Itching (prutitis) is an unpleasant sensation that compels a person to scratch the affected area.

Itchy skin is usually just an annoying but temporary problem, and rarely indicates a serious underlying cause.

But you should see your GP if your itch:

  • is severe
  • lasts for a long time
  • keeps coming back
  • is associated with other symptoms – such as redness and swelling, or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • is all over your body, with no obvious cause

Find your local GP.

Diagnosing the cause

The medical name for itching is pruritus.

Your GP will ask you about your symptoms – for example, if anything makes your itch worse, or if your itch comes and goes. They'll also examine your skin to look for visible symptoms.

In some cases, they may take a skin scraping or a swab so it can be tested to help identify the cause of your itching. 

A blood test may also be carried out to look for underlying problems, such as thyroid or kidney disease.

Depending on the cause of your itch, you may be referred to a hospital specialist for a further assessment and specific treatment.

Common causes of itching

Itching can be caused by a number of different conditions, including:

Read about the possible causes of itching.

Managing itching

If you experience troublesome itching, the following advice may help:

  • pat or tap the itchy area, rather than scratching it
  • hold a cold compress, such as a damp flannel, over the affected area to cool it down
  • bathe or shower in cool or lukewarm water
  • use unperfumed personal hygiene products
  • avoid clothes that irritate your skin, such as wool or man-made fabrics
  • use a moisturiser or emollient if your skin is dry or flaky

Over-the-counter medicines, such as antihistamines and steroid creams, may help relieve itching caused by certain skin conditions.

Read more about treatments to relieve itching.

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