Possible causes of itchy skin include:

  • Dry skin. If you don't see a crop of bright, red bumps or some other dramatic change in the itchy area, dry skin (xerosis) is a likely cause. Dry skin usually results from environmental factors such as hot or cold weather with low humidity, long-term use of air conditioning or central heating, and washing or bathing too much.
  • Skin conditions and rashes. Many skin conditions itch, including eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, scabies, lice, chickenpox and hives. The itching usually affects specific areas and is accompanied by other signs, such as red, irritated skin or bumps and blisters.
  • Internal diseases. These include liver disease, malabsorption of wheat (celiac disease), kidney failure, iron deficiency anemia, thyroid problems and cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma. The itching usually affects the whole body. The skin may look otherwise normal except for the repeatedly scratched areas.
  • Nerve disorders. Conditions that affect the nervous system — such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, pinched nerves and shingles (herpes zoster) — can cause itching.
  • Irritation and allergic reactions. Wool, chemicals, soaps and other substances can irritate the skin and cause itching. Sometimes the substance, such as poison ivy or cosmetics, causes an allergic reaction. Food allergies also may cause skin to itch.
  • Drugs. Reactions to drugs, such as antibiotics, antifungal drugs or narcotic pain medications, can cause widespread rashes and itching.
  • Pregnancy. During pregnancy, some women experience itchy skin, especially on the abdomen, thighs, breasts and arms. Also, itchy skin conditions, such as dermatitis, can worsen during pregnancy.
Jan. 28, 2014