causes of body itch (referred to as pruritis) are difficult to
identify since the symptoms are
often non-specific to any particular trigger or cause. However, where the
itch is located, how it looks and the timing of when it showed up may
indicate probable causes. Localized skin inflammation, meaning itching
in specific or limited areas of the body, are often
insect-based or caused
by problems such as shingles, plants (poison ivy), or a medication.
itching that occurs all over the body, is usually caused by an
allergy, hives, medication or even mites (scabies). Signs of harmless
itching usually occur on the arms, groin or feet. If the itch persists
for several days with no relief, if the itch comes and goes for several
days at a time, or if it is accompanied by other
symptoms such as lesions or rash, be sure to see a Dermatologist for
testing. In cases where the Doctor believes a disease is the underlying
cause then testing will be conducted to check blood sugar (for signs of
diabetes), thyroid function, kidney function and liver function."
Video: Causes and Treatment of Itching All Over The Body
Video review of home remedies for prickly heat.
Skin symptoms such as itch can either indicate a minor harmless problem or one that reflects a more chronic problem going on inside the body such as diabetes, liver disease, heart disease or cancer. The key to diagnosis is to identify when the itch began and any other symptoms such as rash or possible bite marks. Take note of anything that may have come in contact with your skin.
Approximately 8% to 9% of all people suffer from some type of itch. If it lasts greater than 6 weeks it is referred to as chronic Pruritus.
The itch itself is caused by a skin sensation transmitted to the surface by what are called C-fiber nerves. It is a normal body response that is a protective mechanism against things that can harm us such as parasites or insects.
These nerves are triggered by:
- the immune system via a release of histamine which responds to foreign substances such as those left behind by an insect bite
- irritants that enter through cracks in the surface of the skin
Scratching the itch sometimes masks it by replacing one skin sensation
with the heat generated by scratching since the skin can only
experience one sensation at a time. Itch feels good to the person being
itched because the nerves that cause the itch form a channel leading
directly to the brain, possibly releasing pleasure causing endorphins.
Itching All Over Body
General itch across the entire body is usually caused by an allergy. This could be to food, a medicine that you took such as an antibiotic (common cause), an allergic reaction to an insect bite, or an allergen that touched your skin.
Video: Why We Itch
Emma Bryce discusses in a TED talk why we itch..
Itch Before Skin Rash
A skin itch often comes before other symptoms such as skin rashes. For example the disease shingles (adult version of chicken pox virus) starts with an itch and skin tingling followed by a rash.
Itching accompanied by other symptoms such as rash could indicate the cause. For example skin itch combined with joint pain and a localized rash could indicate Lyme disease.
Itchy Bumps or Papules
Body itch and skin reactions such as red bumps or papules can have many causes. Insect based causes are often assumed to be the problem, when in fact, they are triggered by something in the environment or a food allergy. Itch diagnosis is further complicated by delays between the trigger and the skin itch which can range from an immediate reaction to one that occurs days later.
The location of the problem, appearance of the skin and any associated symptoms, could provide clues as to the cause as shown below.
When To See A Doctor
If skin itch is a chronic problem that fluctuates at times, then see a Doctor. Blood tests or a skin biopsy may be needed to identify the underlying cause.
Top Reasons for Body Itching
The most common top reasons for body itching, particularly in people over age 65 is dry skin. The next leading causes are internal diseases and the side effects of medication.
Cause of Body Itching By Location
|Location and Symptoms||Possible Causes of Body Itch|
Generalized skin itch (itching all over body)
Generalized body itching and skin has a yellow color. Eyes may also have a yellow color.
Jaundice due to liver disease, or pancreatic cancer. Caused when bile ducts are obstructed.
Generalized skin itching with enlarged lymph glands above collar, enlarged armpit, groin and elbow lymph glands,
Leukemia (white blood cell problem) or Polycythemia (white blood cell problem)
Generalized dry skin itch (when under 70 years old) with symptoms such as constipation, feeling tired, feeling cold when others are warm.
One of the common causes of body itch in people is low thyroid function.
Generalized dry skin itch (over 70 years old)
Dry skin due to low skin moisture causes body itching.
Generalized Skin itch after swimming in a lake, pond, stream or river.
