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Pruritus

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Pruritus is simply the medical word for itchy skin. But there’s really nothing simple about it, because there can be dozens, even hundreds, of different causes of itchy skin. Itchy skin can be something as simple as dryness due to cold weather, or it can be a sign of kidney or liver failure. Your skin can look just fine, or it could be red or have bumps or blisters. And whatever the cause, itchy skin can be extremely uncomfortable and irritating.

PRURITUS SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Pruritus occurs when your skin itches and you want to scratch it. You might have just a patch of it in one localized place, or your whole body might itch all over. Your skin might appear as it always does, or you might have redness, which can appear as any shade from a pale pink to a dark, inflamed red. You might have bumps, spots, or blisters; these can accompany allergic reactions or rashes. Your skin might appear dry and cracked, especially on your hands, elbows, knees and feet. Or there might be a leathery or scaly feel to the skin, making it even harder to scratch the itch underneath. Sometimes the itch lasts for a very long time, causing you to scratch frequently and damage the skin even further. Sometimes the itch is very intense, and can even disrupt sleep or everyday patterns of life. Scratching usually just leads to more intense itching, which, of course, leads to more intense scratching, until a never-ending cycle is established that is very difficult to break.

PRURITUS CAUSES

There are very many causes for pruritus, and there may be several of them working at once. If the itchiness does not come with visible changes, such as redness or bumps, it is most likely simply dry skin. This is not to say that pruritus from dry skin isn’t very uncomfortable and irritating; it certainly can be. But it is the easiest skin condition to control and cure, and dry skin itchiness is the easiest to ease. Regularly applying lotions helps enormously, as does taking a bath in cool water to soothe irritated skin, and drinking lots of water to keep hydrated.

Many other conditions can cause pruritus, as well, and are not as easy to resolve. Some of the most common of these are psoriasis (a chronic condition where the skin erupts in dry or irritated patches), dermatitis (an umbrella term for many disorders that cause inflammation of the skin), or scabies and lice, (conditions caused by the presence of an infestation of very small insects, or mites, that live in and on the skin). Other causes could be chickenpox, a common childhood disease that can also be found in adults, and hives, an allergic reaction that is characterized by the presence of red itchy bumps on the skin.
pruritus
Image: Pruritus


Pruritus can also be the result of an illness or disorder much more serious than just chicken pox or hives. Itchy skin can be the result of liver disease (in which the liver is weakened and unable to process toxins or produce enzymes efficiently), kidney disease (in which the kidneys are unable to fulfill their function of filtering the blood), celiac disease (in which the body cannot absorb wheat properly), iron deficiency anemia (in which a person’s red blood cell count is low because they are not absorbing enough iron), thyroid problems and cancers, which can include leukemia and lymphoma. When one of these very serious disorders is the cause of itchy skin, the itching usually affects the whole body, rather than just one localized area. In most cases, the skin appears normal, except for the areas where a person has scratched a great deal, which then become red and even more irritated than before.

Other causes for pruritus include irritations and allergic reactions. If someone has very sensitive skin, they may find themselves itching in response to detergents, the material of their clothing, or the presence of smoke or pollutants in the air. Other allergens or irritants might include poison oak or poison ivy, certain cosmetics, or perfumes or lotions. Food allergies are also known to produce hives or itchy skin when the food is ingested. In addition to food or chemical reactions, you might also have a reaction to certain drugs, including common antibiotics or antifungal medications. Prescription narcotic pain medications can also cause dry or itchy skin, or widespread rashes. Some women, experience itchy skin during pregnancy, especially on the abdomen, thighs, breasts, and arms. If a woman already has a skin condition such as dermatitis or psoriasis, they may find that it gets worse during pregnancy.

PRURITUS TREATMENT

Sometimes itchy skin is nothing to worry about and can be easily treated, but sometimes you need to see your doctor to determine what is going on and how to stop it. If your itchy skin lasts for more than two weeks, and it doesn’t improve with your own home treatments, you should consult with a doctor about it. Also, if it is severe or very uncomfortable, or if it keeps you from sleeping or distracts you from your daily life, that is a problem that must be addressed with medical care. If you don’t know why you’re itchy, but the problem affects your whole body, you should make sure there is no underlying internal illness causing it. And if it is one of a set of symptoms that include tiredness, weight loss, change in bowel or urinary habits, fever, or any degree of redness of the skin, that could indicate something more serious than just simple pruritus, and should be taken up with your doctor.

PRURITUS COMPLICATIONS

If itching goes on for a very long time, it could lead to complications; in many cases, the more prolonged the scratching, the worse the itch becomes. Prolonged scratching can also lead to neurodermatitis, which gives you thick and leathery skin in the places you scratch the most. Your skin can also become infected at the places where you scratch the most.
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