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Pruritus

Pruritus, the sensation that makes people want to scratch, is an itch. The exact cause of the sensation to itch is unknown, but it involves nerves that respond to certain chemicals, like histamine, that are released in the skin and the processing of nerve signals in the brain. Pruritus can cause frustration and discomfort. In serious cases, it can lead to anxiety, depression and sleeplessness.

Anyone can develop pruritus, but the elderly, people with diabetes, those with seasonal allergies, and individuals with a suppressed immune system have an increased risk for the condition. PUPPP (Pruritic Uticarial Papules & Plaques of Pregnancy) is a specific type of pruritus that only impacts pregnant women.

Causes
An itch can develop for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Dry skin
  • Internal conditions like kidney failure
  • Viruses like chicken pox
  • Parasitic infestations like lice

Treatment
For the most effective solution, the doctor will want to identify the underlying cause of the itching. Your physician will perform an exam and may collect a scrape sample of the area for analysis. Generally, treatment involves antihistamines, topical steroids, and/or oral steroids to reduce itching and irritation.

Prevention
Keep these tips in mind as general preventative measures against pruritus:

  • Apply a moisturizer frequently and immediately after water exposure
  • Rinse skin completely to remove all soap
  • Select mild skin cleansers
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Use lukewarm or tepid water for bathing
  • Avoid multiple wet/dry cycles from showers to hand washing

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