Problems tackled: 22,453

Itching: questions to ask yourself

Is there anything to see? Maybe there is a rash that is red and/or scaly, or maybe there are itchy patches. If so, your doctor should be able to work out the cause.

Is your skin too dry? For an unknown reason, dry skin is itchy skin. This is a particular problem as we get older (MIMS Dermatology 2007;3(4):40–42). Skin produces its own grease to moisturize the skin, but as we get older less grease is produced. Add to this the effects of soaps and central heating, and skin can become dry, scaly and itchy. Our legs have the fewest grease glands and so are particularly affected, producing a ‘crazy-paving’ appearance. It is most common in the winter (‘winter itch’), because of indoor heating.
 
Could it be flea bites? Flea bites are usually raised red areas up to 1 cm across. They are usually in groups of three or four. They are often on the neck, lower leg or at the waist (under the waistband of your clothing). Cat fleas are the usual culprits. You can get cat flea bites even if you do not have a cat, because they can remain in a dormant state in carpets for up to 1 year. When people arrive nearby, the vibration wakes them up. So if you move into a house where there were cats previously, the house can suddenly ‘come alive’ with fleas.
 
Could it be bed bugs? In the UK, bed bugs are becoming much more common. Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are flat insects, up to 7 mm long. They cannot fly or jump, but can run rapidly. During the day their flat shape enables them to remain hidden in cracks and crevices (such as in beds, behind loose wallpaper and in picture frames). They emerge at night to feed. Feeding takes 4–12 minutes and the insects then return to their hiding places. The most common sign is red, very itchy bites, in a line or group representing repeated feeding by a single insect. You may notice specks of blood on the bed sheets.
 
Getting rid of bed bugs can be very difficult. Insecticidal treatments should be combined with frequent laundering of bed linens at a high temperature (initially, every day), vacuuming of rooms, and steam cleaning and vacuuming of mattresses.
 
Could it be scabies? This is the most overlooked cause of itching, and it is becoming more common. It is a strong possibility if anyone else is itchy. Scabies is caused by infection with scabies mites, which are tiny creatures that live on the skin. After mating, the mites tunnel into the skin to make a tiny burrow, often between the fingers or at the wrists, where they live for several weeks and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch within a few days. After about a month, an itchy, scaly rash occurs, which is an allergic reaction to the saliva and faeces of the mites. The rash can be over most of the body, or may be on the finger webs, wrists, elbows, armpits, waist, feet or penis.
 
The mites cannot fly or jump, but crawl from one person to another. You usually pick up scabies by skin-to-skin contact, such as sharing a bed. Itching is often worse at night. Again, see your doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment. 
 
Is the itch all over, or just in one part of your body? If you are a woman, and the itch is in your genital area, look at the section on vulval itching. If your scalp is itchy, look at the section on head lice and dandruff. If your bottom is the problem, look at the section on anal itching. If the itch is in the groin, read the section on jock itch. If the itching affects only your back, alongside the shoulder blade, you have a condition doctors call ‘notalgia paraesthetica’. It is thought to be caused by trapping of very small nerves in the skin.
 
Have you recently had shingles? The area affected by shingles can remain itchy for weeks or months, but it will eventually stop.
 
Does the itching come and go? If so, you may be able to work out the cause. Intermittent raised, red, itchy patches could be ‘urticaria’, a condition that is often the result of an allergy.
 
Is the itching worse at night? Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes scaly patches. It also causes itching that is worse at night and affects the normal-looking skin as well as the scaly areas (Lancet 2003;361:690–94). Eczema is another skin condition that can cause bothersome itching at night.
 
Could you be sensitive to something? Nickel in jewellery can cause itching in people who are sensitive to it. The itching, and often a rash, occurs where the jewellery has touched the skin. Chemicals from plants or from the workplace can sometimes cause the skin that has been exposed to the chemical to itch. Working with fibreglass can cause an itchy skin irritation.
 
