may occur with other skin-related symptoms including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with itching skin

Itching skin may occur with symptoms related to body systems other than the skin including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, itching skin may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Symptoms that may indicate a serious or life-threatening condition include:

What causes itching skin?

Many different diseases, disorders and conditions can lead to itching skin. Itching can be a sign of inflammation, infection, or insect bites. More serious causes include an allergic reaction that may be associated with difficulty breathing.

Infectious causes of itching skin

Itching skin may arise from infectious diseases, such as:

Parasites, insects and arachnids that can cause itching skin

Itching skin can be due to numerous insects, parasites or arachnids that bite the skin or burrow in the skin including:

  • Bedbugs

  • Fleas

  • Lice

  • Mosquitoes

  • Ticks

Allergic causes of itching skin

Drug, animal, food, and other environmental allergens can lead to itching skin including:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis, such as an allergy to latex

  • Animal allergy

  • Eczema

  • Food allergies

  • Irritant contact dermatitis, such as from poison ivy

  • Medication allergy, such as from penicillin

  • Scabies (allergic reaction to mite bites)

Autoimmune or inflammatory causes of itching skin

Autoimmune and inflammatory causes of itching skin include:

Other causes of itching skin

Various other causes of itching skin include:

Life-threatening causes of itching skin

In some cases, itching skin may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible or in an emergency setting. These include:

What are the potential complications of itching skin?

Complications of itching skin depend on the underlying disease, disorder and condition. Identifying and treating the underlying cause of itching skin is important to minimize any potential complications. In some cases, itching skin itself can also lead to complications, especially if the itch-scratch cycle is severe and leads to a breakdown of the skin.

Potential complications of itching skin

Over time, itching skin can lead to various complications:

  • Bacterial or fungal infection of the skin and surrounding tissues

  • Permanent change in skin texture (neurodermatitis)

  • Permanent skin discoloration

  • Scarring

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 3
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Allergic Diseases Resource Center. World Allergy Association. http://www.worldallergy.org/adrc/
  2. Skin rashes and other changes. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/545.html