Itching – causes, treatment


Itchingitching or pruritus is a discomfort in the skin, which is unpleasant for the affected person and often leads to scratching or chafing. Most of the time, however, itching is harmless, albeit very annoying.

What is pruritus?

Itching can occur localizable on the skin or extend indefinably over larger areas of the skin. If the itching can be determined exactly locally, it is called epicritical pruritus.

However, if the itching feels rather difficult to locate, its technical term is protopathic itching. Prurigo is when the itching occurs in conjunction with changes in the skin.


The itching serves the function of protection, similar to pain, cold, touch or heat. It is primarily intended to draw people’s attention to parasites or foreign bodies on and in the skin in order to be able to remove them. Prolonged long-lasting, mostly chronic itching, in contrast to short-lasting, acute itching, should always be regarded as a symptom of a possible disease.

The itching itself is triggered by the body’s own active ingredients, such as cytokines, histamine or opioids, and then transmitted via the nerve fibers. Thus, itching is one of the most common symptoms of the skin. Almost eight percent of adults struggle with the itching.

If the itching occurs more often or more long-lasting, a pathological cause can be assumed. Skin diseases are the most common triggers. However, the rather well-localized itching is often associated with underlying diseases, such as metabolic disorders, liver diseases or infections caused by certain pathogens.

Diseases with this symptom

Diagnosis & course

Itching can be due to a variety of causes and, accordingly, take a different course. As a basis for a diagnosis, the doctor asks about the intensity of itching, the timing, the parts of the body and a possible situational dependence of its occurrence, the intake of medication and the presence of allergies or other underlying diseases.

During the physical examination, the doctor checks for the presence of scratch marks, color skin changes and dry skin areas. In addition, he searches for evidence of pathogens that can be detected by a smear.

By palpation, the doctor detects abnormalities of the spleen, liver or lymph nodes. Depending on the suspected cause, stool, blood, X-ray or ultrasound examinations, computed tomography or colonoscopy are performed.


Itching (pruritus) is widespread and usually a harmless transient phenomenon. Sometimes, however, it can also be a symptom of a serious illness. It becomes problematic if the pruritus lasts longer than six weeks. Then it indicates that something is wrong with the body.

Often severe liver diseases, jaundice, infectious diseases, thyroid dysfunction, diabetes or, in rare cases, even cancer are behind it. Especially if the itching occurs along with other ailments such as fatigue, fatigue, night sweats or weight loss, it can be considered a warning sign of serious underlying diseases. In these cases, even direct treatments against the itching do not help.

It will continue to exist as long as the causative disease has not yet healed. However, persistent and excruciating itching can also be the cause of severe sleep disorders, depression or general irritability. Furthermore, the skin is severely damaged by constant scratching in the long term. Therefore, if itching has not already arisen on the basis of eczematous skin diseases, its persistence still causes skin changes similar to eczema.

A vicious circle develops. Scratching wounds the skin in the itchy area. These wounds cause inflammation and crusting, which increase the itching even more. In addition, the skin can discolor and form itchy nodules, which, when scratched, further delays the possibly underlying disease.

When to go to the doctor?

Before treating itching with home remedies or medicinal preparations, the cause should be clarified by a doctor. There may be an acute contact allergy, which can lead to unbearable skin irritation and pain after a short time. A visit to the doctor is also recommended if the symptoms do not subside after two to three days at the latest or even increase in the course. Concomitant symptoms such as pain, redness or inflammation indicate a serious underlying condition that requires immediate diagnosis and treatment.

Itching as a result of eczema must be treated in any case. Especially if it occurs on the eye or covers large areas of skin. If there is also inflammation and greasy yellowish coatings, there may be a serious infection that must be investigated quickly. Itching in infants and young children always requires a doctor’s visit. Allergy sufferers should record the symptoms accurately on the basis of a complaint diary. If skin diseases such as neurodermatitis or acne are already present, a should be consulted at the first abnormalities. In the case of allergic reactions, an emergency doctor must be called in immediately or a hospital must be visited, depending on the severity.

Treatment & Therapy

If you go to the doctor with the symptom of itching, you will first be questioned in depth. The intensity and localized location of the itching as well as the intake of medication are the most important questions of the doctor in order to be able to make a diagnosis. Furthermore, existing diseases or allergies can also play a role.

In addition, a cause of itching by certain situations could also be inquired. Once the survey has been completed, an examination is carried out on the body. The doctor will pay particular attention to color changes, conspicuous skin areas and possible pathogens. Furthermore, the liver, spleen, kidneys and lymph nodes are examined.

A stool and blood test, as well as an ultrasound and X-ray examination is also part of standard diagnostics. If pathogens are suspected as the cause, a swab is taken in order to be able to create a pathogen culture.

If further causes are revealed, even the use of computed tomography, a small colonoscopy and further medical examination is possible.

Treatment of itching is usually carried out by the use of active ingredient-free fatty ointments. Likewise, only alkali-free soap should be used for personal hygiene. Lotions with urea, tannins or menthol have a soothing effect. Medications prescribed by the doctor could be antihistamines. If the cause of the itching is psychological, tranquilizers and neuroleptics are often prescribed. Likewise, ointments with cayenne pepper have proven themselves. UV-B rays are also helpful for severe itching.

↳ More information: Home remedies for itching

If diseases are the cause of itching, they should first be treated.

Outlook & Forecast

In most cases, itching is a relatively unpleasant symptom for the patient. Due to itching, the skin is usually reddened. In any case, the affected person should refrain from scratching the affected area. Scratching usually only intensifies the itching and can cause , wounds and scarring.

If the itching occurs due to an intolerance or an allergy, no special treatment is necessary. The symptom disappears after a short time, when the body has broken down the causative substance. If the itching occurs after an insect bite, it will usually subside after a short time without the need for treatment.

Treatments by the doctor are necessary if the itching does not disappear and leads to severe pain or rashes on the skin. In this case, treatment can often take place with the help of antibiotics and quickly leads to success in most people. In case of intolerances, medication can also be used that allow the digestion of a certain ingredient and thus avoid itching.

What you can do yourself

In most cases, itching can also be treated at home and does not necessarily have to be examined by a doctor. In most cases, itching occurs with andallergic reactions. In this case, the patient must abstain from the triggering food or the specific ingredient. It usually takes a few days for the body to completely break down the ingredient. After that, the itching disappears on its own.

For supportive treatment, itching can always be creamed with creams and gentle care products. Under no circumstances should the affected person scratch the affected areas in case of itching. As a result, the itching only intensifies and sores and blisters can develop. Especially with children, parents should be careful that they do not scratch the spots. Cooling with or ice packs can also relieve itching. In the case of insect bites, the affected regions must also not be scratched. In most cases, the itching disappears after just a few hours.

If the itching occurs due to poor hygiene, the patient should wash more often and use care products. As a result, itching can be avoided immediately. If the itching lasts longer and is associated with greater pain, it is advisable to consult a doctor. Medical treatment may be necessary here.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.