Swimmers itch caused by a flatworm protein. The worms use birds and snails as a natural host, but will come into contact with humans as they seek a new host. They cannot survive on people, but will cause a skin reaction in those that are sensitive to the flatworm protein. The condition will go away on its own. Itch can be helped with a natural topical such as Eucerin.
Skin itch under bathing suit or other skin areas after swimming in a pool, going to a water park or spending time in a hot tub.
An improperly disinfected pool or hot tub can be contaminated with a germ that causes a condition called hot tub rash (also called folliculitis or dermatitis). The rash will heal in several days on its own. Relief can come from products formulated for itch relief such as the product mentioned above.
Vagina Itch (feminine itch)
Diabetic women can get vagina itch due to high levels of sugar in the urine. If this is the case the blood sugar will need to be controlled.
Other causes of feminine itch include a yeast infection (most common), itch due to irritating chemicals such as a detergent, sprays or soaps, and STDs (sexually transmitted disease - chlamydia). If itch persists for longer than 7 days, see a Doctor.
Rectal Itching, Anal Itching
Anal itch or ass itch is a common problem. This is caused by hemorrhoids or other skin issue such as inflammation from excessive wiping, removing skin oils. Inflammation can be reduced with the prescription medication Proctofoam HC.
Hemorrhoids are often accompanied by symptoms such as feeling a lump when wiping or blood. Treatment for hemorrhoids includes topical ointments suppositories, creams or removal.
Localized (in specific part of the body (e.g; on one leg but not the other)
Insect bite allergy: everyone reacts to insect bites differently, from no reaction to a reactions that are on specific parts of the body.
Allergy Contact Dermatitis: skin reaction or hypersensitivity that occurs 2 or more days after coming in contact with the trigger. Often caused by rubber, nickel and the antibacterial neomycin. Also caused by allergens in cosmetics, dyes and soap.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis: this is caused by an immediate skin reaction to a chemicals.
Plants: certain plants that come into contact with the skin can cause a rash and itch such as poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. Symptoms include skin bumps and itch.
Skin Folds (waist itch, ankles itch, knee itch)
Chiggers attach to clothing and bite where clothing is pulled close to the body. This includes chiggers bites on the scrotum.
Heat or sweat rash due to blocked sweat glands can occur. It usually happens when with weather is hot and humid.
Neck Itch, bottom of legs, lower arm/hands itch
Bed Bugs: bites exposed skin areas during sleep. Bed bug bites can be individual or in patterns. Bites have a clear center.
Fleas hide in low lying areas such as carpet and jump up onto the lower legs.
Lice (causes all conditions).
Common causes of scalp itch include frequent washing in hot water, dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, dry skin. A yeast killing shampoo such as Nizoral A-D can help eliminate dandruff and the scalp itch.
Pubic or Jock Itch, Scrotum itch
Jock itch is caused by the same fungus as Athlete's Foot (see below). it is treated with the anti-fungal Lotrimin. If you feel a jock itch crawling sensation the cause is probably scabies.
The most common causes of scrotum itch include yeast infection (bright red rash on scrotum and possibly penis tip), allergy, psoriasis, eczema or pubic lice (scrotum itch no rash). Jock itch can cause scrotum itch, but it is less common.
Shoulder Blade Itch, Bend of Knee itch, Elbow itch, Itch between each finger
Scabies mites cause skin reactions due to mites burrowing under the skin.
Random areas with small skin reactions
Mosquito bites often result in groups or individual small red bite marks.
Athletes Foot (fungus Trichophyton). Treated with the product Lotrimin. If athletes foot returns after treatment, treat toenails with regular Listerine or Fungoid Tincture.
Itch on Face with Rash
Eczema is a skin condition where the skin becomes inflamed. Itching can be severe. It is not known what causes the condition. Treatment involves topicals for the rash and an intihistamine for any skin itch.
Itch With No Rash
There are several possible causes of itching all over the body with no rash.
- Dry skin (common in individuals that are over age 64)
- Medications (did you start anything new?)
- Internal diseases
It is also possible that the cause cannot be identified.
