Pruritus might be a funny sounding word, but those diagnosed with it might not feel the humor. Pronounced pru-ri-tus, it refers to severe itching of the skin. Pruritus can affect anyone for different reasons. It can be mild or severe. It can occur once or it can be an ongoing battle. Millions of people are affected by varying degrees of pruritus each year. A recent study of adult patients in a primary care clinic found that nearly one-third of patients are affected to some degree at any one time. Knowing a little about the condition can help you through it if you’ve been dealing with itchy skin.
Where Itching Comes From
You might be wondering what causes pruritus. That’s somewhat complicated because there’s no one cause. Dry skin, certain medications, skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, seasonal allergies, diabetes, hay fever, pregnancy, age and serious diseases like cancer are all causes for pruritus. It can also be caused by chronic bug bites, heredity, infections or autoimmune disorders.
While some causes of pruritus are unavoidable, there are some things you can do to try and keep the itch away. First, stay hydrated. The more water you drink, the healthier and better hydrated your skin will be. Second, keep your skin hydrated from the outside as well with a moisturizing lotion. Ask your doctor to recommend one. They will likely suggest a mild or unscented lotion. Although the fragrance of scented lotions is nice, they have a tendency to irritate the skin and certain patients may have allergies to the fragrances, which can put you right back to square one.
It’s Time to Seek Medical Care
While we all have itchy skin from time to time that can be self-managed, some people suffer from it so severely that a trip to the dermatologist might be the only way to help. If you’re noticing any of the following symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor:
- Itching so much that you’re having difficulty sleeping
- Itching has lasted longer than six weeks – which is classified as chronic pruritus
- Itching all over your body either with or without a rash
- Itching so badly your skin is broken from scratching
- Signs of infection, such as pain, swelling, redness, warmth, tenderness, fever, pus, red streaks extending from the area or swollen lymph nodes
Treating pruritus will depend largely on what your doctor determines the cause to be. Moisturizers and antihistamines are often tried first because they are cost effective and may provide all the relief necessary. If the itching is more serious, your doctor might suggest a prescription-strength cream or oral medication.
Your physician might determine that the cause of your pruritus is a reaction to a specific medication you’re taking and will work with you to find a substitute that doesn’t cause itching.
Because each case of pruritus is specific to each patient, treatment will be individualized. The bottom line is, no matter the cause, if your skin has been itchy and it’s affecting your life, it’s time to see your dermatologist for help in getting it under control.
Dr. John Griffin is board-certified in Dermatology and Dermatopathology. He’s accepting new patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Tanglewood Clinic. Dr. Griffin completed his residency in Dermatology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and a fellowship in Dermatopathology at the world-renowned Ackerman Academy of Dermatopathology in New York City.