Pruritus is a condition that produces an itch and a need to scratch. It can be caused by a number of disorders, including dry skin, skin disease, pregnancy, and rarely, cancer.
Who gets pruritus?
Certain groups of people are more susceptible to pruritus, including:
- the elderly
- patients with atopy (seasonal allergies, hay fever, asthma, and eczema)
- people with serious diseases, including HIV infection/AIDS and various types of cancer
- patients who have been treated for cancer with chemotherapy and radiation
- patients who have undergone bone marrow transplantation as part of their treatment, and
- pregnant women
Other causes of pruritus include infection, tumor, or a fungus. In addition, various medications can cause pruritus.
How is pruritus treated?
Finding the cause of the itching and treating any underlying skin disease is the first step.
If a drug reaction is suspected, switching to a different medication may be helpful to reduce the pruritus.
The best way to prevent pruritus is to take care of your skin. This includes eating a healthy diet and protecting your skin from excessive damage. Methods for protecting your skin include the following:
- Use skin creams and lotions that moisturize your skin and prevent dryness.
- Use sunscreens regularly to prevent sunburns and skin damage.
- Use mild bath soap and laundry detergent that won’t irritate your skin.
- Take a bath in warm—not hot—water to relieve itching and avoid making your skin too dry.
- Avoid certain fabrics, such as wool and synthetics, that can make your skin itch. Switch to cotton clothing and bed sheets.
- Since warm, dry air can make your skin dry, keep the thermostat in your house down and use a humidifier.
- To relieve itching, place a cool washcloth or some ice over the area that itches, rather than scratching.
Your doctor may also prescribe medication to treat pruritus, including antihistamines and topical steroids. Rarely, steroid pills and antibiotics may also be needed.
- American Academy of Asthma Allergy & Immunology. What Makes Us Itch? www.aaaai.org Accessed 3/30/2012
- National Cancer Institute. Pruritus. www.cancer.gov Accessed 3/30/2012
- Berger TG. Chapter 6. Dermatologic Disorders. In: McPhee SJ, Papadakis MA, Rabow MW, eds. CURRENT Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2012. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2012. www.accessmedicine.com Accessed 3/30/2012
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 3/25/2011...#11879