Health A to Z
Itchy skin is usually just an annoying but temporary problem, and rarely indicates a serious underlying cause.
But you should see your GP if your itch:
Find your local GP.
The medical name for itching is pruritus.
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms – for example, if anything makes your itch worse, or if your itch comes and goes. They'll also examine your skin to look for visible symptoms.
In some cases, they may take a skin scraping or a swab so it can be tested to help identify the cause of your itching.
A blood test may also be carried out to look for underlying problems, such as thyroid or kidney disease.
Depending on the cause of your itch, you may be referred to a hospital specialist for a further assessment and specific treatment.
Itching can be caused by a number of different conditions, including:
Read about the possible causes of itching.
If you experience troublesome itching, the following advice may help:
Read more about treatments to relieve itching.
An itch is often caused by a condition affecting the skin, but it can occasionally be a sign of a more serious underlying problem.
In some cases, it may not be possible to identify a specific cause.
Skin conditions that can cause itching include:
Itching is sometimes caused by an allergen, irritant or another environmental factor, including:
Itching can be caused by the following pests:
Itching may be a symptom of an infection, such as:
Itching can sometimes be a sign of an underlying condition, such as:
In women, itching can sometimes be caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy and after the menopause.
Itching often affects pregnant women and usually disappears after the birth. A number of skin conditions can develop during pregnancy and cause itchy skin.
Seek advice from your midwife or GP if you have itching or any unusual skin rashes during your pregnancy.
Read more about itching and obstetric cholestasis in pregnancy.
Itching is also a common symptom after the menopause, which is where a woman's periods stop as a result of natural hormonal changes as she gets older.
Changes in the levels of hormones, such as oestrogen, that occur during the menopause are thought to be responsible for the itching.
The best treatment for itching depends on the cause. You may be able to relieve itching and reduce the risk of skin damage caused by scratching with some simple self-help measures.
If necessary, your GP or pharmacist can offer treatments that may help relieve an itch.
Some lotions, creams and medications available over the counter from pharmacies or on a prescription from your GP can help reduce itchiness.
Common treatments recommended include:
Some antihistamine tablets can make you feel drowsy. This may be helpful if taken at night to help you sleep, but it's important not to drive, use power tools or operate heavy machinery after taking them.
If you have itching in hairy areas like your scalp, lotions are available specifically for these areas so you don't have to use sticky creams.
There are also some more powerful medications, such as antidepressants, which may be recommended if the above treatments don't help and your itch is particularly long-lasting.