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Pruritus : Causes, symptoms and treatments

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pruritus

Pruritus is the medical term used for itchy skin. The itchiness can very intense and chronic. It could give rise to a strong urge to scratch, thus puncturing the skin. However, this should be avoided as the breaking of the skin’s natural barrier could lead to other secondary infections. The itchiness can occur in a small area like the nose or it can also occur in the entire body.

Symptoms

The primary symptom of pruritus is itchiness, either in small localized areas like the arm or leg or over the entire body. With time, the person may also experience other notable changes in the body such as

  • Redness
  • Bumps, spots or blisters
  • Dry and cracked skin
  • Development of scaly or leathery skin

In some cases, the itchiness can be very intense and long lasting. The more you scratch, the more intense it gets. Therefore, it is highly advisable not to scratch the skin even if there is chronic itchiness.

Causes

The possible causes of pruritus include

  • Even if there is no appearance of any red bumps, the itchiness is often accompanied by dry skin. This is generally caused due to aging and long term use of air conditioning, central heating or taking frequent baths and showers
  • Preexisting skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, scabies, chicken pox, lice, and hives.
  • Sometimes, pruritus is also caused by underlying diseases such as liver disease, iron deficiency anemia, kidney failure, thyroid problems and cancers including leukemia and lymphoma. In these cases, the itchiness spreads over the entire body. The skin appears fine except for the scratch marks here and there.
  • Pruritus can also be caused due to various disorders that affect the nervous system such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, shingles and pinched nerves
  • Sometimes, the itchiness is triggered due to skin irritation from wool, chemicals, soaps and clothing items made out of synthetic fibers.
  • Allergic reaction arising out of contact with substances such as poison ivy or cosmetics that are not accepted by the body. Sometimes, they are also caused by allergies from certain food items.
  • Body’s reaction to drugs such as antibiotics, antifungal drugs or narcotic medication used for pain relief. In this case, too, the itchiness is widespread, and the person may also experience the appearance of rashes.
  • It can happen during pregnancy as well. Most pregnant women experience itchy skin around the abdomen and the thighs. It could be worse if this takes place with other itchy skin conditions such as dermatitis.

Complications

If not treated properly, pruritus can lead to intense itchiness of the skin. This could cause a lot of discomfort and affect the quality of life. Intense itchiness could induce scratching thus leading to

  • Skin injury through which other microbes can enter, thus causing other complications
  • Infection on the delicate and bruised areas of the skin
  • Scarring

Treatment

The treatment option depends on the underlying cause behind pruritus. The prescriptions could be different in each case. The treatment process usually includes

  • Good moisturizer to keep the skin from getting dry and scaly
  • Anti itching creams
  • Calamine lotion
  • Wearing loose clothing made out of natural fibers
  • Applying cool pressure over the itchy areas
  • Stress management
  • Using mild soaps and laundry detergents

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