What's Causing Your Itchy Skin? (with Pictures)

 Itchy skin, also known as pruritus, is an irritating and uncontrollable sensation that makes you want to scratch to relieve the feeling. The possible causes for itchiness include internal illnesses and skin conditions.

It’s important to see a doctor for itchiness if the cause isn’t obvious. They can find the underlying cause and provide treatments for relief.

Several home remedies such as over-the-counter creams and moisturizers work well for itching.

There are many reasons your skin could itch. Here is a list of 30 possible causes.

Warning: Graphic images ahead.

Dry skin

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  • scaling, itching, and cracking
  • most common on the legs, arms, and abdomen
  • can often be solved with lifestyle changes

Read full article on dry skin.

Food allergy

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • Occurs when your immune system reacts inappropriately to common substances found in foods or drinks.
  • Symptoms range from mild to severe and include sneezing, itchy eyes, swelling, rash, hives, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.
  • Depending on your immune system’s response, symptoms may occur minutes to hours after consuming a food that causes an allergic reaction.
  • Common allergy trigger foods include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, and soy.

Read full article on food allergies.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

  • an autoimmune disease that displays a wide variety of symptoms that affect many different body systems and organs
  • a wide array of skin and mucous membrane symptoms that range from rashes to ulcers
  • classic butterfly-shaped face rash that crosses from cheek to cheek over the nose
  • rashes may appear or worsen with sun exposure

Read full article on systemic lupus erythematosus.


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  • usually occurs in skin folds (armpits, buttocks, under breasts, between fingers and toes)
  • begins with itching, stinging, and burning red rash with wet appearance and dry crusting at the edges
  • progresses to cracked and sore skin with blisters and pustules that may become infected with bacteria

Read full article on candida.

Biliary (bile duct) obstruction

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • It’s most commonly caused by gallstones, but it may also be caused by injury to the liver or gallbladder, inflammation, tumors, infections, cysts, or liver damage.
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes, extremely itchy skin without rash, light-colored stools, and very dark urine.
  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
  • Obstruction can cause serious infection that requires urgent medical attention.

Read full article on biliary (bile duct) obstruction.


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  • diarrhea, decreased appetite and weight loss, swelling belly
  • easy bruising and bleeding
  • small, spider-shaped blood vessels visible underneath the skin
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes and itchy skin

Read full article on cirrhosis.

Ragweed allergy

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  • itchy, watery eyes
  • scratchy or sore throat
  • runny nose, congestion, and sneezing
  • sinus pressure

Read full article on ragweed allergies.

Diaper rash

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  • Rash located on areas that have contact with a diaper.
  • Skin looks red, wet, and irritated.
  • Skin is warm to the touch.

Read full article on diaper rash.

Allergic reaction

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • Rashes occur when your immune system reacts to allergens on the skin.
  • Itchy, raised welts that appear minutes to hours after skin contact with an allergen.
  • Red, itchy, scaly rash that may appear hours to days after skin contact with an allergen.
  • Severe and sudden allergic reactions may cause swelling and difficulty breathing that require emergency attention.

Read full article on allergic reactions.

Athlete’s foot

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  • itching, stinging, and burning between the toes or on the soles of feet
  • blisters on the feet that itch
  • discolored, thick, and crumbly toenails
  • raw skin on the feet

Read full article on athlete’s foot.

Contact dermatitis

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  • Appears hours to days after contact with an allergen.
  • Rash has visible borders and appears where your skin touched the irritating substance.
  • Skin is itchy, red, scaly, or raw.
  • Blisters that weep, ooze, or become crusty.

Read full article on contact dermatitis.

Flea bites

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  • Usually located in clusters on the lower legs and feet.
  • Itchy, red bump surrounded by a red halo.
  • Symptoms begin immediately after being bitten.

Read full article on flea bites.


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  • itchy, raised welts that occur after exposure to an allergen
  • red, warm, and mildly painful to the touch
  • can be small, round, and ring-shaped or large and randomly shaped

Read full article on hives.

Allergic eczema

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  • May resemble a burn.
  • Often found on hands and forearms.
  • Skin is itchy, red, scaly, or raw.
  • Blisters that weep, ooze, or become crusty.

