Causes of Chronically Itchy Skin & How to Treat It

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Chronic itching is defined as itching that lasts six or more weeks. Medically known as pruritus, itching is more than just an uncomfortable feeling. It can interfere with daily activities and can be as debilitating as chronic pain.

There are many different causes of chronic itching. It can be from a rash, an underlying medical condition, or dry skin. The first step in relieving a chronic itch is to find the cause. After the cause is identified, it can be treated.

Some treatments can be done at home, while others require a healthcare provider's prescription or assistance.

This article will cover some reasons chronic itching may occur along with ways to treat it.

Itching the arm

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Chronic Itching Causes

Itching is a sensation that is sent from the nerves in the skin to the brain. The itch sensation can be caused by an underlying medical condition or by something simply touching the skin.

When the itch sensation begins, it causes the urge to scratch. Scratching can temporarily relieve itching but can also cause itching to worsen. This is called the itch-scratch cycle.

Determining what is causing the itchy skin is the first step toward a cure.

Itching can be caused by a range of issues, including skin conditions and psychological issues. Here are some categories that can cause chronic itching.

For many people, dry skin is what causes their chronic itchy skin. Other common causes are allergies and medication. If you are unsure what is causing your itchy skin, a healthcare provider can evaluate the situation to help determine a cause.


Chronic itching is also associated with several other symptoms that could be related to a medical condition or as a result of scratching.

Here are the common symptoms associated with chronic itching:


The first step in treating chronically itchy skin is to determine the cause and treat it. If there is no known cause, then treating the symptoms is the next step.

It may help to avoid hot showers and frequent tub bathing, which can cause dry skin. Also, avoid scratching as much as possible. It irritates the skin and can cause further damage.

Many treatments can be tried at home, but some require a healthcare provider's prescription. Treatments include:

Lotions: Moisturizing dry skin improves skin barrier protection.

Cold compress: A cold washcloth or an ice pack placed on the itchy area can reduce the itch sensation.

Numbing creams: Capsaicin and menthol cream interrupt the itching sensation and provide relief.

Steroid cream: This helps reduce inflammation, which can reduce the itch.

Prescription creams: Protopic (tacrolimus) cream is used for certain types of eczema and psoriasis.

Antihistamines: Medications like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can reduce itching but be aware that they can cause sleepiness.

Seizure medication: Neurontin (gabapentin) is useful in treating itching associated with CKD and neurologic-related itching.

Antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that can be used to treat different types of itching.

Phototherapy: Treatment with phototherapy (light therapy) can treat itching due to CKD, psoriasis, eczema, and lymphoma.

Behavioral therapy: This includes stress management and coping techniques to stop the itch-scratch cycle. This treatment is typically used in addition to medication.

Chronic itching can cause serious life interruptions and skin irritation. People with chronic itching can have sleep loss that leads to daytime sleepiness and mood changes. The constant scratching can cause skin irritation, redness, and skin infection.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Itching is something that everyone has experienced. But itching can become chronic itching that needs attention from a healthcare provider. Here are the signs to look out for that could indicate that a healthcare provider's assistance is needed:

  • Itching that does not improve with home treatment
  • Signs of skin infection (swelling, redness, or irritation)
  • Itching that interferes with sleep
  • Itching that is caused by a rash that spreads quickly
  • Itching whose cause isn't obvious
  • Itching that's accompanied by fever or illness


Chronic itch is defined as itchiness lasting longer than six weeks. The key to treating chronic itching is to find the cause. Skin conditions, medications, stress, and anxiety can all cause chronic itching. If at-home treatments like using moisturizing cream and cold compresses don't help alleviate the itching, you will need to see a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Chronic itching can be frustrating to cope with. Your sleep and daily routines may be interrupted by the sensation to itch. Thankfully, there are many treatment options that may help, and you don't have to suffer.

Talk to your healthcare provider or a dermatologist to determine the best treatment methods for you. Remember to tell them about any medications you may be taking or any other conditions you may have.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What vitamin deficiency can cause itchiness?

    There is no specific vitamin deficiency that causes itchiness. However, low levels of vitamin D and B12 have been linked to itchiness. Consult with a healthcare provider before taking vitamin supplements.

  • When should I be concerned about itchiness?

    Itchiness is concerning when it is accompanied by fever, illness, signs of infection, or covers the whole body. Anytime itching prevents you from sleeping or is caused by a large rash this is concerning and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

  • What part of the body itches with liver problems?

    Anywhere on the body can itch if someone has liver problems but is more often seen on the arms, palms, and soles of the feet. The itchiness is caused by decreased liver function and its inability to remove waste products from the blood.

  • Why am I so itchy at night?

    Itchiness can seem worse at night for a variety of reasons. One reason is that people tend to be more aware of the itchiness when less is happening around them. Other causes are body temperature changes, hormones, and dry skin.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Yosipovitch G, Bernhard JD. Chronic pruritusNew England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368(17):1625-1634. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp1208814

  3. Rinaldi G. The itch-scratch cycle: a review of the mechanismsDermatology Practical & Conceptual. Published online April 30, 2019:90-97. doi:10.5826/dpc.0902a03

  4. American Academy of Family Physicians. Pruritus.

  5. Lavery MJ, Stull C, Kinney MO, Yosipovitch G. Nocturnal pruritus: the battle for a peaceful night’s sleepInt J Mol Sci. 2016;17(3):425. doi:10.3390/ijms17030425

  6. Kanda N, Hoashi T, Saeki H. Nutrition and atopic dermatitisJ Nippon Med Sch. 2021;88(3):171-177. doi:10.1272/jnms.JNMS.2021_88-317

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By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.