Once a cause is identified, treatments for itchy skin may include:
- Corticosteroid creams. Applied topically, these may control itching. Your doctor may recommend applying the medicated cream to affected areas, then covering these areas with damp cotton material that has been soaked in water or other solutions. The moisture in the wet dressings helps the skin absorb the cream.
- Calcineurin inhibitors. Certain drugs, such as tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel), can be used instead of corticosteroid creams in some cases, especially if the itchy area isn't large.
- Oral antihistamines. Your doctor may recommend anti-allergy medications to ease your itch. This group of medications includes over-the-counter drugs that don't make you sleepy, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin), or those that make you sleepy, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). The ones that make you sleepy can be particularly helpful at night if your itchy skin keeps you awake.
- Antidepressants. Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), may help reduce various types of skin itching.
Treating the underlying disease
If an internal disease is found — whether it's kidney disease, iron deficiency or a thyroid problem — treating that disease often relieves the itch. Other itch-relief methods also may be recommended.
Light therapy (phototherapy)
Phototherapy involves exposing your skin to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light. Multiple sessions are usually scheduled until the itching is under control.
Jan. 28, 2014
- Fazio SB, et al. Pruritis: Overview of management. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 28, 2013.
- Cassano N, et al. Chronic pruritus in the absence of specific skin disease. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2010;11:399.
- Goldsmith LA, et al., eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=740. Accessed Aug. 28, 2013.
- Yosipovitch G, et al. Chronic pruritis. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368:1625.
- Benzocaine topical products: Sprays, gels and liquids — Risk of methemoglobinemia. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm250264.htm. Accessed Aug. 28, 2013.