Why Am I So Itchy?

Is itchy skin keeping you up at night? Itchy skin can be maddening – especially if you can’t stop scratching it. But unlike pain, which triggers us to withdraw from whatever’s causing discomfort, itch-transmitting nerves lead to a satisfying release when we scratch, prompting us to dig in with the fingernails even more. Too much of this good thing can lead to worsening itch, excoriations, scars, and even skin infections – not to mention prominent under-eye circles from a poor night’s sleep.

There are dozens of possible reasons why we might itch. The most common cause is simply dry skin, especially during the winter months. But if you’re moisturizing diligently and caring for your skin gently, yet you still feel itchy, something else could be the cause. Here are some possible reasons you might be feeling the urge to scratch:

Skin Conditions: Perhaps you are experiencing a skin disease or condition that predisposes to itching, such as eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, bug bites, or hives. More rare forms of itching could also include certain autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

Allergy or Irritation: You may have developed a skin allergy or skin irritation from a personal care product, fabric, plant (poison oak and ivy are notorious, though numerous other botanical and natural ingredients can cause similar itching), or other substance that makes contact with the skin.

Infection: Some of us itch because of a skin infection – such as a fungus or a mite infection – or a body-wide infection, such as measles or chickenpox (though no one should have to suffer from these particular diseases anymore, on account of safe and effective vaccines).

Medicine: Sometimes, the problem can be due to an oral medication. Heart and cholesterol drugs, pain medicines, and antibiotics are among many that have the potential to cause scratch-happy tendencies.

Allergies: An intensely itchy rash can develop in some people with Celiac disease – but this skin condition is actually quite rare. Other food allergies can also cause itchy skin reactions.

Age: As we enter our 50’s and beyond, the skin tends to become drier, which may contribute to uncomfortably itchy skin.

Fingernail-induced: Sometimes, itching is our own fault. You may repeatedly pick or scratch at an area, causing the skin to thicken up and become even itchier – a vicious cycle with the potential to snowball out of control.

Medical Conditions: If you have no rash on the skin, but feel itchy everywhere, it may be time to get checked out by a doctor. Many medical concerns can trigger itching, including problems with the thyroid, kidney, liver, blood count, or even an undetected infection.

The good news is that treatments available for itch are as diverse as its causes, starting with gentle skincare and bathing habits, including brief, lukewarm baths and showers, liberal application of moisturizer, cortisone creams, antihistamine pills, or certain lotions. We can help determine the cause of your itch and guide you through prescription options – so that you can give those fingernails a break and get back to sleep.

Feeling Itchy (or Sick)?

If you feel sick and it’s not an emergency, please call us at Prosperity Internal Medicine at 703-876-9300 for an appointment. Our group uses the latest advances in medicine, offering our patients access to innovative health management technologies, proactive team-based care, and an evidenced-based, patient-centered approach.