A persistent itch can keep you awake at night and drive you crazy when you are trying to concentrate on your day-to-day life. Scratching the area only seems to make it worse because your body instantly responds by kick starting its inflammatory response.
Everyone has suffered from insect bites, dandruff, and sunburn, which are just a few of the things that can make your skin itch. The urge to scratch is often overpowering, but it is imperative that you resist the urge and control yourself.
Yes, when you first scratch it feels incredibly good and you experience instant relief, even if there is a slight bit of pain. The reason for the response is that your brain starts to release the neurotransmitter serotonin to control the pain, which intensifies the need to itch. Sadly, as you try to bring yourself relief, the scratching damages your delicate skin. Below are some of the common reasons you may feel itchy and what to do instead of scratching.
10. Dry Skin
Any time your skin’s outer layer (stratum corneum) becomes dehydrated, you might become itchy. Your skin contains extraordinarily little ceramides, which are lipids that produce a protective barrier on your skin’s surface.
Scratching helps ease the itch, but the skin’s outer layer is already fragile from being dry, so your fingernails can cause cracks and openings in the skin’s surface, which can lead to infection. Detergents, beauty products, and other foreign substances often cause an allergic reaction to the delicate tissue.
Ways to avoid dry skin:
- Take warm showers and avoid hot water
- Apply a moisturizer when your skin feels dry
- Stay out of the sun
- Use a sunscreen
9. Insect Bites
When a bug bites you, your immune system reacts to the saliva, enzymes, or venom. The saliva of a mosquito causes the body to increase its histamine production, which spurs the itch. Chiggers release enzymes that make the skin’s tissue erode. Fire ants are venomous, and their bites cause pus-filled blisters.
Scratching an insect bite triggers further inflammation and can tear the skin’s surface, which puts the area at risk of infection. Apply a cool ice pack to the area of the bite and avoid scratching. You can also turn to over-the-counter anti-itch creams such as hydrocortisone to gain much-needed relief.
8. Healing Wounds
Any time your skin’s surface is compromised by a wound, it is unpleasant. The area bleeds and hurts, but that is only the start. As the wound heals, the itch becomes worse. In fact, a healing wound can itch like crazy.
Wounds itch when they are healing because the response is a natural part of the way the body heals. Brian Kim, MD, co-director at Washington University School of Medicine Center for the Study of Itch in St. Louis, states, “When you break the skin, you also damage the nerves—and as they try to heal, their wires get crossed, which can cause the itching sensation.”
Sadly, a wound that itches is susceptible to infection. When you itch the area, you can cause harm. Your fingernails are brimming with bacteria which will invade any tears you make in the skin’s surface. When the area becomes repeatedly infected, it might scar.
To soothe a healing wound, apply a cooling topical such as menthol to the region to gain relief.
An itching sunburn is often referred to as “hell’s itch”. The sunburn spurs the body’s inflammatory response and the irritated nerves in the burned area cause extreme itching. The area of sunburned skin is extremely sensitive and can easily break if you scratch the region, which slows the healing process.
To gain relief from a sunburn itch, apply a cool compress or aloe gels. Cortisone creams can also bring much-needed comfort.
Eczema is an umbrella term that denotes areas of dry, rough, skin. Usually, it is used to describe atopic dermatitis. The skin can be affected by allergens, fragrances, certain types of fabric, and other irritants. The region will start to itch badly.
With eczema, the more you itch, the worse it gets. As you itch, the afflicted area starts to thicken and become dark and wrinkly. If you continue to itch, it could turn to lichen simplex chronicus, which is often difficult to treat.
Cool compresses help ease the itching. Hypoallergenic creams can also bring relief. However, with eczema, you might have to visit your physician for a prescription for a strong topical steroid. In some situations, a physician might also suggest antihistamines.Related: When and When Not to Scratch an Itch
Psoriasis occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts and starts to produce excess skin cells. The new skin cells appear in three days or less instead of the typical 28 to 30 days. The skin simply cannot shed the dead cells fast enough and a buildup occurs that appears red and itchy.
If you itch psoriasis it can bleed due to the diluted blood vessels found in the epidermis. Ideally, you should avoid itching so your skin has a chance to start repairing itself.
Moisturizing can help, but you might also have to seek medical assistance. Your physician will prescribe psoriasis treatments such as prescription medication or ultraviolet light therapy to provide you with relief.
4. Contact Dermatitis
Certain allergens and irritants lead to contact dermatitis. One of the most common allergens that cause contact dermatitis is poison ivy. The skin becomes very inflamed and a red rash develops that is extremely itchy.
Wash the area immediately after exposure to an irritant. Apply cool compresses, hydrocortisone cream, and try over-the-counter allergy medications. If you are unsure what caused the contact dermatitis, then seek the help of a physician to determine the cause.
Many people are surprised to learn that dandruff is actually a fungal infection caused by the fungus Malassezia. The fungus lives on the scalp of all humans, but some people are more prone to an overgrowth. Scratching can also worsen dandruff significantly.
Dandruff shampoos can help treat the condition if they contain zinc pyrithione. However, some people must pursue a prescription-strength formula.
2. Athlete’s Foot
Do your feet burn and itch? You might have a fungal infection referred to as athlete’s foot. You can catch the fungus from a shower, locker room, pool deck, or gym floor. It produces scaly skin that itches, especially between the toes. Tiny fissures also develop that can quickly become infected.
Athlete’s foot is contagious and can even spread beyond your feet. Ideally, you need to treat the condition quickly with an antifungal cream. In some cases, the fungus might be aggressive and require prescription-strength medication.
The veins of the rectum can become inflamed and swollen because of added weight, pregnancy, or excessive straining when trying to have a bowel movement. As the area of inflammation starts to recede, the skin often starts to itch.
Over-the-counter hemorrhoid creams, ice packs, sitz baths, and witch hazel all offer relief from the embarrassing itch. You should also strive to keep the area clean and dry. In extreme cases, you might have to seek treatment from a physician, which can include surgery.Related: 10 Tips for Foot Fungus Prevention and Treatment