Itching is a particular sensation of the skin that creates a need to scratch or rub that area. Itching can have many causes and according to some people it can even be ‘worse than pain’. Everyone knows it and sometimes has itching, but sometimes there can be very severe and long-lasting itching. In addition, certain diseases and conditions can be accompanied by itching.
Itching invites scratching or rubbing and with severe itching it is almost impossible to prevent someone from scratching, sometimes until the skin becomes completely raw and bleeding. In such severe cases of itching, pain is preferred to itching and sometimes there is a clear change in the skin where the itching originates, as is the case with an insect bite. In other cases, the skin cannot be seen from the outside.
How does itching develop?
Itching can have various causes:
- Through contact with certain substances, such as latex, nettle, or hogweed. Some people can also be sensitive to substances such as wool
- By a sting or bite from an animal, such as being stung by a wasp, bee or mosquito, or being bitten by a flea. Coming into contact with the skin with a jellyfish also causes itching
- With certain diseases, such as allergic reactions, infections, or inflammation. Varicose veins can also cause itching in the legs
- For various skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and itchy bumps
- With various other diseases, such as chickenpox, or disorders of the internal organs such as blockage of the bile duct
- Frequent bathing can damage and itch the skin
- Sweating a lot can sometimes lead to itchy skin
- With prolonged high temperatures, the skin can become thin and itchy
- With diabetes (diabetes mellitus)
- For dry skin
Is it serious and what can you expect?
The severity of the condition depends on the cause of the itching. Usually a short period of itching is not serious, especially when you know what caused the itching, such as from a mosquito bite or a nettle. Sometimes the itching can become severe or last for a long time. Depending on the nature and cause of the itching, it can sometimes be severe or indicate a chronic or other illness.
When to go to the doctor?
If the itching is new and persists for more than a few days or weeks, or if the itching is very intense and the cause of the itching is completely unclear to you, it may be advisable to consult your doctor.
There are several medications that can be prescribed to relieve itching. A well-known example of this is menthol powder. Other medications are also prescribed, such as 3-5% sulfur or clioquinol in chilled zinc oil or alba lotion. Povidone iodine (betadine scrub) or chlorhexidine (hibiscrub) can be used for washing. There are separate clinics for people with itch complaints and if a patient has serious itch complaints, the general practitioner can refer this patient to such a clinic.
What can you do about it yourself?
In principle, you should try not to scratch too much, but that is often easier said than done. There are a number of factors that can increase itching:
- by certain foods
- on skin contact with certain substances, such as clothing or bedding
Check for yourself whether one or more of these factors influence the itching and try to avoid or circumvent these factors.
General advice and precautions
Unfortunately, no advice can be given to prevent itching. Depending on the severity and cause of the itching, it may sometimes be advisable to look at the itching first. In any case, try to scratch as little as possible and avoid scratching the skin. Usually, the itching will subside and disappear on its own, but if the itching is very intense and/or persists for a long time, it may be advisable to consult a doctor (and practice).
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