Itchy skin can be caused by a number of different factors. One of the most common causes of itchy skin, particularly during winter months, is a condition known as Xerosis – which is abnormally dry skin – and is usually easily treated by using moisturizers. However, if you suffer from chronic itchy skin, find you have itchier skin during the evening, or your itchy skin is also accompanied by inflammation and/or a rash, there may be underlying medical conditions involved that could be contributing factors.
Below, Vancouver family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, writes about some of the most common causes of itchy skin and what you can do to find relief.
Allergic or Contact Dermatitis
This occurs when your skin comes into contact with an irritant. These irritants can include soap (including laundry detergent), lotion, plants, chemicals, or even jewellery. Symptoms include intense, itchy skin, rash, burning or stinging skin, hives, and/or fluid-filled blisters. If you suspect you have allergic/contact dermatitis, you can relieve symptoms by using a moisturizer or applying a corticosteroid to the affected area, and/or taking an oatmeal bath. Oral antihistamines can also provide relief, but note that these may cause drowsiness and therefore you should avoid operating heavy machinery or driving a vehicle while on this type of medication. Lastly, if you know what the trigger of your dermatitis is, you should avoid contact with said trigger (or triggers) as much as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, bedbugs are not just the result of living in a dirty home. Even the cleanliest of homes can have an infestation of bedbugs, as they move through walls and pipes. Mattresses are often favourite breeding spots for bedbugs. If a bedbug has bitten you, it will usually leave a lesion that looks similar to a mosquito bite. If you suspect you have bedbugs it’s important to make sure all linens are cleaned thoroughly.
There are many different systemic diseases that can also result in itchy skin. For example, if a patient has a poorly functioning liver (liver disease), they may experience itchier skin at night due to bile acid build-up on the surface of the skin. Other systemic diseases that can cause itchy skin include chronic kidney failure and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
To accurately diagnose the cause of itchy skin, Dr. Ali Ghahary may need to refer patients to a dermatologist. To find out more information on dermatology as well as information on other health conditions that might lead to or be a direct cause of itchy skin, visit the Canadian Dermatology Association website at dermatology.ca.