Pruritus

Specialty of Hepatology (liver specialist)

What is pruritus?

Pruritus is another term for ‘itching’. Pruritus can affect anyone, and can be caused or associated with a wide variety of conditions, not just those affecting the skin. Pruritus appearing can also be a reaction to certain substances or medication.

What are the causes of pruritus?

It’s normal every once in a while to feel itching on the skin, and many things can cause an itch, including the material your clothes are made from, an insect bite, or dry skin. However, itching can be a symptom of an underlying condition, so it’s important to note if the pruritus continues, the areas it affects (e.g is it all over the body, or is it localised?) or if it is a one-off sensation.

Itching can be caused by many different conditions or states. Some women feel itching during pregnancy, due to medical conditions which can occur at the time (e.g gestational pemphigoid). Menopause can also be a cause of itching, as can certain medication. Other varied causes include (but are not limited to):

Infections

Underlying conditions

Skin conditions

  • Dandruff
  • Dry skin
  • Skin irritation (e.g reaction to shaving)
  • Scabs and scars healing over
  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Sunburn
  • Athlete’s foot

Environmental

  • Allergic reaction
  • Hives
  • Skin problems caused by the sun
  • Foreign objects

Can pruritus be prevented?

You can’t really prevent feeling itchy, unless it is caused by something you know to be an irritation to your skin that you can avoid. You can follow some tips to avoid further damage to the affected area when your skin feels itchy:

  • Not scratching
  • Wearing comfortable, fresh, clean clothes
  • Use mild soap
  • Use moisturiser
  • Apply cold compresses to the affected area
  • Use a humidifier, and avoid excessive heat or a dry environment
  • Rest or do activities that help distract you

What is the treatment for pruritus?

If the itching is intense, does not disappear or is difficult to explain, it is important to visit your doctor. If the cause is an underlying condition or can be identified, it will be treated. In cases of skin irritation or external irritation, your doctor may prescribe a cream to treat the affected area and, in some cases, also recommend medication, such as antihistamines.

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