Pruritus is a condition that produces an itch and a need to scratch. The most common cause of pruritus is dry skin. However, it can be due to other skin diseases, pregnancy, medications, and-- on very rare occasions--cancer.

Who gets pruritus?

Certain groups of people are more susceptible to pruritus, including:

  • the elderly
  • atopic patients (seasonal allergies, hay fever, asthma, and eczema)
  • diabetics
  • people with diseases, including HIV infection/AIDS and various types of cancer
  • pregnant women
  • patients with kidney failure on dialysis

How is pruritus treated?

Finding the cause of the itching is the cornerstone of treatment.

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 good skin care. 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. Apply while skin is still damp following bath or shower.
  • 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, stronger medications may be needed.


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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: 2/23/2015...#11879