Itch After Hot Bath
Itch after a hot bath could be caused by a condition called Polycythemia rubra vera where there are too many red blood cells in the bone marrow. See a Doctor for a blood test to confirm the cause.
Insect Based Causes of Body Itch
Insects based causes of body itch are often mistaken for non-insect
based triggers. This is why exterminators and dermatologists always ask
if you have captured an insect that they can review.
An insect bite that causes itch or some type of skin reaction is actually an allergic reaction. Two people that were bitten can react in completely different ways. This is often the case with bed bugs, where two people sleeping in the same bed can have different reactions. Insect bites usually go away on their own or with a simple topical itch treatment. If insects are in the home, they of course will need to be removed by an exterminator such as Home Advisor (or call them at 866-214-8380).
Chiggers jump onto clothing when outdoors. They are a type of mite who bite and cause an itchy waistline, ankles or where the skin folds. The result is severe itching. Bite is in the form of red pimple-like bumps or hives. You may be bitten by a chigger after a walk in the berry patch, weeds, tall grass or woodland areas. A chiggers rash may be present as well.
If you suspect chigger bites and one of the causes of body itch wash all clothes and bedding and clean your carpets and furniture.
Fleas on Humans
Fleas on humans cause itching and small red bumps at the ankles. It is often caused by fleas and dogs and cats, who then bring them into the house.
Getting rid of fleas in the house involves washing all linen, thoroughly vacuuming all rugs and furniture and the use a home disinfectant. If you have pets, ask the vet for a flea treatment. After using the treatment, use a pet flea preventative such as Frontline for Dogs or Frontline for Cats.
Head Lice Symptoms
Humans may play host to three kinds of lice: head, pubic and body lice. Body lice thrive on human blood. They live in the folds and seams of clothes. You may catch lice by coming into contact with an infected person, their clothing, bedding or towels. You will experience intense itching, red, bumpy skin and locations at the waist or groin and you may show skin signs of the skin being discolored or becoming thicker if the lice have been there a long time.
Lice treatment involves washing clothes in hot water followed by drying the clothes in hot dryer. Usually good hygiene is enough to combat lice.
Scabies Skin Itching Symptoms
Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis, also referred to as the Human itch mite or Scabies itch mite. It’s a very small and nasty, eight-legged round bodied bug, just barely visible to the eye. These creatures burrow under the skin and create tunnels to lay eggs. They leave zigzag blisters under the skin and a red rash and are one of the causes of body itch a doctor will explore when the skin as raised areas as shown below.
Scabies treatment involves washing everything you have touched, in particular sheets, towels and clothing. Use the hottest water possible. Dry on HIGH heat. for other items, like coats or toys, put them in a bag and store them for a week or longer.
Bed Bugs Skin Itching
bugs are small, oval, non-flying insects with three species that cause
what are known as bed bug bites (actually a skin puncture).
bodies and may be mistaken for ticks or cockroaches. Given
all the recent publicity around this problem, many people falsely
believe that this is one of the possible causes of body itch, when the
insect they found just looks like a bed bug such as a small
beetle or cockroach.
Bed bugs feed by puncturing the skin and then sucking out blood at favorite sites such as the arms, hands, neck and face (areas exposed during sleep). They do not bite the bottoms of the feet, if this is the case suspect scabies as the cause of body itch. Bed bug bites tend to be small, raised or flat bumps characterized by itching, swelling and redness. They often bite in a row of three dots along the seam of a mattress, a typical hiding spot, but individual bites are possible. Most people show no skin reaction, however those that do have an allergic reaction that can range from minor skin irritation and itch to more chronic cases where the bed bug bites cause skin blisters.
In terms of bed bugs skin itching, symptoms should stop in 3 to 5 days after the first sign of symptoms. To help with itch, try an oatmeal based anti-itch topical such as Aveeno or you can buy a specific bed bug itch remedy.
Most bed bug infestations require pest-control intervention with sprays, dusts, and aerosol insecticides. The best approach is to purchase the combination of products needed in a bed bug kit. You can buy either an organic bed bug kit or insecticide based bed bug kit. This guide to getting rid of bed bugs can be helpful.
This includes You may have to discard your mattress and bed, as deep cleaning may not help. You may also need to fill cracks in your moldings, walls and floors or use a super powered vacuum on them.
