Pruritus is the medical term for itchiness. The condition causes you to feel the need to scratch your skin to get relief. There are several possible causes for pruritus that include an underlying medical condition, contact with an irritant or a reaction to a medication. Treatment varies based on what caused your skin to itch.
Pruritus is a medical term that means itching. It refers to a feeling or sensation on your skin that you want to scratch. Pruritus can be painful or irritating and could be localized to one area of your body or spread throughout several areas.
Pruritus can be a symptom of an underlying condition. It has many possible causes; the most common being contacting an allergen, dry skin, pregnancy and your body’s reaction to a medication. Pruritus can be chronic if your itching persists for six weeks or more.
There are several different types of pruritus categorized by the cause of itchiness and the location of the itch on your body. Some of the most common types of pruritus include:
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Pruritus is very common and will affect everyone during their lifetime. The severity and frequency are different for each person. You may be more at risk of pruritus if you:
Pruritus causes your skin to feel itchy. This can be an uncomfortable or bothersome sensation that will only resolve if you scratch your skin. Sometimes, pruritus can be painful and other times, it could feel like something is tickling your skin. Scratching your itch can lead to more pain and irritation and won’t always resolve your itch. If your skin is frequently itchy, contact a healthcare provider.
The main symptom of pruritus is an itch. An itch is a feeling or uncomfortable sensation that causes you to scratch your skin to get relief. Scratching the itch doesn’t always provide relief.
If you scratch your itchy skin, you could have additional symptoms that include:
Additional symptoms of pruritus include:
Sometimes, you could experience itchy skin along with additional symptoms like a rash or swollen skin. Other times, you’ll only experience itchy skin without other symptoms. Your provider will diagnose your condition and offer treatment options based on what caused your skin to itch.
Pruritus symptoms cause you to feel itchy. Your immediate reaction is to scratch your skin. An outside stimulus usually triggers this itchy sensation. Outside stimuli could include something touching your skin, fibers in your clothing or moving your body naturally. Peripheral sensory neurons are nerve fibers in your nervous system that relay a message from your skin to your brain, and vice versa, to activate movement. When a stimulus triggers your body’s sensation to itch, your brain responds by telling you to scratch your skin.
There are several causes of pruritus that include:
The most common cause of pruritus is dry skin.
Several conditions have itching as a symptom. Some of the most common conditions that cause itching include:
To diagnose pruritus, your provider will physically examine your skin and will gather more information about your symptoms and your medical history. Your provider might ask you questions including:
Your provider might offer tests to confirm a diagnosis. Testing can help determine what caused your symptoms. Your itching might be the primary problem or it might be a symptom of another condition. Tests may include:
Treatment for pruritus is unique to each person and varies based on what caused your symptoms. Treatment could include:
You can take steps to treat pruritus at home by:
Your provider may prescribe medications to treat pruritus, including:
Some studies suggest that antidepressant medicines can offer relief to your itchy skin by relaxing the receptors in your body that cause itchiness.
To treat pruritus, your provider might recommend anti-itch creams to relieve your symptoms. You don’t need a prescription for some types of anti-itch creams and you can purchase them over-the-counter. Look for creams, lotions or ointments that are fragrance-free and contain at least one of the following ingredients to help relieve your itchy skin:
If your itchy skin persists or gets worse after using an anti-itch cream, contact your provider.
The length of time you’ll have pruritus depends on the cause of your itchy skin. Some diagnoses are long term and you’ll experience symptoms that come and go throughout your life. For others, your condition could be a temporary irritant that could go away within a couple of days. Talk to your provider about your diagnosis, the cause and how to treat your symptoms to help you feel better faster.
While you can’t prevent all types of pruritus, you can take steps to reduce your risk of getting itchy skin by:
Pruritus will cause skin irritation and discomfort that can make it difficult for you to sleep. Severe cases can prevent you from completing normal activities because your itchy skin distracts you from the task at hand.
You can use at-home remedies like applying moisturizing cream or lotion to your skin regularly throughout the day. The most effective time to apply moisturizer is after a bath or a shower when your skin is slightly damp to lock in the moisture.
Sometimes, pruritus can be persistent (chronic) and last for more than six weeks or it can be a sign of an underlying condition. Talk to a healthcare provider about treatment options to relieve your symptoms.
Everyone’s body is different. You could experience relief from your itchy skin within hours after treatment or it could take several weeks. The length of time for your body to heal depends on what caused your symptoms. For a better time frame as to when your symptoms will go away, talk to a healthcare provider.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
Pruritus is the medical term for itching. There’s no difference, as both terms refer to the same symptom.
Pruritus is itchy skin that could have many different causes. Urticaria is a skin condition that causes hives and a stinging, tickling or burning sensation in areas of your skin. A symptom of urticaria is pruritus.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While your brain is telling your body to scratch your itchy skin, try your best to avoid scratching. When you scratch your skin, you could break it open and create a wound that can easily become infected. Treat your itchy skin at home by using moisturizer, anti-itch creams, applying a cold compress or taking a warm bath. Contact your provider if your itchy skin doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks or gets worse with treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/21/2022.
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