Do you have an itchy pet? If so, it could be fleas (see above) or ‘dog scabies’ (which can affect humans). In the case of dog scabies, your dog would have scaly, bald areas as well as itching.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Thursday, May 17th 2012

 


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Comments on this article

Posted by Optional on 15/09/2014 at 12:27

Hello, A little over two weeks ago, my lower legs have become really itchy. It tends to come and go. It's become worse at night. A week ago really little bumps have became visible but only on the back part of my lower legs. Any ideas on what's going on?

Posted by Optional on 31/07/2014 at 08:57

Hi ive always had itchy skin but since i fell pregnant withmy second child last year i gof a rash on my back that became quite irritating. Doctor prescribed me cream wich didnt make a difference after i gave birth it went away then came bk again quite bad its died down now but at times still gets itchy. Recently the last couple of weeks my arms and legs have been extremely itchy feels like bugs are crawling on me. When i look nothing is there. Its getting worse and not just my arms and legs qnymore its worse when im laying down and in the evening. But today its been like it all day. Its really bothering me i dont have any soars or anything when i scrarch rash appears like lil skin couloured bumps any ideas ?

Posted by prem kumar on 31/07/2014 at 09:48

iam suffering skin allergy since 4yrs,if i will be in sunlight & will get sweat & will be in heat place,then i will get itches whole body and will becom redish scratched areas..past 2years iam using medicines b-complex with citrizine.if i will stop using medicines then itching will start or else no....plzz...give me suggestion to cure this.

Posted by joycebgood on 12/06/2014 at 02:05

Frequently only one bite, always on ankle area where skin is thinnest, often in car while driving...at desk in tiny office (hiding out for months?) Never have seen insect but itching is unbearable and spreads from initial site up the leg. Have dogs apparently allergic to something but no scratching in winter. Short of flea bomb, what can I do?

Posted by Amanda on 02/06/2014 at 10:27

Hi There, A couple of weeks ago, I had (what I thought to be) bug bites all over my legs. I immediately thought they were bed bug bites, as there were patterns of 3. I haven't had any new bites, and most are gone if not, are almost all the way healed. I had welts from some of the bites, and where those welts were, are now bruises. I am still itchy at night. It gets better and better each night, but the itching is definitely still there. I am wondering what bit me, and I am wondering if I should seek medical treatment from a doctor. I also vomited 1 week after the bites appeared, and have felt nauseous a few times since then. Any information you could give me would be greatly appreciated! Thank you, Amanda

Posted by Optional on 26/05/2014 at 06:47

i have had red spots appearing on my arms looks like teenage red spots on both arms they are on my both arms i put special dermerolgy cream on but the weather here is very hot i am worried what can this be ive had a hiv test came out negative but my skin feels very dry and some times feels ichy i also got fungal round pachy marks on my arms as well its worring me what can i do and i also got fatty lumps growing all over my body its very scary can some one help me to whats going wrong

