Itch (Pruritus)

Feeling itchy or having an itch is a sensation of irritation on the skin that prompts you to scratch. The itch can have many different causes, from dry skin to underlying health issues.

This article explores the possible symptoms, causes, and treatment options for itchy skin.

Symptoms of Itch

The main symptom of an itch is an irritating sensation on the skin. However, itching can also present alongside other symptoms, such as:

  • Mild painful sensation
  • Rash

Itch and Pain

In most cases, itching shouldn't hurt. However, the sensation can feel similar to pain. If a person scratches the area too aggressively, the skin can become red, raw, and painful.

Causes of Itch

Many factors can cause an itch to develop, as it is typically a symptom of something else. However, irritation can develop for no known reason at all. Some possible causes include:

Itch as a Warning Sign

Sometimes the itch you’re experiencing is alerting you to an underlying health disorder. People with chronic or extreme itchiness are more likely to have another health condition contributing to it. 

What Medications Can Cause Itch?

Certain medications are known to cause itchy skin. One such medication used for cancer treatments, known as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors, are closely associated with chronic itchiness.

Other medications that can cause itch include:

  • Aspirin
  • Opioids (prescription pain relievers)
  • Blood pressure medications

Should I Stop Taking Medication If It Causes Itch?

You should never stop any prescribed medication without speaking to your healthcare provider, even if it causes an unwanted symptom such as itching. They will be able to work with you to find additional treatments to prevent the itch or prescribe a new drug that can provide the same results with fewer side effects.

How to Treat Itch

Treating itch will depend on the cause. Itchiness that comes and goes or is caused by something such as dry skin can be treated with at-home remedies, such as:

  • Applying a cold compress to the area
  • Using moisturizers to maintain moisture in the skin
  • Taking an oatmeal bath
  • Trying over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines or anti-itch creams
  • Avoiding wearing clothes that will cause the itch to worsen
  • Avoiding exposure to humidity and heat

When to Try At-Home Remedies

Itchiness can be completely harmless, such as when it's caused by dry skin. Any mild itch can be treated at home, but if you are excessively itchy for days on end, it’s best to see a healthcare provider. A medical professional will be able to determine if an underlying health issue is to blame and treat you accordingly.

Underlying health disorders will require more extensive treatments, which can include:

  • Allergic reactions: Allergic reactions can be treated by avoiding the allergen or using antihistamines.
  • Skin disorders: Skin disorders are typically treated using topical emollients, hydrocortisone creams, or other prescription medications like vitamin D3 analogs and corticosteroids. To know the exact treatment, you must see your medical provider for a proper diagnosis of your specific condition.
  • Parasites: Parasites need to be treated according to the type. For example, scabies can be treated using scabicides, which are ointments made of the medication permethrin.
  • Underlying health disorders: Each underlying health disorder will be treated accordingly. Since so many contribute to itching, knowing which one you have is essential. Diabetes, for example, is typically treated by making lifestyle changes and taking insulin and other medications to manage blood sugar levels.
  • Vital infections: Viral infections such as HIV are treated using antiretroviral therapy (ART). These medications control the condition.
  • Skin cancer: Depending on the type and stage, treatments for skin cancer vary. Surgical removal of skin cancer in the earliest stages is typically the first-line therapy. If it has spread, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be needed.
  • Blood diseases: The type of blood disease will determine treatment. Forms of treatment for blood disorders include chemotherapy, blood and bone marrow transplants, and stem cell therapy. New therapies are emerging that involve the use of artificial blood as a way to treat blood disorders.

Complications and Risk Factors of Itch

While mild itching doesn’t typically come with complications, scratching an area excessively can leave the skin raw. The area scratched can also become red, develop a rash, or bleed. If itching is not relieved with at-home remedies, consider seeing a healthcare provider. 

Are There Tests to Diagnose Itch?

Many tests are available to diagnose underlying health issues causing itch, but none to diagnose itch itself. That is because the sensation is often a symptom of something else.

Tests that may be done to see if a health disorder causes your itch include:

  • Allergy testing: A skin prick test may be done, which involves pricking the skin with various allergens to determine if an allergic reaction takes place.
  • Blood tests: A complete blood count (CBC) and other blood tests, such as thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), aspartate transaminase (AST), and alanine transaminase (ALT), will check for levels of various cells, hormones, and other substances in the body to determine if an underlying health disorder is at play.
  • Scans: X-rays may help rule out certain conditions, such as liver disease.
  • Stool testing: Stool testing may be done to check for parasites.

Will I Have to Undergo All These Tests?

Your healthcare provider will determine which tests are suitable for you. You will not likely have to be tested by all the above-mentioned means.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have an unexplained itch, look for the following red flags that may indicate a more serious problem and the need to see a healthcare provider:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • An itch that doesn’t go away or that becomes chronic
  • Intolerance to high or low temperatures
  • An itch without rash that lasts longer than six weeks
  • Mood changes or other psychological changes
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Night sweats
  • A general feeling of not being well

These symptoms may not all be present along with itch, but if any are and the itch has become difficult to cope with, see your medical provider.

Is Dry Skin a Red Flag Symptom?

Dry skin can be caused by an underlying health disorder or it may simply be due to a lack of moisture in the skin. If your itch does not go away or if you experience any severe symptoms, see a healthcare provider.


Itch is an irritation of the skin that can lead to red, raw, or painful skin if scratched too hard. While a lot of itching can be mild and go away with the use of moisturizer, it could also indicate that you have an underlying health disorder. In many cases, excessive itching indicates a skin disorder, but it can also be caused by something more serious, like diabetes, cancer, or liver disease.

Treatments for itch vary because many things can cause the symptom to develop. If you want to find the proper treatment for your excessive irritation, you will need to see your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

A Word From Verywell

Itching is annoying and difficult to cope with. The good news is that an itch isn’t always a cause for concern and can be remedied at home if it’s not severe. However, if you experience any serious symptoms along with excessive itching, reach out to a healthcare provider. They will help determine the cause of your itch, start you on treatment, and rid you of that annoying sensation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the red flag symptoms associated with itch?

    Red flag symptoms are symptoms that alert you to a more serious underlying health disorder. They include:

    • Increased thirst
    • Frequent urination
    • Itching that doesn’t go away and is persistent
    • Intolerance to high or low temperatures
    • Mood changes or other psychological changes
    • Weight loss
    • Headaches
    • Pain
    • Fatigue
    • Appetite loss
    • Night sweats
    • A general feeling of not being well
  • Should itchy skin worry me?

    Itchy skin isn’t always a cause for concern, but it can be. You should take action when the itch is accompanied by other symptoms or doesn’t go away with a simple scratch. A persistent itch can indicate an underlying health disorder. Skin conditions that cause itching are not always serious and are highly manageable.

  • How can I treat itchy skin at home?

    Treating itchy skin at home is easy but should only be done after speaking to your healthcare provider in more severe cases. To treat itchy skin at home, you can try moisturizing daily, using anti-itch creams, and applying a cold compress to the area.

10 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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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.