Itchiness is a medical symptom that causes a strong desire to scratch or rub an area of the body. Itchiness is often thought of as a skin condition, but it can affect other parts of the body as well. The medical term for itchiness is known as pruritus.
Sources of Itchiness
A variety of different factors can contribute to itchiness. Allergies are a big cause, and different allergic reactions can provoke itchiness in the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Sometimes the source of itchiness is easy to determine, like dry skin or an insect bite. Other times the source of the itch is more complex, like nervous system damage that occurs after a stroke, a burn or shingles. Some medical conditions like eczema and psoriasis can also cause skin itchiness, as can certain medications like chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer.
Itchiness can affect other parts of the body besides the skin. Itchy eyes, known as ocular pruritus, can be a major nuisance. These are often tied to allergies or other problems like dry eyes. Genital itchiness can also be a problem for both men and women, which in some cases might be a disease called lichen sclerosus. This condition can also spread to other parts of the body.
Treatments for Itchiness
Treatments for itchiness can vary based on the cause and severity of the symptoms. In general, managing the underlying illness, like allergies or dry skin, tends to put a stop to the itchiness. This can be accomplished with antihistamines or creams. Dry eyes may simply require frequent application of lubricating eye drops, while other eye conditions may need more extensive measures. In the case of medication causing itchiness, an alternative might be available. But there are some treatments, like those for cancer, that may simply require putting up with the itchiness because no other medication is available.
SOURCES: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; U.S. National Cancer Institute; American Academy of Ophthalmology; Healthy Women