Posted by Vav1208 on 28/09/2013 at 07:54

The following may all be related or not but need help! Brown dots or specks on chest months ago-scratched them off. Several itching red bites in almost same spot of elbow on both arms; this happened twice. Stinging, biting sensation, especially at night that was driving me insane. This went away, for most part. No symptoms for couple months then put 2 dogs in kennel for 10 days while vacationing in Ireland. One dog sick when picked up at kennel; initially diagnosed as less common form staph virus causing UTI. Lots of stress for me and dog over next 35 days. Multiple tests, etc w/ diagnosis advanced cancer (prostatic & TCC cells). Large breed English Mastiff who was 10 yrs, 3 months old. All treatment options explored but took a turn for the worse & was rapidly declining. Put down on June 12; wish it had been me and not him-toughest thing I have ever had to face. More stress at work with unexpected layoff in early August. Attended wedding mid Aug, overnite stay at nice resort/ hotel. Approx 24 hrs back at home, woke up w/ multiple flea like bites on lower left ankle and foot; more bites "appeared" as hours went by- right leg & then on arms. Treated it like chiggers but was still getting new bites, some in straight line of 3 or 4 ( immediately thought bed bugs). Visit to dermatologist who said could be scabies picked up from hotel stay. Permethrin script ( he didn't totally rule out BB's). Upon applying Permethrin, some cotton like fibers and a few black dots were on my skin or "expelled"-don't know which. Seemed to work. 3wks later at follow up appt, was still getting few odd bites. One set was 3 in - row at elbow area. Per dr's suggestion, try another treatment & return 3 wks. At both appointments, washing bedclothes and towels was all I was told. No big deal, no emergency, etc. forgot to mention that had collected multiple samples on scotch tape from bed, carpet, skin, etc. brought all in envelope and asked if could look at. Very quick glance and no microscope. In last few weeks, SO much has happened. Suspected head lice so treated for that; kept finding specks on sheet that were like little grains sand-white, brown, tan. Bought 30x loop to see what the heck! Kept finding them on sheets along with some dark spotting. Washed linens and clothes hot water, 60 mins dryer,etc. started finding all weird sorts of stuff-golden colored specks that looked like cluster of eggs under 30x ; white specks looked like crystal or cluster under 30x. Picked lint off clean clothes and small clusters disguised under multi colored threads. Really had to look close. Just in last week- started finding odd looking things that looked like yellowish seahorse with 2 black dots for eyes ; carpet beetle larvae & dead carpet beetles as well. Lots of research and did Cetaphyl hair treatment for "lice". Last couple weeks seems my dog (who shakes head and stuff hits walls- ongoing maintenance with that) has left quite a few spots on walls , doors, etc. knew I was behind with that housekeeping chore. Not sure why but this morning I looked at some wall spots with the 30x magnifier. They are clustered white or golden " eggs", seahorse thing, carpet beetle dirt and god knows what else! I am shocked! Also forgot to mention that last Friday started to see little white lines and spots on hands, arms, shins-stark white speck caught my eye and when I scratched or picked it had stuff attached to it like the crystals, etc I've now picked at about 7 and same thing. Also today, was wiping kitchen counters and saw some specks- 30x again and it's same kind of stuff! I even checked some dishes in upper kitchen can that I hardly ever use; dried specs show same stuff. Box of black trashbags I bought couple days ago ( for avoiding decontaminating) -box has some"egg clusters" on bottom & rolls of bags have some signs of eggs. I think I'm dealing with multiple pests but the physiological symptoms are scaring me ( won't even get into the psychological). I've researched and read so much but today's evidence of total infestation has put me over the edge. Aside from whole house cleaning and treatment, what type of doctor would know best on skin issues? Any feedback or assistance is greatly appreciated!

Posted by Mary on 26/09/2013 at 11:10

For about a week I have experienced severe itching mainly on my breast, under my arms, on my back, my butt cheeks, and my inner thighs and on my scalp. There is no visible rash. It feels like something is crawling on me but there is nothing there. Sometimes it feels like a sting or burn and my skin feels hot to me but not hit to touch. I recently had blood work done and my thyroid levels were good but I had a severe vitamin deficiency. I am now take a once a week B12 shot a once a day B12 supplement and and vitamin D. I'm not sure if its the vitamins doing it? Its driving me crazy!! It mostly starts up around 7pm and I will itch all night..usually goes away in the day time only to return again ;( I have been researching but keep coming back to one thing...Hodgkin's Disease ;/ I am so paranoid now!! Going to my doctor in the morning asap!!

Posted by Optional on 25/09/2013 at 01:11

I am itching all over hands back head neck legs etc..what can this be

Posted by Optional on 20/08/2013 at 02:21

Didn't find any comments related to the symptoms that I have currently. It is severely itchy under and across around my sides of my breasts. Every now and then it feels like something bites or stings me on my face or arms or legs even my neck, etc.

Posted by NEED HELP, PLEASE!!! on 28/06/2013 at 03:03

I have been getting bit by some unknown insect for about a week now. The spots turn up like mosquito bites. Only one bite at a time, recently had one bite with three tiny little ones below it. The bites are typically on my thighs and legs. At times my armpits, abdomen and head will itch but no bite. I can feel something biting but when I look I don't see anything. After scratching it goes to a sore. Yes we have animals. I have checked for bed bugs but BF didn't see anything. WE SLEEP IN THE SAME BED AND HE DOESNT GET BIT!!! I have started sleeping in a different room and less than 24 hrs later started getting bit again. Driving me crazy. I can't see the bug. Please help. I've ruled it down to bed bugs or fleas but my bites aren't like the pictures I have seen. And no there is nothing flying around me.

