Merck Manual

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Quick Facts



The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2021| Content last modified Jul 2021
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Itching is an uncomfortable feeling on your skin that makes you want to scratch.

  • Itching can be caused by many different skin problems

  • Itching can also be caused by an allergic reaction or a disorder that affects your whole body

  • You may itch in only one spot or all over depending on the cause

  • Scratching can make itching worse and damage your skin

  • Bathing less often, using lotions or creams, and using a humidifier at home or work may help you itch less

  • Other treatments depend on the cause

What causes itching?

Itching is usually caused by skin problems, such as:

Sometimes, itching is caused by problems inside your body, such as:

When should I see a doctor about itching?

See a doctor right away if you have itching and any of these warning signs:

  • Pain in your belly

  • Yellowing of your skin and eyes

  • Feeling very thirsty, urinating (peeing) a lot, and losing weight

See a doctor in a week or so if you have:

  • Severe itching

  • A rash that's getting worse or spreading

  • Itching and weight loss, extreme tiredness, or sweating in bed at night

What will happen at my doctor visit?

Doctors will ask about your symptoms and look at your skin. Most of the time, doctors can tell what's causing your itching without doing tests.

Sometimes doctors may do tests such as:

How do doctors treat itching?

Doctors treat the problem that causes you to itch. Doctors may also tell you to:

  • Avoid anything that may be causing the itching or making it worse

  • Bathe less often and use cool water instead of hot

  • Use moisturizing lotions or creams

  • Humidify the air in your home or work

  • Not wear tight or wool clothes

  • Take antihistamine pills (medicines that help relieve itching)

Antihistamine pills can make you sleepy, particularly if you're older. Be careful about using them if you have to drive or use power tools. On the other hand, antihistamines may help you sleep at night.

You can buy some creams for itching without a prescription. But talk to your doctor before you use them. Corticosteroid creams, such as hydrocortisone, can help some kinds of itching but are bad for others (for example, itching caused by a skin infection). Antihistamine creams and skin-numbing creams that contain benzocaine sometimes cause a skin reaction, so doctors usually don't want you to use those.

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