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Itchy Skin — is this serious?

Itchy skin does not always mean that someone has a serious medical problem. Non-medical itchy skin can be a reaction to environmental conditions such as lengthy exposure to cold or dry air, especially during the winter season. This is also true for people living in a humid climate. These itchy skin situations can be treated by taking short, not long, showers and using warm, not hot, water and mild soap. After a shower, a pat dry motion is preferred to a vigorous rubbing motion which helps to dry out the skin. After a shower, applying a moisturizer within a few minutes of towel drying will help to keep the skin moist and less likely to dry out and become itchy.

Itchy skin that cannot be easily connected to normal climatic causes may be, or become, a serious medical condition. A natural reaction to persistent itchy skin is to scratch the irritated area, or areas. Persistent scratching may further irritate the skin, create red, raw skin that becomes swollen or begins to bleed.

Another danger is the risk of enlarging an infected area, along with the real possibility of capturing skin cells under a person’s fingernails and spreading an infection to other areas. A person with an itchy skin situation which does not improve and the skin becomes inflamed, bumpy, or swollen; develops red splotches; or areas contain crusty sores or blisters that seep clear liquid, should consult with a medical practitioner or dermatologist. The majority of itchy skin problems related to medical conditions are generally diagnosed as one of the three most typical skin conditions: Eczema, Atopic Dermatitis, or Psoriases.


According to the National Eczema Association, nearly 10 percent of all Americans have one form or another of Eczema. Eczema is a generic word, applied to a number of skin rashes, and is often used interchangeably with the term Atopic Dermatitis. There is no strict set of symptoms of Eczema and will appear different for each individual and may also affect different body areas with any repeat infection. Eczema symptoms, not related to Dermatitis, involve dry, sensitive skin with mild, moderate, or severe itchy sensations; red, inflamed skin; recurring rash; skin swelling; rough or dark colored patches; and bumpy areas that may ooze a clear fluid.

A family doctor or dermatologist may conduct various tests to arrive at a diagnosis and a treatment plan to treat the precise form of a patient’s Eczema. Depending on the degree of an Eczema attack, treatment may involve hydrocortisone or corticosteroid creams to be applied topically; calcineurin inhibitors instead of a steroid cream for small to moderate itchy areas; oral antihistamines to reduce the itch; ultraviolet light therapy; or antidepressants to work against certain types of itching.

Atopic Dermatitis

There is no definitive cause for Atopic Dermatitis, but according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, nearly one-third of all children with this type of Eczema have food allergies. Atopic Dermatitis is not contagious, not an allergy, has no known current cure, and is the most long-lasting form of Eczema. Treatment for this infection may include hydrocortisone or corticosteroid creams to be applied to the exterior of the skin; oral antihistamines to calm the itching sensation; calcineurin inhibitor cream for smaller affected areas; and ultraviolet light therapy for severe rashes.


Psoriasis, an itchy skin condition, is an autoimmune disease that typically attacks the surface skin of the scalp, and the outside of the knees and elbows. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, a health care physician or dermatologist is able to make a visual inspection to make a psoriasis diagnosis. Psoriasis resembles Eczema with several distinct differences. Psoriasis plaques are thicker, more inflamed, better defined and fuller in texture than the flatter Eczema plaques. Psoriasis also appears on the lower back, on the palms of hands, on the face, and on the soles of the feet.

A rare form of Psoriasis, Erythrodermic, is extremely inflammatory and affects almost all body surfaces. This form of Psoriasis is very serious, may be life-threatening, and requires immediate medical attention. Caring for Psoriasis may involve one or a combination of treatments that may include topical prescription creams, either with or without steroids; ultraviolet light therapy; or systemic medications taken orally or by injections for individuals with arthritis or those with symptoms unresponsive to other forms of treatments.

Additional Itchy Skin Conditions

Beyond the non-medical forms of itchy skin, general Eczema rashes, and Atopic Dermatitis, there are other situations that can, and do, cause itchy skin. The American Academy of Dermatology, provides a reference listing of various forms of Eczema with the related symptoms and causes for the general public.

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The content on this page is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Patients should not use the information presented on this page for diagnosing a health-related issue or disease. Before taking any medication or supplements, patients should always consult a physician or qualified healthcare professional for medical advice or information about whether a drug is safe, appropriate or effective.