Posted by Optional on 09/05/2013 at 12:07

I have stretchmark in areas of my joint skin,and it itches me really bad even when i use anti stretchmark soap.am not pregant,pls hw do i stop this itches

Posted by Suzy on 24/04/2013 at 12:38

I have been suffering with severe itching and pain on the left side of my upper back along my shoulder blade. I noticed you listed a condition called notalgia paraesthetica. My question is what can I do to make it stop? What kind of Dr should I see about this condition and can it be cured?

Posted by Loyd on 21/04/2013 at 03:43

I have had itching on my head and around my ears for a month and my scalp is real scaley and red spotted.I have tried different shampos,lotans and creams and nothing helps. It feels like pins sticking in my arms.I don:t want to but I am thinking about sucide. My doctor does not understand .I feel so awful.

Posted by Optional on 07/03/2013 at 07:33

started itching about 2 weeks ago in my scalp also around my waist, now my entire back and around my hairline around my face and behind mt ears,

Posted by Optional on 11/02/2013 at 12:39

breast itching .. what would i do for this problem???

Posted by Optional on 02/02/2013 at 04:21

I'm from the US but I'm studying abroad here in Costa Rica and I noticed thw bottom of my rigt foot was itching. I didn't bother to look until this morning. I have a single red dot no bigger than an eraser from a pencil. It only itches sometimes, but when it does it itches like mad! Its on the center of my foot too....what could this be?

Posted by Jon on 05/01/2013 at 12:37

I have got rid of my scabies and I am no longer itchy any where else but my neck . Why is this ?

Posted by Optional on 30/12/2012 at 01:41

I have itching problems for years and i always think it related to my allergy, i took a Zyrtek 10mg and Quecerten every day. But it changed for worst this last 6 months, i wake up every night suffering from itching and only in my both tights/legs. My Family's Doctor prescribed me over 12 different types of medicine but they don't help.I don't have bed bugs, no animals in my home, my bed shits changed twice a week. My question, should i go see a Dermatologist or an allergist?

Posted by chrissypooh on 04/11/2012 at 05:59

I HAVE ibs BUT WHEN i HAVE CONSTIPATION, ALTHOUGH i DRINK pLENTY OF FLUIDS WELL OVER 2 GALLONS A DAY AND NO i AM NOT DIABETIC,(BEEN TESTED FOR THAT) I HAVE GENERALIZED ITCHING FROM HEAD TO TOE, i HAVE JUST REALIZED THE CORRELATION, AND WONDERING IF i AM ON TRACK WITH THIS, IF SO DO i NEED TO WORRY ABOUT SOME MORE SERIOUS UNDERLYING CONDITION??

Posted by Sheeraz Ali on 28/10/2012 at 07:33

I am having itching problem on lower part from my tummy to toes and the most irritated sites are thighs , hips , penis and below penis area and it gets severe in night while sleeping so it is hard to sleep , it itches so much that sometimes i shout loud or cry sure cant do anything else , plz help me get normal !

Posted by Optional on 17/10/2012 at 12:43

I HAVE ATUPIC DERMATITIS MY BREASTS ARE VERY ITCHY

Posted by Optional on 22/08/2012 at 06:58

If its scabbies some Hispanic fleamarkets where the sell cream have this medicine called scabisan.It works immediately.within the next day ur feeling not much itch.

Posted by Optional on 25/05/2012 at 05:56

hello sir..m suffering from some reddish spots on both on my lower parts of my legs..they are itching too..y it happened and what is the solution.kindly pls reply me

Posted by derek on 14/05/2012 at 05:58

i went to tunisia for two week i am very itchy and red all over it is very bad

Posted by Optional on 12/05/2012 at 02:48

Informative.

