Itching - Causes 

Causes of itching 

There are many different possible causes of itching.

For example, itching can be a symptom of:

Each of these possible causes of itching is described in more detail below.

Skin conditions

Skin conditions that can cause itching include:

  • dry skin
  • eczema – a chronic (long-term) condition where the skin is dry, red, flaky and itchy
  • contact dermatitis – a condition where the skin becomes inflamed
  • urticaria – also known as hives, welts or nettle rash; urticaria is triggered by an allergen, such as food or latex, and causes a raised, red itchy rash to develop
  • lichen planus – an itchy, non-infectious rash of unknown cause
  • psoriasis – a non-infectious skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin and silvery scales
  • dandruff – a common, non-contagious skin condition that affects the scalp
  • folliculitis – a skin condition caused by inflamed hair follicles
  • prurigo – small blisters (fluid-filled swellings) that are very itchy  

Allergies and skin reactions

Itching is sometimes caused by environmental factors, such as:

  • cosmetics
  • dyes or coatings on fabrics
  • contact with certain metals, such as nickel
  • contact with the juices of certain plants or stinging plants
  • an allergy to certain foods or types of medication (for example, aspirin and a group of medicines called opioids)
  • prickly heat – an itchy rash that appears in hot, humid weather conditions
  • sunburn – skin damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays

Parasites and insects

Itching can also be caused by the following pests:

Infections

Itching may also be a symptom of an infection, such as:

  • chickenpox or another viral infection
  • a fungal infection, such as athlete's foot, which causes itching in between the toes, jock itch which affects the groin, and ringworm, a contagious condition that causes a ring-like red rash to develop on the body
  • a yeast infection, such as female thrush or male thrush, which can cause itching in and around the genitals

Fungal and yeast infections tend to cause itching in a specific area of the body. However, in untreated cases, or cases that do not respond well to treatment, itching may become generalised.

Systemic conditions

Systemic conditions are conditions that affect the entire body. Sometimes, itching can be a symptom of systemic conditions, such as:

Pregnancy and the menopause

In women, itching can sometimes be caused by hormonal changes.

Pregnancy

Itching often affects pregnant women and usually disappears after the birth. A number of skin conditions can develop during pregnancy and cause itchy skin. They include:

  • pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) – a common skin condition during pregnancy that causes itchy, red, raised bumps that appear on the thighs and abdomen (tummy)
  • prurigo gestationis – a skin rash that appears as red, itchy dots and mainly affects the arms, legs and torso
  • obstetric cholestasis – a rare disorder that affects the liver during pregnancy and causes itching of the skin without a skin rash

Read more information about itching and obstetric cholestasis in pregnancy.

Pregnant women may also experience eczema and psoriasis.

Seek advice from your midwife or GP if you have itching or any unusual skin rashes during your pregnancy.

Menopause

Itching is also a common symptom of the menopause, which is where a woman’s periods stop, at around 52 years of age, as a result of hormonal changes. Changes in the levels of hormones, such as oestrogen, that occur during the menopause are thought to be responsible for the itching.


Page last reviewed: 08/11/2012

Next review due: 08/11/2014

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Comments

The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

KateBub said on 26 October 2014

I have itchy skin too. its mainly after showering but now its started in the eveings. i have no idea why and it drives me insane and to tears. i went to see a dermatologist and he gave me emolliants but that cured the itching on my arms and legs and now i get it all over like the previous comment says a crawling sensation. i really gets me down and i dont know what else can cause it. i dont itch if i exercise which makes me think its something to do with my circulation. Any help i would be most grateful.

ps. ive been using dermol 600 bath cream and balneum cream afterwards.

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Widget71 said on 30 September 2014

I have been suffering with chronic itching all over for about a year on and off. Recently it has gotten worse. I had an ectopic pregnancy last year and it seems to have started from then. Anti histamines don't work nor do anti itch creams. A blood test has shown that I now have a raised prolactin level and I have been referred to an endocrinologist. Will they be able to stop the terrible itching. It's driving me crazy

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ncasson said on 28 August 2014

I also receive itchy skin before my menstrual cycle and a few days into it.

I do not have a rash or anything on my skin but it itches all over. Sometimes it can be worse than others but usually lasts 3-5 days.

Sometimes it feels like a pin has pricked my skin which then goes incredibly itchy, like a crawling sensation. As soon as ive itched one place another place itches! Its not something you can ignore, I've tried to not itch it but then it becomes unbearable.

Antihistamines don't seem to work and doctors keep saying I obviously have skin sensitivity or an allergy! They also gave me b12 supplements to take as my b12 was low and they thought it could be related (my b12 is now normal and im still itching at this time every month!)
They don't seem to care or take any notice of the fact that it happens at one particular time each month and it is obviously related to my hormones.

It is a horrible sensation, its all I can think about when I have it & it makes me really irritable and stressed/tired when I cant sleep at night.. I just want rid of it but my doctors are useless :-(

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gemma_fb said on 12 August 2014

For the past 7 months I have had very itchy skin. I have suffered from Eczema since childhood but these symptoms have been very different.

Symptoms as follows:

1) Itching often with no signs of a rash.

2) When signs of rash are evident, red scattered patches develop on the face, back, chest, legs, belly and arms. However are usually never raised. At present itching spans shoulders and back with no evidence of rash or sores but extreme itching, tight skin, dryness and sensitivity. No eczema creams remedy or relieve symptoms at all.

3) Times that the rash is raised, it is very minimal and to touch would be quite dry.

4) Areas that do not get affected are the following: Groin, bum, armpits, back of knees, feet, palms and scalp.

5) The following creams are being used at the moment : E45 , Diprobase, Elocon.

6) No apparent pattern to what I have in my diet or with the antibiotics I am taking for recurrent UTI's.

Please any suggestions would be gratefully appreciated. This is driving me crazy and I really don not know what to do! :(

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hampshireman said on 10 February 2014

I am experiencing much itching round the left ankle only. This has happened fairly recently. I did have a fractured Tibia in both legs and now have plates and pins inside but that is since April 2013, but the itching is recent. I am taking a hormone pill for recurrence of prostate cancer, but have been taking them for a year or two and again the itching is recent.

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Em8 said on 16 September 2013


Each week before my menstrual cycle and 3 days into the cycle I have itchy legs, arms and neck to the point where I literally can’t stop thinking about itching.
I have been told it is just eczema.
Has anyone else had similar issues?

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Itchy bottom

Itchy bottom, also known as pruritus ani, is a common condition where there is a very strong urge to scratch the skin around the anus (back passage). It can have a number of different causes, including:

  • threadworms – small worm parasites that infect the bowels of humans
  • haemorrhoids (piles) – enlarged and swollen blood vessels in or around the lower rectum or anus

Read more information about itchy bottom.

Allergies

Advice on allergies such as eczema and food allergy, and what treatments are available on the NHS