Skin itchiness (or pruritis) is a bothersome symptom most people experience at some point in their life. Itchy skin or skin irritation is not in itself a condition, however it a common symptom of a wide range of skin diseases.
The pathogenesis of itchy skin is complex and not fully understood by the medical community. It is thought to be controlled by nerve fibres than branch into the skin, called histamine-sensitive and non-histamine sensitive nerves, which are different from the nerves which signal pain . Histamine-sensitive nerves carry signals for acute (short-lasting) itchy skin, where non-histamine-sensitive nerves carry signals for chronic (long lasting) itchy skin) . These are activated by ‘itch’ chemicals in the skin, which bind to receptors on the nerve endings . This signal is transmitted up to the brain, which causes you to sense the itch and have the urge to scratch your skin.
Scratching itchy skin provides temporary relief. This is because it has an blocks the nerves carrying the itch signal [2,3]. Scratching breaks the skin’s protective layer, leaving the skin susceptible to micro-organisms which may be sitting on the skin’s surface. The colonisation of bacteria and other microorganisms leads to more inflammation and itchiness.
Causes of itchy skin range from dermatological conditions to infections, kidney, liver and endocrine diseases, drug reactions, neurologic disorders and psychological conditions . This article will focus mainly on the dermatologic causes of itchy skin.
Dry skin (xerosis) is characterised by itchy, dry, and scaly skin, usually on the hands or feet . It is a common condition in older people and may be causes by high temperatures and low humidity, and frequent bathing which strip the natural oils off your skin .
Eczema is a common skin condition which manifests as patches of dry, irritated, red, itchy skin. There are two main types - atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis .
Atopic dermatitis often emerges in childhood but can be present in all ages . It presents as red, itchy plaques on the skin, in the joint folds, on the face, and scalp . In many cases, a harmless trigger such as contact with wool or sweating can trigger atopic dermatitis . There is also a vicious itch and scratch cycle, whereby scratching stimulates heightened itch sensation .
Contact dermatitis is induced by an irritant or allergen . For people with allergic contact dermatitis, contact with the substance causes an immune response, whereas exposure to an irritant will cause physical damage to the skin . Itchy skin is occurs due to local inflammation, increased dermal blood flow and release of itch mediators.
Hives (urticaria) is a common dermatologic disorder characterised by intensely itchy, red welts on the skin . These tend to go away after a few hours, and may be triggered by an allergy, physical trauma to the skin or other systemic disorders .
Psoriasis is an immune-mediated disease, characterised by the hyperproliferation of skin cells and increase in skin inflammation. As these skin cells multiply and fail to shed from the surface, the characteristic lesions of psoriasis form. Chronic inflammation increases the chemicals which cause itching (pruritogens). Read our article entitled 'Psoriasis' for a more comprehensive overview of the condition.
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Find out how these products became recognised by the NPF.
Heat rash (eccine malaria) is caused by a blockage in the sweat ducts causing swelling, inflammation, and a short-lasting, itchy skin rash . Ducts can be blocked by swelling around the ducts, skin cells and other debris .
Causes of heat rash include vigorous physical activity, high heat and humidity, illnesses with a fever and blocking of the skin with nonporous materials . Heat rashes generally go away, however can be managed through active cooling, removing non-breathable clothing and bandages, and treating fevers (if applicable) . To prevent heat rash, gentle exfoliation of the skin, to remove skin cells and debris is recommended . If severe, heat rash may also be treated with topical anti-itch creams and medications .
Insect bites are usually harmless, however can cause severe allergic reactions and transmission of insect-borne illnesses . Stings differ from bites as the insect inject venom into the skin . Reactions to insect bites occur due to exposure to their saliva, causing an inflammatory response, resulting in itchy skin, local inflammation, redness and swelling . A puncture site may also be observed .
Treatment of insect bites involves washing the area with soap and water and cooling the area with an ice pack . Topical anti-itch creams may also be beneficial to soothing the area . If you suspect an allergic reaction, seek medical attention immediately as an injection of adrenaline (epinephrine) may be required .
Obstetric cholestasis (intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy- ICP) is a very common condition with occurs usually in the second or third trimester . The liver produces a substance called bile, which is released by the gallbladder to help you digest fats . In ICP, this flow of bile is obstructed, causing a build-up in the liver, which absorbs into other tissues . Itchy skin is a cardinal symptom and usually occurs on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, with itchiness increasing at night-time . Treatment of the condition involves a two-pronged approach 1) relieving itchy skin, 2) reducing morbidity and mortality in the fetus, as bile acids can leak through to the placenta, causing a variety of complications such as increased risk of prematurity, fetal distress, and meconium aspiration .
Anti-itch creams, moisturisers and emollients are essential to breaking the cycle of itchy skin.
Abundant Natural Health’s Ocean Soothe Gel and Lotion are proven to relieve skin dryness, enhance skin hydration, soothe skin, relieve inflammation and are antipruritic (anti-itch). Due to the high salt content, they have antimicrobial and antiseptic properties, which can help with minor abrasions and cuts caused by excessive scratching, and help to promote skin regeneration.
Nocturnal pruritis is a common phenomenon characterised by an increase in itchy skin during the night. It can be related to skin conditions described in the section ‘Itchy skin causes’ however there are also natural causes including skin dryness, loss of moisture or dehydration, changes in blood flow to the skin and delivery of chemicals (pruritogens) which cause itchy skin.
Use a moisturiser or anti-itch cream, such as Abundant Natural Health’s Ocean Soothe Lotion, apply a cold compress and make sure you are wearing clothing that allows your skin to breathe (such as cotton).
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The ocean, rich in minerals and electrolytes, has natural healing properties. In fact, people with skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema bathe in the Dead Sea for the benefits of the mineral-rich ocean water. While the high concentration of salt cleanses and sloughs off layers of dead skin, the mineral magnesium, a natural anti-inflammatory, helps to calm the skin and provide relief from inflammation and itchy skin.
Abundant Natural Health’s 100% natural Ocean Soothe® Range, highly concentrated with salt and magnesium, harnesses the healing properties of the ocean for effective relief from symptoms of mild psoriasis, problematic, dry, flaky and itchy skin. We bring the benefits of the Ocean to you, no matter where you are.
Our Ocean Soothe® Range includes a family of products for optimal management of problematic skin, wherever it may be. From scalp serums, sprays, skin gels, lotions, to body washes, bath soaks and a shampoo and conditioner, Abundant Natural Health is your one-stop shop for all things itchy skin.
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