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What’s that itch? Scratchy skin can be caused by a number of things, from the cold, dry winter air to allergens in the spring and summer. While the causes of itchy skin can be a literal pain to experience and deal with, you can find relief with the appropriate treatment.
Here, a dermatologist breaks down seven common causes for why you are itchy all the time, how to treat them, and when you should seek advice from a doctor.
1. Dry Skin
Dry skin is an oh-so-common cause of itchy skin, says Rajani Katta, spironolactone sale MD, a board-certified dermatologist who serves as voluntary clinical faculty of both the Baylor College of Medicine and the McGovern Medical School, University of Texas Houston. (Older adults are particularly prone to this dryness and itchiness, she adds.) “Milder cases may just have flaking of the skin, but as it progresses you may actually develop tiny cracks in the surface of the skin,” Dr. Katta says.
How to treat it: The key to treating and preventing dry skin is to limit water loss from the skin. You can do that by sticking to shorter, lukewarm showers (hot showers zap moisture) and then moisturizing consistently. “One really helpful strategy is to step out of the shower, towel off partially, and then apply a thick moisturizing cream to damp skin to help lock in moisture,” she says.
2. Bug Bites
Many different insect bites can trigger very itchy skin reactions, Dr. Katta says. Most of the time, you’ll notice red bumps, such as a mosquito bite.
How to treat it: While they may be itchy and annoying in the meantime, “these will fade on their own, but for very itchy bumps, we often recommend over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment for up to one week to help calm down the reaction,” she says.
Eczema, also known as dermatitis, refers to inflammation of the skin, Dr. Katta says. It can sometimes be a hereditary condition, but it can also develop at any age. With eczema, you may develop red, itchy, ill-defined patches on different areas of the body.
One type of eczema is called atopic dermatitis, which commonly appears on the arms and legs, especially in the crease of the arms and behind the knees.
How to treat it: “Treatment often requires prescription medicated ointments and focuses on strengthening the skin barrier by using moisturizing creams, and then treating the skin inflammation,” Dr. Katta says.
4. Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis is a type of allergic skin reaction that can be caused by a number of different substances. One example is the rash response to poison ivy, which usually develops two to three days after contact with the plant, Dr. Katta says.
“Allergic contact dermatitis can be triggered by different ingredients in skincare products, by metals such as in jewelry, by rubber chemicals, and by many other substances,” she says. “The rash usually appears in the areas of contact with the substance, so this can sometimes create unusual patterns, such as a poison ivy branch causing a linear rash.”
How to treat it: Mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment, but in cases that spread to involve a larger surface of the body, or that involve the face, Dr. Katta recommends seeing a dermatologist.
Many people are familiar with the red, itchy, flaking rash in the scalp that signals dandruff. “Although the skin might appear dry, this is actually a condition where there is inflammation of the scalp, and it is known as seborrheic dermatitis,” Dr. Katta says. “While some people experience just mild flaking, others experience very thick white flakes.”
How to treat it: The most common treatment for dandruff is over-the-counter shampoos, which can contain different active ingredients, like salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, and ketoconazole. Leave the shampoo on for about five to 10 minutes before rinsing it out, which helps the active ingredients work, says Dr. Katta. “If these [shampoos] have not helped, then see a dermatologist, as some people require stronger prescription products,” she says.
6. Cutaneous Candidiasis (A Yeast Infection Of The Skin)
Turns out yeast infections aren’t just a down-there problem. Yeast infections of the skin are also known as cutaneous candidiasis, and they can result in red itchy rashes in areas such as skin folds that trap sweat, Dr. Katta says. With this type of infection, you’ll often experience a red rash with small red bumps at the edges, possibly in the underarm area, in the groin, or under the breasts.
How to treat it: “Keeping the skin dry may help, but treatment requires an anti-yeast medicated cream,” Dr. Katta says. “If the rash is not responding to over-the-counter creams, it’s important to see your dermatologist, because prescription medications may be necessary.”
7. Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot is a common name for tinea pedis, a fungal infection that can occur between the toes or on the sides or bottom of the feet, Dr. Katta says. Between the toes, it may lead to red, raw skin, while on the sides and bottom of the feet it may lead to flaking, peeling skin, or even blisters in some cases.
How to treat it: “Over-the-counter antifungal creams can help, and it’s important to keep the feet dry, such as by changing sweaty socks frequently,” Dr. Katta says. If athlete’s foot doesn’t go away with OTC creams, then your derm can recommend a prescription cream or oral medication, she adds.
When should you see a doctor about itchy skin?
If you symptoms and itching are getting worse or not responding to treatment, contact your derm asap. It’s possible that the source of the scratchiness isn’t what you think it is, so a derm can confirm the diagnosis and prescribe stronger medications and treatments if necessary.
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