Ticks As A Cause of Itchy Skin
Ticks have been around for at least 90 million years and there are over 800 species, but only two transmit diseases to humans - hard ticks and soft ticks. Hard ticks have a shell on their back. Soft ticks don’t. These are acquired by a walking outside or from a pet. In some parts of the United States this is one of the common causes of body itch.
Ticks grab or crawl onto a host and latch on to suck blood. The bacteria they carry with them is transmitted to the host when the tick is finished eating. Tick Bites are painless and the bite site is usually itchy, burns, swollen and red. Some people experience severe pain. Those with allergies may have severe reactions to tick saliva.
Remove the tick once you locate it by gently tweezing it out of your skin. Do not burn it or yank it out, or you may leave the head behind. Treat the bite with Benadryl compounds. Be on the lookout for more ticks and do a body inspection if you have been outside. Inspect your pets on a regular basis during tick season.
Environmental Causes of Body Itch
Elements in the environment are causes of body itch when they
come in contact with the skin. These causes of itching skin include:
- Sunburn Harsh chemicals
- Toxic plants (poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac)
- Stinging plants
- Laundry detergents
- Perfumed creams and lotions
- Chemical household cleaners
Plants such as poison ivy, oak and sumac contain Urushiol which can cause an allergic itchy skin rash. IF you believe that you were exposed, wash the skin with an anti-bacterial soap. Look for over-the-counter remedies or treatments such as All Stop Poison Ivy Gel.
Chemical Causes of Body Itch
Chemicals can be one of the causes of body itch. They can
cause skin burns and other skin reactions when ingested.
Types of chemical include:
- Inhaled, ingested or handled toxic chemicals
- Ingestion of chemicals such as MSG Ingestion
- Inhalation or injection of various drugs
Age Based Causes of Body Itch - Dry Skin
Age is one of the simple causes of body itch. As the skin ages it loses moisture which adds it to the list of causes of body itch. The commonly occurs in individuals over age 70. Locations of the body where dry skin itch often occurs are the arms, bottoms of the legs, and sides of the torso and thigh area.
Treatment involves the use of thick moisturizing creams, reducing the length of time spent in the bath, and a switch to a gentler soap such as Cetaphil. Itch can be helped with a topical such as the Aveeno hydrocortisone product mentioned below. Another good choice is Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion with Oatmeal. The later also works well in people that have skin allergies. Apply in 3 minutes after stepping out of the shower to lock the most moisture into the skin.
To reduce the chance of dry skin, try showering in warm, not hot water. To help moisturize the skin with humidity, step away from the water at the end of your shower, and run on the hottest temperature to steam the room.
Disease Related Causes of Body Itch
Some disease based causes of body itch
- Fifth disease or erythema infectiosum
- Viral exanthema
- Anemia (low iron)
- Thyroid Disease
If your symptoms involve a whole body itch, they are referred to as generalized itching. You will experience a crawling kind of sensation just under the skin that sets up the urge to scratch in order to get it to stop. You may have some swelling along with the body itch, such as a rash, scales, fungus involvement, a viral vector or parasitic involvement. Each itch antagonist will produce its own symptoms, but typically speaking, you will itch all over and not be able to get real relief.
For localized causes of body itch, or itching in just one of two locations on your body, you will experience the same or similar symptoms involved in generalized itching. There may also be some pain, weeping, redness, scaling, blistering or shingling, depending on the causes of body itch. In either case, see your doctor if you are experiencing any of the above signs or symptoms to get to the bottom of why you are experiencing itching skin.
Diagnosis of the causes of body itch often begins with a visual
examination, followed by a physical exam and an in depth set of
questions to help the physician understand a possible reason for the
itchy skin. A Doctor may ask about possible causes of body itch such as:
- when the problem began
- when your skin itches
- location of itchy skin
- your thoughts on possible causes
- allergy history
- recent medications taken such as antibiotics
- exposure to pets
- use of soaps
- new, detergents
- dietary changes (particularly shellfish, shrimp and nuts)
- insect exposure (mosquitoes, chiggers, bed bugs, lice)
- use of cosmetics and lotions
- sun exposure
- start of symptoms such as rash
If there does not appear to be an infection or skin lesion of some sort, then a doctor will explore less common causes of body itch. Diagnosis can involve a skin biopsy, blood tests or x-rays. Generally speaking, you would go to the doctor if there seems to be no reasonable explanation for the itching; if it is severe and doesn’t stop; if it does not go away despite what you do and if it happens in conjunction with other, strange symptoms.
