Why Does Your Skin Itch?


  • By Robin Westen

    If your skin is itchy, you have a lot of company. Experts say there are probably close to 100 million itchy people in our country right this minute. And chances are if you’re one of them, you know how the condition can drive you up a wall. Take the first step to relieve the condition by discovering what’s causing you to scratch:

    Environmental Issues

    Sometimes dry skin is simply the result of hot or cold weather with low humidity levels, long-term use of air conditioning or central heating, or washing or bathing too often or too long.

    To start a conversation about itchy skin, click here.
  • Irritation and Allergic Reactions Wool, chemicals, soaps and other substances can irritate the skin and cause itching. Other common substances triggering allergic reaction include poison ivy and cosmetics. Food allergies can also cause itchy skin.
  • Nerve Disorders Conditions that affect the nervous system — such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, pinched nerves and shingles (herpes zoster) — can cause itching.
  • Skin Conditions and Rashes Lots of common skin conditions cause itchy skin, including eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, hives, lice, and dermatographism (in which the skin becomes raised and inflamed when stroked, scratched, rubbed, and sometimes even slapped). In these cases, the itching usually affects specific areas and is accompanied by other signs, such as red, irritated skin or bumps and blisters.
  • Internal Diseases These include liver disease, malabsorption of wheat (celiac disease), kidney failure, iron deficiency anemia, thyroid problems and cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma. In these cases, the itching usually affects the whole body, rather than one specific area. The skin may look otherwise normal except for the repeatedly scratched areas.
  • Drugs Reactions to drugs, such as antibiotics, antifungal drugs or narcotic pain medications, can cause widespread rashes and itching.

    To start a conversation about itchy skin, click here. About the Author

    Robin Westen is ThirdAge's Medical Director. Check for her daily updates. Her latest book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V is for Vagina."