What is itchy skin a sign of?
Itchy skin is a common symptom of many conditions, but it can also be caused by serious illness. If you have itchy skin that doesn’t get better with treatment, or if you have itchy skin that spreads to other areas, then see your doctor.
Unexplained itching may be a sign of a more serious disease, such as liver disease, kidney disease or anemia. A blood test or urine sample can help determine the cause.
Your doctor can look at your skin and ask about other symptoms you have to try to find the right cause. They might need to take a skin biopsy, blood, urine or stool (poo) samples, or order some radiology tests.
Depending on the cause, your doctor might prescribe creams, lotions or tablets. They may also refer you to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist).
You should tell your doctor what is causing the itching and whether it’s all over your body or just on a certain area. They might also do a physical exam and ask you about your medications, diet, alcohol use and any other medical problems you might have.
Itchy skin can be a symptom of some cancers, such as cutaneous lymphoma and scleroderma. The cancers make your body build too many red blood cells, and they also make you itchy. If you have a skin rash as a symptom of this type of cancer, see your doctor sooner than usual for a blood test and a check on other symptoms.
The itch is caused by a variety of chemicals that stimulate the nerve fibers that end in your skin. The nerve fibers then transmit the information to your brain, causing itching. These chemicals are called pruritogens and can include histamine, serotonin, fungi, bacteria or other substances that trigger an inflammatory response.
Some people who have itchy skin are allergic to certain foods or medicines, such as pollen, mold and insect stings. They may need to be tested for allergies if they have a rash that gets worse, lasts longer than a few days or is not going away.
Other conditions that can cause itchy skin are dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, and hives. They can also be caused by stress, medication, certain foods and infections.
Medications that treat the cause of your itchy skin will also relieve your itching. These may include topical and oral antihistamines, antibiotics or corticosteroids. They can also be used in phototherapy, which uses light to reduce itch.
You can prevent itching by using a humidifier in dry weather and reducing your stress levels. Getting enough sleep can also decrease the likelihood of itchy skin.
In rare cases, itchy skin might be a symptom of something more serious, such as a blood cancer or thyroid disease. If it’s a serious problem, such as leukaemia or other blood cancers, you should visit your doctor sooner for a full blood test to get an accurate diagnosis and possible treatment options.