St. Luke's Hospital
Located in Chesterfield, MO
Main Number: 314-434-1500
Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
Find a Physician Payment Options Locations & Directions
Follow us on: facebook twitter Mobile Email Page Email Page Print Page Print Page Increase Font Size Decrease Font Size Font Size
Meet the Doctor
Spirit of Women
Community Health Needs Assessment
Home > Health Information

Multimedia Encyclopedia




    Itching is a tingling or irritation of the skin that makes you want to scratch the affected area. Itching may occur all over the whole body or only in one location.


    Itching may occur all over the whole body (generalized) or only in one location (localized).


    There are many causes of itching, including:

    • Aging skin
    • Atopic dermatitis
    • Contact dermatitis (poison ivy or poison oak)
    • Contact irritants (such as soaps, chemicals, or wool)
    • Dry skin
    • Hives
    • Insect bites and stings
    • Parasites such as pinworm, body lice, head lice, and pubic lice
    • Pityriasis rosea
    • Psoriasis
    • Rashes (may or may not itch)
    • Seborrheic dermatitis
    • Sunburn
    • Superficial skin infections such as folliculitis and impetigo

    Generalized itching may be caused by:

    • Allergic reactions
    • Childhood infections (such as chickenpox or measles)
    • Hepatitis
    • Iron deficiency anemia
    • Kidney disease
    • Liver disease with jaundice
    • Pregnancy
    • Reactions to medications and substances such as antibiotics (penicillin, sulfonamides), gold, griseofulvin, isoniazid, opiates, phenothiazines, or vitamin A

    Home Care

    For persistent or severe itching, see your health care provider for a diagnosis and treatment instructions.

    In the meantime, you can take some steps to help deal with the itch:

    • Avoid scratching or rubbing the itchy areas. Keep fingernails short to avoid damaging the skin from scratching. Family members or friends may be able to help by calling attention to your scratching.
    • Wear cool, light, loose bedclothes. Avoid wearing rough clothing, particularly wool, over an itchy area.
    • Take lukewarm baths using little soap and rinsing thoroughly. Try a skin-soothing oatmeal or cornstarch bath.
    • Apply a soothing lotion after bathing to soften and cool the skin.
    • Use moisturizer on the skin, particularly in the dry winter months. Dry skin is a common cause of itching.
    • Apply cold compresses to an itchy area.
    • Avoid prolonged exposure to excessive heat and humidity.
    • Take part in activities that distract from the itching during the day and make you tired enough to sleep at night.
    • Try over-the-counter oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), but be aware of possible side effects such as drowsiness.
    • Try over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream on itchy areas.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your doctor or nurse if you haveitching and:

    • Other,unexplained symptoms
    • Is severe
    • Does not go away
    • Cannot be easily explained

    Most itching does not require medical evaluation. Look for an obvious cause of itching at home.

    It is sometimes easy for a parent to find the cause of a child's itching. Looking closely at the skin will help you identify any bites, stings, rashes, dry skin, or irritation. Often the cause of itching is fairly obvious, such as a mosquito bite.

    Have the itching checked out as soon as possible if it keeps returning and does not have an obvious cause, you have total body itching, or you have hives that keep returning. Unexplained itching may be a symptom of a disease that could be serious.

    What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    Your doctor or nurse will examine you and ask questions aboutyour medical history and symptoms.

    You may be asked the following questions:

    • How long have you had this itch?
    • Does it itch all the time?
    • Does it seem to get worse, and has it spread?
    • What do you think caused this itch?
    • Have you ever had this kind of itch before? What caused it then?
    • Did you recently come in contact with any irritating substance?
    • Do you have any allergies or sensitivities?
    • What medications are you taking?
    • Have you started using any new product recently? What was it?
    • Have you used any new soaps, fabric softeners, perfumes, deodorants, fabrics such as wool, or chemicals?
    • Have you been around animals?
    • Have you eaten shellfish or nuts recently?
    • Have you had insect bites recently?
    • Do you use lotions on your skin?
    • Have you been in the sun recently?
    • What part of your body itches?
    • Is it all over your body (generalized itch)?
    • Is the itch limited to a specific area? What area?
    • What does the skin that itches look like?
    • Is there a rash? If so, are there blisters or scales?
    • Are you being treated for other medical conditions?
    • What other symptoms do you have?


    Norris DA. Structure and function of the skin. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 443.

    Habif TP. Atopic Dermatitis. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 5.

    Habif TP. Urticaria and angioedema. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 6.

    Habif TP. Infestations and bites. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 15.


    • What are hives?


    • Allergic reactions


    • Head lice


    • Skin layers


    • What are hives?


    • Allergic reactions


    • Head lice


    • Skin layers


    A Closer Look

      Talking to your MD

        Self Care

          Tests for Itching

            Review Date: 8/14/2012

            Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

            The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

            A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and chrome browser.

            Back  |  Top
            About Us
            Contact Us
            Locations & Directions
            Quality Reports
            Annual Reports
            Honors & Awards
            Community Health Needs

            Brain & Spine
            Sleep Medicine
            Urgent Care
            Women's Services
            All Services
            Patients & Visitors
            Locations & Directions
            Find a Physician
            Tour St. Luke's
            Patient & Visitor Information
            Contact Us
            Payment Options
            Financial Assistance
            Send a Card
            Mammogram Appointments
            Health Tools
            My Personal Health
            Spirit of Women
            Health Information & Tools
            Clinical Trials
            Employer Programs -
            Passport to Wellness

            Classes & Events
            Classes & Events
            Spirit of Women
            Donate & Volunteer
            Giving Opportunities
            Physicians & Employees
            For Physicians
            Remote Access
            Medical Residency Information
            Pharmacy Residency Information
            Physician CPOE Training
            St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
            Copyright © St. Luke's Hospital Website Terms and Conditions  |  Privacy Policy  |  Notice of Privacy Practices PDF  |  Patient Rights PDF Sitemap St. Luke's Mobile