How to Put a Stop to Itching

Itching can be an incredibly irritating and frustrating symptom. Whether you are itching due to an allergic reaction, skin irritation, an illness, or any other reason, you likely will do whatever it takes to make it stop. It's important to figure out what is causing the itching so you know the best way to treat it and find some relief. 

1

Where Are You Itching?

Itchy eyes
Itchy face, eyes, nose. Getty Images

Itching is a common symptom of allergies and multiple illnesses. It can have many causes - from general irritation to a medication reaction or side effect. Where you are itching can be a clue to what is causing it. 

  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Face
  • Skin: All over (generalized) or in one location (localized)

If you have an itch in your genital area, contact your healthcare provider for guidance. It could be caused by several different types of infections—from basic skin irritation to a sexually transmitted infection (STI). 

2

Causes

Itchy nose
Itchy nose. Getty Images

Some common causes of itching include:

The treatment that is most appropriate is dependent on the cause. If you have dry, itchy skin, moisturizing your skin with a cream or petroleum-based moisturizer may bring relief. If you are experiencing itching due to allergies, an oral allergy medication may be best. Itching from an insect bite or sting is often best treated with a topical anti-itch cream. 

If itching is persistent and bothersome, you should contact your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis.

3

Medications

allergy medicine
Allergy medication. BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

Once you have figured out what is causing your itching, you can figure out how to treat it. Some medication options that can help relieve itching include:

  • Antihistamines (medications for itching, sneezing, and runny nose) including Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Claritin (loratadine), Clarinex (desloratadine) and Allegra (fexofenadine). In most cases, a non-sedating antihistamine like Zyrtec and Allergra is preferred over Benadryl, which can cause drowsiness.
  • Anti-itch creams such as topical corticosteroids may be helpful for itching in small areas.
  • Other medications: If your itchy skin has gotten infected, you may need treatment with antibiotics. If it is caused by another medication you are taking, talk to your healthcare provider about your treatment options. 

If you experience difficulty breathing, facial or tongue swelling or vomiting accompanied by hives, seek medical attention immediately. These are signs of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

4

Treatment Without Medication

lotion
Lotion or moisturizer may help with itching skin. RunPhoto/Taxi Japan/Getty Images

If you have itchy skin but do not need or want to take medication, these options may help. They can help soothe and calm your itchy skin:

  • Cold compresses (cold cloth)
  • Lukewarm baths
  • Lotions or moisturizers
  • Using mild soap
  • Oatmeal bath

Things to avoid if you have itchy skin:

  • Irritating fabrics (especially wool and polyester)
  • High heat
  • Humidity
  • Scratching
  • Long hot bathsL Although it may provide temporary comfort, bathing in hot water can actually dry out your skin and make itching worse.
  • Bubble baths, powders, cornstarch

While it may be difficult not to scratch the itchy skin, using the methods suggested above could help. Try to limit scratching as much as possible since it only irritates the skin further and increases your risk of infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you stop itchiness from poison ivy?

    Lukewarm baths with colloidal oatmeal or a cup of baking soda can ease the itch. Then use cool compresses if the itch continues. For mild itching, apply calamine lotion; for more intense sensations, use hydrocortisone cream. Oral antihistamines can also reduce itchiness.

  • Are there over-the-counter treatments for eczema?

    Yes. Over-the-counter antihistamines and steroid creams can help reduce eczema inflammation and itching. Although they don’t require a prescription, these medications can cause side effects and are not recommended for all people, so you should talk to your doctor about whether they’re right for you.

  • Can essential oils relieve itchiness safely?

    Yes. Peppermint oil diluted and applied to itchy areas of the skin can reduce itchiness related to a variety of causes. Used correctly, it doesn’t seem to cause side effects or concerns.

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Additional Reading
  • "Pruritis (PDQ)". Cancer Treatment 5 Feb 14. National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • "Itching." Medline Plus 05 Mar 2007. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 
  • "Pruritis". FamilyDoctor.org Apr 14. American Academy of Family Physicians.