Posted by Optional on 05/05/2012 at 12:28

Ihave felt itchy for a few Days and now I have a red blotch on my arm which happened yesterday at my mums house and a red itchy blotch on my foot. What could this be? There nothing coming out the blotches and it don't seem to have a centre bit where it looks like its a bite mark...plz help

Posted by Itchy in Philly on 07/12/2011 at 10:08

Had a serious problem with fleas in my apt for months. Think owner finally solved that problem. But before exterminated, noticed red bite marks on my forearms. Over past month, arms have developed severe rash with oozing sores. Related? PS. Just found recently dead mouse in kitchen. Understand mice carry fleas. Don't have a pet. HELP

Posted by Optional on 06/12/2011 at 06:22

I was diagnosed with low count on my vitiamin d i started taking 5000mg of vitiamin d. it seems like a month after taking medication. I started with my upper back itching didn't matter what time then, it started on both sides of my face.Called physician told me to stop taking medicine and i did and still itching.The itching is getting worse moving to my arms and scalp and upper face. I have been monitoring what i eat everything but, i have not eaten or changed anything.I am very concern because the last time my eye lids looked swollen and the way the itching starts it stops and it scares me.

Posted by Optional on 08/11/2011 at 09:47

itch at night on arms back stomach neck and head had shingles two years ago is it anything to do with that no lumps or marks just feels like something is crawling on me its driving me crazy does not bother me when i go to bed

Posted by Optional on 12/05/2011 at 06:29

In February 2011 i started having trouble with my eyelids and then underneath my eyes. The doctor prescribed steriod cream but this has made them worse. I am currently using a cream to moisture the eyes. But now they are red and flaky in the corner of the eyes and underneath the eyes. It looks as thoughsomeone has hit me in the eyes. It is very embrassing and the doctor has referred me to a specialist, but the waiting list is at least 3 months. Does anyone have the same.

Posted by Optional on 04/10/2010 at 08:16

Have you checked your bed for bed bugs? It usually happens around 3am. Bed bugs hide really good in cloth, wood, or paper. Hope it's not that it feels like hell at nite.

Posted by melvin on 06/05/2010 at 10:20

a boy age 9 itch all over the body and he had day time also ,nights are worse even in his penis, could you give me the advise please,

Posted by Optional on 13/04/2010 at 02:17

very itchy skin from working with chemicals in the factory, small red spots that turns black

Posted by ron on 01/01/2010 at 09:15

can you fill flees on your skin

Posted by m. sargent on 09/09/2009 at 06:24

urteceria on myself has got to the point of unbearable have been taking fexofenadine 180mg tabs on prescription ok for 3weeks but now they do not seem to be helping at all.

Posted by Anonymous on 22/04/2009 at 09:19

red blotches on face and uper body after being out in sun very itchy very dry on face

Posted by Deb on 28/03/2009 at 08:20

I can relate to the poster called John, i have exactly the same symptoms and have still not found out what is the cause...someone please help

Posted by Wilhelmina. on 17/01/2009 at 04:20

Hi for the past 5 months I have a itchy left shoulder blade it all starded when thy found out I have cholesterol ratio 3-9 I'm 60 years old and I;m not over weight and I never had cholestrol it came up suddenly true stress .For the cholestrol he gave me Niacin and Vitamine D, the Niacin o boy I was burning inside and oudside plus had welds over my body what kind of poisen is that ?Please give me some advice thank you .Wilhelmina .

Posted by John on 11/01/2009 at 09:59

Hi for the past 4-5 months i have been itchy all over mainly my arms legs back genetal area. Been tested for scabies, allergys, and celiacs disese... none of them apply to my condition. I have raised bumpes that are really itchy, I itch so much they burst a clear fluid and bleed somtimes. It is worse at night i find my self itching whilst asleep! if anyone can shed any light i would much appreciate it. thanks john

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Itching: questions to ask yourself

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Fascinating facts

3% of people seeing their family doctor do so because of itching

In Roman times, hot sulphur baths were taken to get rid of scabies

A few days after the euro was introduced in Spain, 20 people needed hospital treatment for itching of their hands. Nickel in the euro coins was responsible. A spokesman for the European Central Bank said people were so excited by the new coins that they were handling them excessively (Independent)

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