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Pruritus – Itching on the skin

Pruritus refers to the sensation of itching on the skin. It can be caused by a wide range of skin conditions; including dry skin, infection, fungus, other skin diseases and, rarely, cancer. While anyone can experience this itching, it is more commonly seen among the elderly, diabetics, people with suppressed immune systems and those with seasonal allergies, like hay fever or eczema. Additionally, there is a type, called PUPPP (Pruritic Uticarial Papules & Plaques of Pregnancy) that affects pregnant women.

Treatment for pruritus depends on identifying the underlying cause. Finding the cause of the itching and treating any underlying skin disease is the first step in solving pruritus. Your dermatologist will examine the itchy area and may make a small scrape on any rash to collect tissue for diagnostic testing. Typical treatment involves topical and/or oral steroids and antihistamines to help relieve the itch.

The best way to prevent pruritus is to take care of your skin. To protect skin:

  • Use skin creams and lotions that moisturize your skin and prevent dryness.
  • Use sunscreens regularly to prevent sunburns and skin damage.
  • Use mild bath soap that won’t irritate your skin.
  • Take a bath or shower in warm — not hot — water.
  • Avoid certain fabrics, such as wool and synthetics, that can make skin itch. Switch to cotton clothing and bed sheets.
  • Since warm, dry air can make skin dry, keep the thermostat in your house down and use a humidifier.
  • To relieve itching, place a cool washcloth or some ice over the area that itches, rather than scratching.