Read full article on allergic eczema.


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This condition may be considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • Defined as a noticeable change in the color or texture of the skin.
  • May be caused by many things, including insect bites, allergic reactions, medication side effects, fungal skin infection, bacterial skin infection, infectious disease, or autoimmune disease.
  • Many rash symptoms can be managed at home, but severe rashes, especially those seen in combination with other symptoms such as fever, pain, dizziness, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, may require urgent medical treatment.

Read full article on rashes.

Body lice

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  • Different from head or pubic lice, body lice and their tiny eggs can sometimes be seen on the body or clothing.
  • Rash caused by an allergic reaction to body lice bites.
  • Red, itchy bumps on the skin.
  • Thickened or darkened areas of skin are common in irritated areas.

Read full article on body lice.


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  • Common in babies and children.
  • Rash is often located in the area around the mouth, chin, and nose.
  • Irritating rash and fluid-filled blisters that pop easily and form a honey-colored crust.

Read full article on impetigo.

Head lice

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  • A louse is about the size of a sesame seed. Both lice and their eggs (nits) may be visible in the hair
  • Extreme scalp itchiness caused by allergic reaction to louse bites.
  • Sores on your scalp from scratching.
  • Feeling like something is crawling on your scalp.

Read full article on head lice.

Bites and stings

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • redness or swelling at the site of the bite or sting
  • itching and soreness at the site of the bite
  • pain in the affected area or in the muscles
  • heat around the bite or sting

Read full article on bites and stings.

Jock itch

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By Robertgascoign, via Wikimedia Commons
  • redness, persistent itching, and burning in the groin area
  • flaking, peeling, or cracking skin in the groin area
  • rash in the groin area that worsens with activity

Read full article on jock itch.


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  • circular-shaped scaly rashes with raised border
  • skin in the middle of the ring appears clear and healthy, and the edges of the ring may spread outward
  • itchy

Read full article on ringworm.


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  • yellow or white scaly patches that flake off
  • affected areas may be red, itchy, greasy, or oily
  • hair loss may occur in the area with the rash

Read full article on eczema.

Latex allergy

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This condition may be considered a medical emergency in the event of a serious reaction. Urgent care may be required.

  • Rash may occur within minutes to hours after exposure to a latex product.
  • Warm, itchy, red wheals at the site of contact that may take on a dry, crusted appearance with repeated exposure to latex.
  • Airborne latex particles may cause cough, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes.
  • A severe allergy to latex can cause swelling and difficulty breathing.

Read full article on latex allergies.


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  • Symptoms may take 4 to 6 weeks to appear.
  • Extremely itchy rash may be pimply, made up of tiny blisters, or scaly.
  • Raised, white or flesh-toned lines.

Read full article on scabies.


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  • Symptoms include fever, sore throat, red, watery eyes, loss of appetite, cough, and runny nose.
  • Red rash spreads from the face down the body 3 to 5 days after first symptoms appear.
  • Tiny red spots with blue-white centers appear inside the mouth.

Read full article on measles.


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  • scaly, silvery, sharply defined skin patches
  • commonly located on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back
  • may be itchy or asymptomatic

Read full article on psoriasis.


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  • Rash that appears soon after rubbing or lightly scratching the skin.
  • Rubbed or scratched areas of skin turn red, become raised, develop wheals, and may be slightly itchy.
  • Rash usually disappears within 30 minutes.

Read full article on dermatographia.


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  • Clusters of itchy, red, fluid-filled blisters in various stages of healing all over the body.
  • Rash is accompanied by fever, body aches, sore throat, and loss of appetite.
  • Remains contagious until all blisters have crusted over.

Read full article on chickenpox.


  • Most common type of intestinal worm infection in the United States.
  • Highly contagious.
  • Symptoms include intense itching and irritation in the anal area, restless sleep, and discomfort due to anal itching.
  • Pinworms in stool.
  • May be diagnosed using the “tape test” to collect eggs for your doctor to examine under a microscope.

Read full article on pinworms.