Otherwise, you may be able to figure out the possible causes of body itch on your own by eliminating possible triggers.
The goal is always to identify the underlying cause of an itch it if can be identified. Even if the cause of a partial or whole body itch cannot be identified.
Can Itch Be Cured?
In some cases itch can be cured when the underlying cause is identified and corrected. For example, if the itch is a disease symptoms, treating the disease will get rid of the itch.
For some skin conditions, tests such as a skin biopsy can identify the underlying medical cause.
19 Answers To Stop Itching Disorders
To address the causes of body itch a Doctor may recommend one or more of the following approaches:
- Use a Moisturizer: Moisturizers applied to the skin multiple times a day. Treating the outer skin layer helps to prevent environmental elements from penetrating the skin. Pick a moisturizer that is just greasy enough so that you don't mind using it.
- Anti-itch creams: Creams that contain anti-itch ingredients such as lauromacrogols or crotamiton. You can also try a natural and organic option such as Exlixir.
- Oral Antihistamines can help to bring some relief.
One side effect is tiredness, so check
package labels if using the product during the day. Product choices include:
- Kirkland AllerClear
- Claritin (Loratadine, non-drowsy)
- Zyrtec (contain Ceterizine)
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
- Topical Steroid OIntments or Creams: Corticosteroids
Itch creams and lotions can help to reduce skin inflammation and
itching from problems such as poison ivy where there is inflammed skin. These are good for
application to small or localized skin areas. (Make sure they contain
phenol, pramoxine, diphenhydramine, and a “caine” derivative, which is
When applied to the face do not buy products that are more than 1% hydrocortisone (a good choice is Aveeno. Another choice is Cortaid 10 (hydrocortisone 1% – anti-inflammatory that handles itching and swelling/redness. Takes longer to work than topical anesthetics.
- A doctor may prescribe an oral corticosteroid for more
severe or widespread skin conditions. Do not use on infants
without the advice of a Doctor due to bloodstream absorption.
- Ice packs: ice slows down the c-fibers, the pathway the
body uses to signal an itch.
- Cold showers. Avoid using hot water and do not
bathe for long periods of time. Use a small amount of soap and pat dry.
Some relief may be available with the use of a moisturizing
lotion after bath that is additive free (additives may result in skin
- Facecloths: Interrupts the itch cycle. An alternative for itch on the body is to soak a piece of clothing or flannel in moisturizer. Try it at room temperature or cool in the refrigerator before placing on itchy area.
- Keep the skin cool when sleeping. Avoiding seat at night can help keep down the itch sensation.
- Hot water: Kills the itch temporarily, but it will return
even worse. Hot water removes skin oils.
- Shorten the length of time you shower or bathe. Do not use hot water and limit to 1x per day.
- Avoid soaps with extra ingredients such as anti-itch products. These ingredients might strip the skin of natural oils.
- Motrin IB ibuprofen - an
- Oatmeal based topicals such as Aveeno
Spray (benzocaine 20%, menthol .5%) – virtual
for surface itching and pain.
- Mycitracin Ointment (polymyxin B 10,000 IU/g, bacitracin
zinc 500 IU/g,
neomycin sulfate 5 mg/g) – Good to prevent infection.
- Ignore the itch and try and break the habit: First write down the times of the day or any triggers that lead you to start itching. Once you recognize the trigger, mentally try and ignore it. Try distracting yourself with a video
game. There is some scientific basis for this approach.
a location that doesn't itch: try itching the opposite area of the
body (e.g; if the itch is on the left arm, itch the right arm). This
approach confuses the brain and may help reduce the desire to itch.
- Phototherapy: Some Doctors offer ultraviolet light therapy which helps to reduce skin itchiness.
by: British Association of Dermatologists
Plus (National Institutes of Health)