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9 Causes of Itching

Itching can drive anyone bonkers when severe or persistent enough. And unfortunately, because it can stem from many organs and medical conditions, it can be challenging to determine the cause of itching. Learn about 9 more common causes of itching that drive patients to the doctor's office.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
6-minute read
Episode #231

6.  Fungal Infections:  Ringworm, Candida Intertrigo, Athlete’s Foot, and yeast vaginitis are all various forms of fungal infections. Ringworm, called “tinea,” can occur anywhere on the body and consists of round coin-like spots with raised red edges and some clearing of color in the center. They tend to be itchy, but only mildly. Candida is a type of fungal species and “intertrigo” refers to the fungal overgrowth that occurs in between the folds—in the groin, underneath the breasts in women, and underneath the abdominal fold. It tends to be very itchy and diffusely red within those folds. And Athlete's Foot appears as scaling and itching on the bottom of the feet and in between and over the toes. Over-the-counter antifungal creams, prescription antifungal powders, and oral antifungals are several ways to treat these conditions. Fungus is stubborn, and often requires daily treatment for weeks to resolve.

7.  Infection:  Insect bites and scabies are two common infectious causes of itching. Insect bites, like fleas, mosquitos, and spider bites, are often red and small, few, and in close proximity in a localized region. They can itch, and the itching is often moderate in severity. Scabies, on the other hand, causes severe itching. And it is often in numerous parts of the body. Scabies tends to also attack the folds—groin, neck, breasts, armpits, and in between the fingers and toes. It is contagious, and family members are often eventually affected. To learn more about scabies, check out my prior episode on this nasty mite infection. Viruses can also cause an itchy rash; one classic example is chicken pox.

8. PsoriasisPsoriasis is an autoimmune disorder; this refers to the group of inherited disorders that causes the immune system to produce proteins that it attacks itself thinking that the parts are foreign. Psoriasis attacks the skin and sometimes joints. The rashes have a distinct appearance, are red thickened areas of the skin with an overlying silver or white scale. Learn more about psoriasis here.

Less commonly, itching everywhere can signify a more systemic, or generalized, medical condition.

9. Systemic Reasons:  Less commonly, itching everywhere can signify a more systemic, or generalized, medical condition. This often means the cause has entered the blood stream. These include liver disease, kidney disease, HIV, and cancer. A simply blood test can rule out many, but not all, of these causes. Just make certain you have completed all of your preventative screening tests.

Vital Components of Your Symptoms

Here are some vital points to help you and your doctor delineate the cause of your itching:

1.  Severity: How severe is it? Causes of mild rashes, like dry skin and ringworm, present quite differently than severe ones, like scabies and allergic reactions.

2.  Rashes: Is there a visible rash? Dry skin and early scabies may not present with much to see – they are simply an itch without much of a rash. Whereas, psoriasis and intertrigo have distinct appearances that cannot be missed.

3.  Accompanying Symptoms:  It’s important to note the presence of other symptoms present. Here are a few:

a.  Lip, tongue, and throat swelling often indicate allergic reactions. They can also be emergent symptoms that require immediate treatment.

b. Initiation of new medications, products, or foods also can produce allergic reactions. If you have started any new medications, even over-the-counter, please tell your doctor. And if you’ve consumed any recent seafood, nuts, exotic fruits (such as mango, kiwi, strawberries, etc), in addition to any new foods in your diet, also please let your doctor know, even if you’ve consumed the same product without any previous reactions.

c.  If there are other family members or close contacts who develop similar symptoms, that is an important piece of info for your doc. Infectious causes of itching can do this, such as scabies and viral syndromes.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.