Poison ivy

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  • Caused by skin contact with urushiol, which is an oil found on the leaves, roots, and stems of the poison ivy plant.
  • Rash appears approximately 4 to 48 hours after contact with the plant and may last up to a month after exposure.
  • Intense itching, redness, and swelling as well as fluid-filled blisters.
  • Often appears in streak-like lines where the oil brushed against the skin.

Read full article on poison ivy.

Poison oak

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DermNet New Zealand
  • Caused by skin contact with urushiol, which is an oil found on the leaves, roots, and stems of the poison oak plant.
  • Rash appears approximately 4 to 48 hours after contact with the plant and may last up to a month after exposure.
  • Intense itching, redness, and swelling as well as fluid-filled blisters.

Read full article on poison oak

Itchiness can be generalized (all over the body) or localized to one small region or spot.

The possible causes are numerous and varied. It may be a result of something very serious, such as kidney failure or diabetes (though uncommon), or can come from something less severe, such as dry skin or insect bites (more likely).

Skin conditions

Many skin conditions that are common can cause itchy skin. The following can affect any area of skin on the body:

  • dermatitis: inflammation of the skin
  • eczema: a chronic skin disorder that includes itchy, scaly rashes
  • psoriasis: an autoimmune disease that causes skin redness and irritation, usually in the form of plaques
  • dermatographism: a raised, red, itchy rash caused by pressure on the skin

Infections that cause itching include:

  • chickenpox
  • measles
  • fungal rashes
  • mites, including bed bugs
  • lice
  • pinworms
  • scabies


Substances that irritate the skin and make it itchy are common.

Plants such as poison ivy and poison oak and insects such as mosquitoes produce substances that cause itching.

Some people get itchy when in contact with wool, perfumes, certain soaps or dyes, and chemicals.

Allergies, including food allergies, can irritate the skin as well.

Internal disorders

Some internal diseases that may be very serious cause itching. The following diseases may cause generalized itching, but the skin usually appears normal:

  • bile duct obstruction
  • cirrhosis
  • anemia
  • leukemia
  • thyroid disease
  • lymphoma
  • kidney failure

Nervous system disorders

Other diseases can cause itching as well, especially those that affect the nerves. These include:

  • diabetes
  • multiple sclerosis
  • shingles
  • neuropathy


The following common medications often cause rashes and widespread itching:

  • antifungals
  • antibiotics (especially sulfa-based antibiotics)
  • pain relievers that are categorized as narcotics
  • anticonvulsant medications


Some women experience itching when pregnant. It usually occurs on the breasts, arms, abdomen, or thighs. Sometimes this is due to a preexisting condition, such as eczema, that is made worse by the pregnancy.

See your doctor if:

  • you don’t know what’s causing your itching
  • it’s severe
  • you experience other symptoms along with the itching

It’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis when the cause isn’t obvious because some of the causes of itching are serious, yet treatable, conditions.

Your doctor will give you a physical examination and ask you several questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • How long have you had the irritation?
  • Does it come and go?
  • Have you been in contact with any irritating substances?
  • Do you have allergies?
  • Where is the itching most severe?
  • What medications are you taking (or have recently taken)?

You may need to undergo more tests if your doctor can’t determine the cause of your itching from your answers and a physical exam.

Tests include:

  • blood test: may indicate an underlying condition
  • test of your thyroid function: can rule out thyroid issues
  • skin test: to determine if you’re having an allergic reaction to something
  • scraping or biopsy of your skin: can determine if you have an infection

Once your doctor has pinpointed the cause of your itchiness, you can be treated. If the cause is a disease or infection, they will suggest the best course of treatment for the underlying problem.

When the cause is more superficial, you may receive a prescription for a cream that will help relieve the itching.

At home, there are several things you can do to help prevent and relieve itchy skin. Try:

  • using a good moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated
  • avoiding scratching, which can worsen the itch
  • staying away from soaps, detergents, and other substances that contain perfumes and color dyes
  • taking a cool bath with oatmeal or baking soda
  • trying over-the-counter anti-itch creams
  • taking an oral antihistamine

Shop for moisturizers.

Most itching is treatable and doesn’t indicate a serious problem. However, it’s best to check with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and treatment.

JPeei Clinic