Itching of the skin of the body troubles with illness, allergies or stress

Itching of the skin of the body troubles with illness, allergies or stress
Photo source: Getty images

Itching of the skin is an unpleasant subjective sensation that leads to the urge to scratch. It can be local, for example in the case of a skin disease, but it can also be generalised, where it is a symptom of another disease.

Itchy skin is a very unpleasant, subjective sensation that leads to the urge to scratch. If it lasts for a long time, it significantly reduces the quality of life.

Professionally, it is referred to as pruritus.

The causes of itching are manifold. It occurs locally, but also in a generalised or generalised manner.

You know...
We itch on our fingers, palms, face, all over the body.
And at any time of the day, after a shower, during stress or after eating certain foods.

In its localised form, it occurs mainly with skin problems. On the other hand, the generalised form can be a symptom of a more serious disease.

What do we know about itching?

We know that itching occurs with a skin problem, but also without an obvious skin cause.

There is also itching without seeding of skin pimples.

Sometimes, after a few hours or days, there is a skin rash. At this point, it is obvious what caused it.

It can itch anywhere. On the head, face, neck, hands, back, but probably the most unpleasant itch is all over the body.

According to this, pruritus is also divided into:

  • localized (local, mainly as a manifestation of skin inflammation)
  • generalised (when the whole body itches, as in some systemic diseases)

To find out the cause of this unpleasant subjective sensation, an examination is needed, especially if it persists for a long time.

According to the duration, it is divided into:

  1. acute (arising suddenly)
  2. chronic (long-term), if it persists for more than 6 weeks

Which groups of people are affected?

It affects children, young people, adults or the elderly. At older ages, over 65, its incidence is slightly higher and more common.

There is no difference in gender, but it is often found in pregnant women. Similarly in women with gallbladder problems.

There is also a difference in the place of origin and in the type of pruritus

Pruritus originates in the periphery, that is, in the skin, in the cutaneous nerve endings. The second type is when the itching sensation originates in the central nervous system.

  1. The peripheral type is caused, for example, by touch, pressure, vibration, heat or electrical voltage
  2. the central type is caused by the action of mediators

Itching is transmitted from the skin to the brain by unmyelinated nerve fibres - slow type C. It is caused by the action of mediators such as histamine, serotonin, acetylcholine or opioids on free nerve endings in the skin or mucous membranes.

The table below gives a breakdown of pruritus

Type of itch Description
Pruritoceptive pruritus
  • arises in the skin, especially in the case of a skin inflammation or other local problem
  • the sensation is conducted by slow C fibres
  • from the skin to the spinal cord and then to the brain
  • the response is mainly scratching and negative emotions
  • peripheral type
Neurogenic pruritus
  • originates in the central nervous system, i.e. the brain
  • central type
Neuropathic pruritus
  • caused by nerve or brain damage
  • peripheral or central type
Psychogenic pruritus
  • under psychological stress
  • in psychiatric disorder, psychosis, neurosis
  • central type

Pruritus is the most common symptom of skin inflammation or disease. However, it also occurs in other diseases. Therefore, differential diagnosis is important to look for the real cause of this unpleasant symptom.

Classification of pruritus according to the provoking cause:

  1. Primary (essential) is present in systemic, neurological and other diseases or psychiatric disorder. It is referred to as pruritus sine materia.
  2. Secondary (symptomatic, pruritus cum materia) occurs as an accompanying manifestation of skin problems.

The table lists the main peripheral causes and pruritus in systemic disease

Cause Description
Peripheral pruritus
Cutaneous causes Most common accompanying symptom in various inflammations, dermatitis, allergic reactions or infectious diseases
Atopic eczema
  • as a typical manifestation of the disease
  • mainly in predisposing areas
Contact eczema
  • often occurs with allergies, after contact with an allergen
  • itching can be at a site other than the site of contact
  • typical skin seeding, as in contact with nettles
  • also with allergies to food, drugs, plants, insects
  • after exposure to cold, heat, pressure
  • but also for other causes
  • is a type of severe itching
  • on skin areas - puncta pruritica
  • subsequent formation of hard fibrotic nodules - prurigo nodularis
  • atopic background, but also in systemic disease
Seborrheic dermatitis
  • seborrhea
  • the exact cause is not known
  • mainly affects the part of the skin containing the sebaceous glands
  • hair, face, torso
  • non-infectious autoimmune disease
  • Manifested by itching and skin changes
  • more in the article about psoriasis
  • most commonly contact allergies
  • to hair, fur
  • after medication
  • food, citrus, milk, nuts
  • allergens such as pollen, dust, dust mites
  • itching, redness or hives, swelling of the skin
Insect bites
  • even without an ongoing allergic reaction
  • itching, redness, swelling, pain
  • caused by a lice parasite
  • It thrives mainly in collectives.
  • In this magazine article, we show how to spot lice.
  • a parasite that literally burrows into the skin
  • causing itching, redness, corners in the skin.
  • it is transmitted by contact, including sexual intercourse
  • also in the genital area or anus
Pruritus in systemic disease - reported by 10 to 50% of patients
  • In diabetes, diabetic neuropathy in particular
  • it is also necessary to think about:
    • yeast infections
    • frequent skin inflammations
Kidney failure
  • also referred to as uremic pruritus
  • in chronic renal failure
  • about 30% of those affected
  • in people on dialysis
  • exact cause unknown
Cholestatic pruritus
  • in hepatopathy, acute hepatitis
  • cirrhosis
  • liver cancer
  • gall bladder stones
  • attention during pregnancy
  • elevated bile acid levels
  • especially on the hands and feet
Blood diseases
  • very often in anaemia, i.e. anaemia
Thyroid gland
Oncological diseases
  • part of the symptoms of various oncological diseases
  • mainly in blood diseases, Hodgkin's morbus, lymphoma, leukemia, carcinomas, brain tumors
  • aquagenic pruritus on contact with water and in polycythemia vera
Diseases of the rectum
  • as pruritus ani (itching of the anus)
  • in haemorrhoids
  • infectious diseases and sexually transmitted infections
Neurological diseases
  • e.g. in sclerosis multiplex, after cerebral infarction, in tumours
Psoriasis on the shoulder - under a magnifying glass
Psoriasis. Photo: Getty Images

Another example is itching in the elderly, which is uncomfortable and persists for a long time. This type is referred to as bullous pemphigoid. In the young, it occurs, for example, in gluten allergy dermatitis herpetoformis Duhring.

The main representatives of neurogenic and neuropathic pruritus of the skin are, for example, notalgia paresthetica, multiple sclerosis, diabetes or other nerve damage. Notalgia paresthetica arises from pathological changes in the spinal nerves T2 to T6, when persistent itching is present.

For unpleasant itching, the affected person scratches. This is the cause of skin changes such as pigmentation or thickening of the skin.

Baby itches his forearm, scratches his forearm
Scratching is a risk of secondary skin infection. Photo: Getty Images

Itching present in HIV, AIDS disease is very common.

In the psychogenic form, itching occurs especially after increased psychological stress. Typical are attacks of itching, which escalate especially at night. Often this form occurs in anxiety or depression. But also in fear of dirt and parasites and other phobic disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Medication itch?

Yes, even some medications are responsible for this unpleasant symptom.

Examples include some:

  • beta blockers
  • acetylsalicylic acid
  • anticonvulsants
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • diuretics
  • insulin and oral antidiabetics
  • estrogenopioids

It is also seen in vitamin B12, iron or folic acid deficiency.

Non-serious causes of itching also include exposure to heat, cold, sun or dirt in our environment. In winter or, conversely, during hot days, when the skin becomes more dry, it becomes dry. Dehydration is also an example. Dry skin is present mainly in older age.

Read also:
Allergy to cold, is it an allergy?
Dehydration - what to know about it?

With or without rashes?

An example is the skin disease known as EBA (epydermolysis bullosa). It has several forms which can be non-inflammatory or inflammatory.

A common feature is the appearance of blisters.

Itching of the skin is also typical in inflammation of the veins of the lower limbs. In addition to inflammation, hardening of the vein occurs. Locally, the skin is painful, warmer to the touch.

A typical example of a full-body seeding rash is chickenpox. Another herpetic disease is cold sores, which itch unpleasantly. For more information, see the article on the disease cold sores.

Scarlet fever rash occurs with the infectious disease scarlet fever. It resembles strep throat and the symptoms resemble streptococcal strep throat with red coloration and purulent deposits on the tonsils.

Itchy skin in pregnancy

Itching due to hormonal changes is quite common and insignificant. Pregnant women itch on palms, hands or feet. Itching in the breast area is common, which becomes larger due to hormonal changes.

During this period, various other problems may also occur that trigger it. Therefore, examination is important, especially when it persists.

The expanding skin on the abdomen is also affected by itching. The whole body adapts. Especially the abdominal cavity, in which the space for the growing uterus and fetus shrinks.

Pregnant itchy skin on the abdomen
When itching of the skin in pregnancy, alert the doctor. Photo: Getty Images

The enlarged uterus can cause pressure in the liver and gallbladder. This increased pressure causes cholestasis, which is the impaired drainage of bile and its accumulation in the gallbladder and liver.

Consequently, bile acids also accumulate in the pregnant blood. This results in various complications.

The risk is not the pregnant woman, but the fetus, the baby. The risk is fetal damage and even death. This problem is also referred to as intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy.

Complications and symptoms of itching

Itching is, of course, an unpleasant subjective sensation. Especially with prolonged occurrence, it significantly reduces the quality of life.

Constant scratching results in symptoms, some of which we list:

  • scratches, excoriations, scabs
  • increased risk of secondary infection
  • thickening of the skin
  • changes in skin pigmentation, especially hyperpigmentation
  • urticaria, not only as a primary symptom of skin disease, but also as a consequence of scratching

Dermatologist about possible causes of itchy skin

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The aim of the portal and content is not to replace professional examination. The content is for informational and non-binding purposes only, not advisory. In case of health problems, we recommend seeking professional help, visiting or contacting a doctor or pharmacist.